Configuring Airdrop Packages for the IBCT

by Major John V. McCoy

The author shows how airdrop can help interim brigade combat teams meet their 96-hour deployment requirement.

    The Army Vision states that the Army "will develop the capability to put combat force anywhere in the world in 96 hours after liftoff—in brigade combat teams for both stability and support operations and for warfighting." The Army Chief of Staff, General Eric K. Shinseki, says the Army must have "the ability to put forces where needed on the ground . . . to directly affect the outcome of the situation or crisis at hand within hours of a decision . . . regardless of the environment."

    The interim brigade combat team (IBCT) is the force the Army is developing to accomplish that mission. The Army Deployment Process Modernization Office has determined that deploying an IBCT to a theater requires the theater's airfield to have a maximum-on-ground (MOG) capacity of at least six aircraft in order to support the arrival of an IBCT within 96 hours. However, the MOG airfield capacity has been less than six aircraft during a number of past military operations; in the recent military operation in the Balkans, the MOG capacity at the primary destination airfield in Skopje, Macedonia, was only two aircraft. How can the Chief of Staff's 96-hour deploy-anywhere IBCT vision and directives be met if the destination theater MOG airfield capacity is less than six aircraft? The answer is airdrop.

Airdrop Feasibility

    The recommended IBCT air-land and airdrop deployment concept requires the joint capabilities of both the Air Force and the Army. Successful airdrop also requires that supplies and equipment survive the ground impact associated with various types of airdrop.

    The Air Force has properly designed airframes to support the airdrop portion of the deployment and sufficient lift capabilities to support both the air-land and airdrop portions of the deployment. An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft can airdrop single items of equipment weighing up to 60,000 pounds and has a total airdrop cargo weight of 110,000 pounds. Each C-17 has a container-delivery system capacity of 40 containers, with a total rigged weight of 2,350 pounds each. Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-141 Starlifter aircraft can drop planeloads of all types of wheeled vehicles, supplies, and other equipment. In other words, the Air Force can support any airdrop requirements an IBCT may have.

    For airdrop to be feasible from an Army standpoint, the Army must have sufficient rigging capabilities. Army Quartermaster light and Quartermaster heavy airdrop supply companies can rig loads that weigh up to 42,000 pounds each for airdrop. A company can rig 200 tons of supplies per day for airdrop using single A-22 cargo bags that measure 4 feet by 4 feet by 100 inches or double A-22 cargo bags that measure 4 feet by 8 feet by 100 inches. Airdrop equipment support companies pack the parachutes and rig the supplies for airdrop.

    Defense depots can assist airdrop efforts by rigging supply items destined for the IBCT at the depot. The rigged supplies then can be transported to the theater and airdropped where needed. Having the supplies rigged for airdrop before they leave the depots makes airdrop more feasible.

    Army supplies and equipment can be "free-dropped" with no parachutes by using limited energy-dissipating packing material such as honeycomb cardboard. Subsistence items; packaged petroleum, oils, and lubricants; and ammunition can be delivered by high-velocity airdrop, where parachutes keep the loads upright and descending at 70 to 90 feet per second. Vehicles, bridging, and artillery can be airdropped by low-velocity airdrop using parachutes that reduce the rate of descent to no more than 28 feet per second.

Potential Airdrop Package Modularity

    According to the recommended IBCT deployment concept, the IBCT commander must designate the equipment to be deployed and the manner in which it is deployed. An overriding factor affecting his decision is the air-land capacity of the destination theater. If the MOG airfield capacity at the destination is at least six aircraft, then no airdrop is needed to meet the 96-hour deployment requirement. If the MOG airfield capacity is five aircraft, some airdrop is needed. If the MOG airfield capacity is considerably less than six aircraft, a large amount of additional equipment must be deployed by airdrop to meet the 96-hour time limit.

    IBCT equipment can be broken down into modules, with each module containing equipment that provides a full and distinct combat capability as opposed to a combination of partial capabilities. The breakdown is tailored according to the MOG airfield capacity available at the destination theater. However, the modules could include combinations of partial capabilities if a commander so desired. The variety of the breakdowns is limited only by the amount of planning time available to the deploying IBCT.

Recommended Airdrop Packages

    Based on the developing IBCT force structure, airlift requirements for elements of the IBCT are distributed as follows (in rounded numbers): 5 percent for passengers; 3 percent for brigade headquarters and headquarters equipment, 36 percent for three infantry battalions' equipment, 14 percent for artillery battalion equipment, 3 percent for signal company equipment, 15 percent for brigade support battalion equipment, 16 percent for reconnaissance squadron equipment, 2 percent for military intelligence company equipment, 3 percent for antitank company equipment, and 4 percent for engineer equipment.

    These percentages were used to assemble the following hypothetical IBCT deployment airdrop packages for various destination airfield MOG scenarios—

MOG 5. Air-land passengers, IBCT command and control element equipment, equipment for two infantry battalions, and artillery, signal, support, reconnaissance, military intelligence, and antitank unit equipment. Airdrop engineer unit equipment and unit equipment of the one non-air-land infantry battalion.

MOG 4. Air-land passengers, IBCT command and control element equipment, equipment for one infantry battalion, and artillery, signal, support, and reconnaissance unit equipment. Airdrop all engineer, military intelligence, and antitank unit equipment and equipment of the two non-air-land infantry battalions.

MOG 3. Air-land passengers, IBCT command and control element equipment, equipment for one infantry battalion, and artillery, signal, and support unit equipment. Airdrop reconnaissance, engineer, military intelligence, and antitank unit equipment, as well as unit equipment of the two non-air-land infantry battalions.

MOG 2. Air-land passengers, IBCT command and control element equipment, equipment for one infantry battalion, and artillery unit equipment. Airdrop signal, support, reconnaissance, military intelligence, antitank, and engineer unit equipment, as well as equipment of the two non-air-land infantry battalions.

MOG 1. Air-land passengers, IBCT command and control element equipment, and equipment for one infantry battalion. Airdrop all artillery, signal, support, reconnaissance, military intelligence, antitank, and engineer unit equipment, as well as unit equipment for the two non-air-land infantry battalions.

    A plan for providing accompanying, follow-up, and routine supplies to the IBCT by airdrop should supplement each deployment plan. In addition, a portion of an airdrop supply company should be sent to the Defense depot responsible for initial supply to rig supplies so they can be airdropped in the contingency area without using the limited in-theater airfield capacity.

    Airdrop packages are not required at destination airfields with a MOG of six or higher because the theater throughput capacity possible at such airfields can sustain a 96-hour total IBCT air-land deployment. Even if civilian aircraft are used to transport passengers, the airdrop deployment packages described above remain relevant options for deploying equipment.

Tactical and Logistics Advantages

    Incorporating airdrop into IBCT deployment concepts has a number of advantages. For example, supplies that have been rigged for airdrop at the servicing Defense depot in the continental United States can be dropped into the theater in a timely manner without congesting limited airfield capacity. Prolonged operations require follow-on forces, so resupply by airdrop allows those forces to use a limited-capacity airfield without losing or delaying IBCT supplies at airfield choke points.

    Substituting airdrop sorties for air-land sorties reduces the exposure of fixed-wing Air Force aircraft to anti-aircraft threats near the destination. Also, unless operational security for the mission has been compromised, the exact destination of each airdrop mission cannot be anticipated easily by an adversary, as is possible with air-land missions that must seek out a designated airfield.

    When airdrop is used in the deployment process, an IBCT can be deployed quickly to a more isolated area than if air-land is the sole deployment option. When airdrop is used in the deployment process, the number of potential touchdown sites for equipment in theater is not limited to the number of available runways. It is possible to integrate IBCTs into the mission more quickly using multiple drop zones as opposed to receiving equipment only at available runways, staging it at the airfield, and then moving it on to the integration area.

    Another advantage of using airdrop is that it reduces the amount of lift that must be allocated early to ground handling equipment. The success of the deployment mission also becomes less dependent on the readiness of ground handling equipment. Including airdrop in the deployment concept also improves overall aircraft usage availability because the aircrew does not have to wait at the destination for the aircraft to be unloaded.

    Airdrop's advantages, coupled with the fact that it enables 96-hour deployment of an IBCT to a theater with limited MOG airfield capacity, make it a highly feasible option. However, disadvantages such as the need for more airdrop rigging equipment, more specialized personnel requirements, and less "hands-on" control of the equipment as it initially arrives on the ground are obstacles that still must be overcome.

Future Technological Enablers

    Future airdrop methods are expected to improve the utility of airdrop in military operations. Improvements in airdrop precision involving global positioning systems and airfoil parachute design are advancing the logistics efficiency of airdrop to new levels.

    A revolutionary C-17 dual-row airdrop system (DRAS) developed by Boeing, the Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command's Natick Soldier Center, and the Air Force maximizes the C-17's airdrop capabilities by dropping eight 16-foot modified equipment or supply platforms simultaneously using a gravity release system.

    The Natick Soldier Center and its military, academic, and commercial partners have developed a family of autonomously guided airdrop systems called Advanced Precision Airborne Delivery Systems. These systems will allow one delivery aircraft to conduct precision airdrop to multiple targets. The Guided Parafoil Air Delivery System (GPADS)-Heavy can drop a high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) from 25,000 feet to within 100 meters of its designated target. The GPADS-Light can airdrop from a position offset laterally 20 kilometers from the target and have its payload conduct a controlled descent to a point within 100 meters of the designated offset landing point.

    Advances in airdrop precision should reduce the uncertainty and risks involved in airdrop missions and improve their usefulness in supporting IBCT deployments. These advances will reduce further the direct threat to airlift assets while enabling successful deployment and logistics resupply missions to areas with limited airfield capacity.

The GPADS-Heavy can drop a HMMWV from 25,000 feet to within 100 meters of its target.

The GPADS-Heavy can drop a HMMWV from 25,000 feet to within 100 meters of its target.

    Airdrop is a feasible deployment option that will enable 96-hour IBCT deployment to theaters for which the MOG airfield capacity is five aircraft or less. The ability to develop multiple IBCT airdrop modular design units provides IBCT planners with many options for including airdrop in their deployment concepts. Today's state of the art airdrop deployment options offer commanders many tactical and logistics advantages, while advances underway in airdrop technology promise to make airdrop an even more relevant IBCT deployment option in the future. ALOG

    Major John V. McCoy is pursuing a master's degree in logistics management at Florida Institute of Technology's Fort Lee Graduate Center. He has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, the Army Transportation Officer Branch Qualification Course, and the Army Logistics Management College's Logistics Executive Development Course, for which he completed this article.