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Supplies From the Sky

Because of the challenging terrain in Afghanistan, aerial delivery is the dominant method of supplying small units with needed essentials in Operation Enduring Freedom.

During the buildup of troops and equipment in Afghanistan, the Army confronted the logistics problem of how to provide Soldiers on the ground with basic subsistence supplies. Underdeveloped roads, rough terrain, and the threat of enemy attacks on convoys made standard ground delivery of supplies to units engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) difficult.

Because of these factors and the high operating tempo, the airdrop of supplies became a very viable alternative. Airdrop operations offer several advantages over other delivery methods. The primary advantage is that they can be used when no other means are available for transporting needed supplies or equipment. Airdrops also reduce handling of supplies and shipping times.

Spartan Field Kitchen
(Photo by U.S. Army)

The Airdrop Operations Process

Airdrop operations are time sensitive and joint and require that all agencies involved be perfectly synchronized and coordinated. In OEF, aerial delivery has been used as the primary method for supplying isolated forward operating bases and combat out-posts throughout Afghanistan. Ground units submit their requests for airdrops to their respective task forces. Each task force then submits requests to its sustainment brigade's aerial delivery section. The aerial delivery section coordinates the rigging of supplies and submits a joint movement request for aircraft allocation to the corresponding movement control team.

Requests for aircraft then are entered into the Intra-Theater Airlift Request System, and the aircraft is allocated. The Air Force air mobility detachment plans and coordinates the mission so that the forces on the ground (Army, Marine Corps, and coalition units) can receive their supplies by airdrop.

The 1st Sustainment Brigade Airdrop Mission

The 1st Sustainment Brigade, which had personnel spread throughout four countries in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, provided aerial delivery support directly to warfighters located in Afghanistan and also to units in remote locations in Iraq as required. The brigade's aerial delivery section coordinated with the 824th Quartermaster Detachment, located in Southwest Asia, for the rigging of supplies. Trained Army parachute riggers of the 824th Quartermaster Detachment rigged and inspected the loads for airdrop. Each day, a small detachment of about 20 riggers faced the merciless Southwest Asia weather, which can range from 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.

Rigged container delivery systems (CDSs) are dispensed to the flight line and loaded onto Air Force planes, where certified joint airdrop inspectors examine the loads one last time before takeoff. Aircraft, like the C–17 Globemaster III and C–130 Hercules, fly over the precoordinated drop zone, and gravity extracts the CDS bundles as the plane flies in a “nose up” fashion. These aircraft can deliver multiple bundles weighing up to 2,200 pounds at a time. Riggers use high-velocity and low-velocity parachute systems, depending on what types of commodities are being delivered. High-velocity systems descend at a faster rate than low-velocity systems and are used primarily for nonfragile items. Soldiers carefully rig every load to ensure the survivability of the commodities that will strike the ground in the rugged mountainous terrain.

During the peak months, parachute riggers from the 1st Sustainment Brigade rigged an average of 62,526 pounds of supplies per day and over 1,258 CDS bundles per month. In November 2010, the riggers established a new record: A total of 1,472 CDS bundles and more than 2.1 million pounds of supplies were airdropped into Afghanistan.

“We have seen an increase of over 33 percent on the number of loads during the last 4 months,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Tiddy, commander of the 824th Quartermaster Detachment and an airdrop systems technician.

By the end of 2010, the riggers from the 1st Sustainment Brigade had delivered over 12,450 CDS bundles equating to over 18 million pounds of supplies. This was accomplished by supporting over 350 combat resupply airdrop missions to over 45 different drop zones across Afghanistan.

The riggers from the 1st Sustainment Brigade established three different theater airdrop records for the most CDS bundles and the most pounds per month rigged. Nevertheless, it is not about numbers and records. In the end, the most rewarding part of the job was supporting the Soldiers on the ground.

Spartan Field Kitchen
Above, parachute riggers from the 1st Sustainment Brigade rig container delivery system bundles for airdrop. Below, parachute riggers load pallets that include JP8 fuel into a C–17 aircraft. (Photos by SGT David Reardon, 1st Sustainment Brigade PAO)


In many operations since the Vietnam War, Soldiers have gotten their supplies by rail, truck, and sea. This war has brought back the World War II tradition of delivering supplies by air. After a year into the buildup in Afghanistan, and now that troop levels are stabilizing, we can look back on the lessons learned and try to make systems and procedures more efficient to provide the warfighter with the supplies needed to complete the mission.

The low-cost aerial delivery system (LCADS) was developed during the last 9 years of war. LCADS is a one-time use, stand-alone airdrop system consisting of parachutes, containers, platforms, and other air items configured for low and high-velocity aerial delivery of loads. The system is 50- to 80-percent cheaper than the conventional parachutes and containers used for these types of missions.

Another advantage of LCADS is that it comes prepacked from the manufacturer, saving countless man-hours of rigging work and speeding up the process. The system has been so successful that the manufacturers were barely able to keep up with the 1st Sustainment Brigade's demand. Yet, the mission never stopped. Riggers, with the help of the Air Force, continued timely and accurate delivery of supplies to Soldiers, Marines, and Special Forces units in the most remote locations.

The mountainous terrain and the threat of enemy attacks have made airdrop operations the standard way of delivering supplies to forces in remote locations. Aerial delivery is no longer the last resort for resupply. It is a viable and ingenious way to deliver commodities to the front lines quickly and effectively and will continue to be effective for supply operations, especially in Afghanistan.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Carlos Rojas was the senior airdrop systems technician for the 1st Sustainment Brigade during its deployment to Kuwait. He holds an associate's degree in general studies from Pierce College and is a graduate of the Airdrop Systems Technician Warrant Office Basic Course, the Military Freefall Parachutist Course, and the 82d Airborne Division Jumpmaster Course.

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