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NEWS | Dec. 8, 2006

Charleston Airmen learn to use newest smart weapon

By Airman 1st Class Sam Hymas 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Twenty-nine Team Charleston flyers and maintainers recently learned the ins and outs of the Air Force's newest smart weapon -- the GPS-guided cargo pallet.

The training, held at Little Rock AFB, Ark., for more than 300 C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircrew members, taught them how to use the new system and then how to go back to their home base and teach Airmen there how to use it.

The smart pallet, known as JPADS, or Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System, makes use of global positioning satellite technology which steers parachutes to land pallets of cargo at precise locations on the ground. The systems use an Air Guidance Unit, which, through inputs by an airlift aircrew member and satellites in space, will direct a pallet of cargo from tens of thousands of feet -- and miles away -- to a target within 100 meters on the ground.

"The training focused on the train the trainers concept," said Capt. Kevin Peterson, 437th Combat Operations and Tactics deputy chief. "We not only learned how to use the system, but also how to instruct system use to the rest of the Charleston airdrop community. Charleston is leading the C-17 community in developing methods to take advantage of this new technology."

The new system will change the way Team Charleston flyers do business.
"JPADS is the future of combat aerial re-supply," said Captain Peterson. "We can get the supplies to ground units in remote areas, surrounded by extreme terrain, with a level of accuracy unimaginable with traditional airdrop."

The high-tech system could be used in places like a ridgeline in the mountains of Afghanistan where a stranded Special Forces team, running low on ammunition and pinned down by enemy forces, may need a re-supply before they can be extracted by friendly forces. Because the system allows aircraft making the drop to do so at high altitude, the risk to aircrews is also mitigated.

"This is important because our aircraft won't get seen as easily and possibly not get shot," said Maj. Gen. Scott Gray, Air Mobility Warfare Center commander. "The aircraft will remain out of small-arms reach and less in harm's way. This technology will get convoys off the road in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Weather will no longer stop re-supply of combat forces.

"These systems are an all-weather, day or night capability, that get supplies to the troops on the ground faster," the general said referring to the GPS satellite guided pallet. "The pallet will steer itself."

And the technology is improving. Currently, three systems are being used: high-, medium- and low-glide units, which, ultimately will be able to be dropped into an area about 50 meters in diameter when the technology advances.

"This is a huge technology leap," said General Gray, stating that the technology wasn't supposed to be ready until the end of the decade, but was expedited in order to get supplies to troops on the ground faster.

Although the training at Little Rock was only a few weeks ago, JPADS training for the rest of Team Charleston has already begun, said Captain Peterson.

"We are currently instructing phase-one training and will accomplish phase-two training as soon as we have all the required material to accomplish it," he said.

Phase-one training is ground training designed to provide an overview of JPADS, the different components and the capabilities of the different guided systems. Phase two is "hands-on" practice with the mission-planning laptop, as well as a training flight to become JPADS qualified, he said.