Airdrop Enhanced Logistics Visibility Information System
In Afghanistan, geographically dispersed ground forces are relying more on airdrop
operations as their primary means of resupply—in 2009, USAF aircraft airdropped over 28 million
pounds of supplies. The DOD currently tracks supplies as they are transported through major
airports and seaports of delivery, but in the “Last Tactical Mile”—where airdrop becomes a
significant means of resupply—logistical tracking, visibility and critical information are essentially
non-existent. This problem also exists for humanitarian relief efforts, such as the ongoing Project
By integrating satellite communications, barcode scanning technology, and software
programming, IITA has now demonstrated a capability to track individual inventory items
airdropped to geographically dispersed units anywhere in the world. Ultimately, all military and
any other stakeholders with an internet connection will be able to locate quickly and accurately an
individual cargo bundle and its content details, regardless of daylight availability or weather
Solving the problem of “cargo location” will simultaneously provide benefits to all resupply
stakeholders, including reduced ground logistics operations, lowering recovery forces’ exposure to
any existing threats, such as IEDs and enemy ground fire. At the same time, understanding what is
contained within specific cargo bundles will allow ground unit commanders in hostile areas better
risk management through prioritized choices of blood, bandages, food, and ammunition.
Additionally, the proposed AELVIS solution also provides significant cost savings compared to
current JPADS methods—estimates of $2 – 3 million per week.
The road system and infrastructure in Afghanistan is poor and in some cases non-existent.
While the use of convoys is still prevalent, FOBs and smaller firebases in austere areas can be
totally dependent on airdrop for resupply. At the tactical level, the ability to locate individual
Container Delivery Systems (CDSs) has become paramount. To enhance these resupply operations,
IITA has integrated the war fighter into its IT research. IITA began its research by interviewing Lt
Col Doug Strawbridge, a former pilot with the Air Force Reserve C-130 unit at Peterson AFB
(302nd AW), recently deployed with the Army to Afghanistan as an AMLO (Air Mobility Liaison
Officer). Working side-by-side with the Army in remote areas of Afghanistan, he witnessed the
processes involved in recovering airdropped supplies in combat conditions and rugged terrain, and
familiarized himself with the Army’s ongoing efforts to improve the Joint Precision Airdrop
JPADS employs GPS technology and a steerable parachute harness system to drop CDS
loads (500-1000 lbs) to within 10 meters of its programmed point of impact from altitudes above
15,000 feet, an altitude that is beyond the threat of most anti-aircraft systems. The following were
some of Lt Col Strawbridge’s observations:
JPADS is currently working on technology to enable more precise drops,
A significant percentage of airdropped cargo misses landing in the surveyed drop zone (DZ)
defined boundaries (“Off DZ Drops”).
Man hours are used inefficiently when searching for “off DZ” airdropped cargo.
Exact contents of each CDS load are not available to the DZ recovery team, so the bundles must
be recovered and broken down for inspection and priority itemization.
Most drops are conducted in the day so the DZ recovery team has visibility of the cargo as it
parachutes to the ground. However, aircrews and ground personnel would prefer night drops that
would mitigate certain threats to blue forces.
Usually the DZ recovery team or the nearby firebase has connectivity to a satellite-based
internet system—their communication equipment is quite good.
Daily e-mails or text messages summarizing airdrop recovery ops are sent at the end of the day
to various C2 agencies. This is an additional tasker for ground forces.
Requests for supplies must be anticipated and requested well in advance.
Parachutes and platforms must be recovered for re-use—some CDS bundles are never found.
The developers of JPADS, located at the US Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center
(NSRDEC) in Natick, Massachusetts, have been searching for a cargo locating capability to address
operational deficiencies associated with JPADS employment. IITA, in conjunction with its war
fighter network and resources, has developed a capability with existing technologies.
On 24 Sep 09, IITA demonstrated and proved this capability.
Additionally, LTC Mark Burtner, US ARMY TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command),
Bagram AB, confirmed that recovering airdropped loads, even under ideal conditions, is a long and
tedious task for forward deployed units. When great resources and time are required to find “off
DZ drops,” commanders have elected to allow some bundles to go unrecovered.
The bottom line: assisting the DZ recovery team in prioritizing and locating CDS bundles
would reduce workload, as would automating the reachback reporting processes after an airdrop
The Operations Concept
IITA will develop AELVIS 1.0 (Airdrop Enhanced Logistics Visibility Information System)
to provide total logistics location awareness operationally. The primary objective will be to develop
the system with necessary hardware and software that will fit seamlessly (to minimize turbulence in
operations) into existing processes and technologies in the AOR. Specifically, IITA will develop a
system for first operational use at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
At Bagram Airfield, AELVIS will integrate satellite communication, RFID technology, and
geospatial technologies in a seamless manner to provide CDS location and content information to
Command and Control elements world-wide and end users in the field. The AELVIS tracking
system is integrated into the delivery chain at the aerial port where CDS bundles are built for
airdrop. RFID technology (to create the CDS content database) will be utilized to maintain speed
and ease in bundle build-ups for the riggers (to meet the seamless integration objective). Prior to
loading into each CDS bundle, supplies will pass near an RFID scanner at which time a particular
item will become associated with that particular CDS bundle in a database. When that CDS bundle
is complete, a Pallas Blue Force Tracker (BFT) is scanned and its own “ID Tag” is associated with
the contents of that particular CDS bundle in the database. This information is stored in the
USCENTCOM server. Riggers then attach the BFT to the CDS.
As the CDS bundle and its associated BFT are airdropped, they communicate with Iridium
satellites. Three-dimensional (x, y, z) coordinates and the BFT ID Tag are sent to the
USCENTCOM server. Instantaneously, the satellite data of BFT ID Tag and CDS position and
kinematic data are matched with the BFT ID tag + CDS content stored in the server. These two
“packets” of information are “merged” and sent together to satellites and relayed to end users in the
field. Simultaneously, that merged information becomes available to command centers world-wide
for enhanced situational awareness. An “auto-drop score” is then calculated and visible to the
users. The auto-drop score provides a bearing and range from the Point of Impact (Target) to the
CDS bundle on the ground.
The final part of the airdrop process begins when the forward deployed force retrieves a
bundle. They will click on an icon that acknowledges receipt of the inventory. This will update the
command centers and warehouse databases.
Attach BFT &
Tactical Airlift Load CDS
Recover Battalion NCOIC
CDS receipt copy
Req plies needed
Su p needed
Tactical Ops Center Battalion Airdrop Supply
Battalion Command Supplies NCOIC
Signed hand receipt
Figure-1 Supply Request to Delivery Chain
Following successful integration with the Bagram airdrop ops, the system will propagate to
other bases. Visual descriptions of the user request to airdrop delivery are described in Figures-1
and -2. Figure-1 is a general description outlining the supply request and delivery chain. Figure-2
adds detail to this general outline by including diagrams denoting relevant information in the
AELVIS 1.0 concept for Bagram Airfield.
co o r
Attach BFT &
s + ID
, co n
w/ USCENTCOM Server
BFT (BFT/CDS Position Data & BFT
contents ID Tag + CDS Content Data
& BFT “Merged” Here)
CDS Content Data
+ BFT ID Tag
Real-time location, contents, &
kinematic data of CDS
Supply management Forward
Figure-2 AELVIS 1.0 Concept for Bagram Airfield
The Proof of Concept
To prove this concept, an operational test was conducted on 24 September 2009, at the
Airburst range (McClendon DZ) south of Ft. Carson, Colorado. A 302nd AW C-130H3 on a local
JPADS training mission was loaded with two CDS bundles, which were dropped on two separate
passes from 4000ft AGL.
The day prior to the test drop, a simulated inventory database was created at USAFA with
barcodes and a scanner. Through research and interviews, IITA learned that supply members “in
theater” currently use hand receipts, not barcode scanners or RFID, to inventory cargo once loaded
into a CDS bundle. Significant time-savings could be gained if inventory methods transitioned
from hand receipts to AELVIS’s digitized system.
Barcode scanning was chosen for this proof of concept because of its simplicity,
availability, and IITA’s budget limitations. A handheld Pallas Blue Force Tracker (BFT), certified
for flight on C-130 aircraft, provided GPS capabilities for tracking individual CDS bundles. The
BFT and cargo were inventoried with a barcode scanner as the bundles were built for airdrop.
During the actual airdrop, the BFT communicated position information to Iridium satellites, which
communicated to the Mission Management Center (MMC) in Hawaii, which communicated to the
USNORTHCOM server, and then to the USAFA Google Earth server. Merged position and
content information was viewable on a Google Earth viewer by logging into this USAFA server.
In Photo 1 below, the BFT (AFABFT02 and AFABFT04—the parachute icons) are located
on the Peterson AFB ramp in preparation for attachment to the CDS bundles. A cursory evaluation
by IITA at USAFA yielded a BFT position that was +/- 70ft of its true location.
Photo 1 Photo 2
Photo 2 was taken after the second drop at the McClendon DZ. It shows the location of
AFABFT02 as well as the pop-up display of its contents, latitude-longitude, and kinematic data.
The large orange triangle depicts the Raised Angle Marker (CDS PI), which is the target for the
CDS airdrops. This screen shot demonstrates how location awareness can now be expanded to
include cargo point of impact and contents.
On both drops, we collected data from the time of exit from the aircraft to icon visibility on
our Google Earth viewer. For the first drop, the parachute icon, position, content information, and
kinematic data became visible 2 mins 15 sec after aircraft exit. For the second drop, the icon was
displayed on Google Earth 1 minute before aircraft exit, so the aircraft path was viewable. Three
viewing parties were involved. First, IITA personnel at McClendon DZ viewed the test on a laptop,
simulating a DZ recovery team commander. Second, IITA personnel at USAFA viewed the test on
a desktop, simulating a C2 organization. Lastly, an IITA researcher from the Wyoming ANG
viewed the test on his desktop, simulating a C2 organization further off station. All reports were
verified simultaneously via cell phone communication.
The advantages associated with total logistical location awareness are many:
1. Provides Army ground commanders an immediate capability to locate and prioritize the
recovery of airdropped CDS regardless of time of day or weather conditions. Saves limited
manpower and resources, increases safety, and assures energy focused on recovering most
critical and intact supplies first.
2. Increases aircrew threat avoidance capabilities (drops at higher altitudes) and decreases
enemy detection of airdrop operations through the planning of night and all weather drops (difficult
recovery at night or during inclement weather no longer a factor; concerns over greatly dispersed
CDS impact positions will not be mission limiting). Increases aircrew safety, denies enemy
detection of airdrop operations, and allows for greater flexibility throughout the planning
3. Assures all CDSs are located on every airdrop mission. Reduces need for additional
sorties, manpower requirements, and associated costs for personnel, maintenance and fuel.
4. Provides geographically dispersed operational control centers a capability to assess airdrop
effectiveness, consolidate and automate detailed reports, and more effectively assess mission
success. Relieves ground commanders of burdensome and redundant reporting processes,
accelerates the dissemination of airdrop metrics, and reduces human error.
5. Delivers unprecedented supply chain visibility and timeliness of airdropped assets in the
“Last Tactical Mile.” Gives logistical planners historical data on specific inventory items and
facilitates the development of usage rates associated with every remote operational location.
Forecasting supply requests for each and every airdrop location increases lead times,
eliminates back-ordering, and provides the DoD with a more responsive inventory planning
system from warehouse-to-war fighter.
6. Enables the development of new Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for both aircrew and
ground forces. “On Call Airdrop”- a potential force-multiplier allowing for this theory to become
reality: tactical airlift aircraft can orbit with particular loads and airdrop to ground troops as soon as
called upon. Knowing the location of the loads mitigates concern for drops that are
significantly off target, therefore making this theoretical aerial delivery method a reality. As
a follow on, tactics for coordinating airdrops forward of the line of movement for light infantry
could be developed, as well as a means to track enemy intercepts of airdrop supplies. Many more
applications would develop with this system in the hands of innovative warfighters. Cargo drops
can transform passive events into intelligence gathering missions.
7. Aircrew enablement - immediate visibility of airdropped load scores to formation aircrew
may provide useful information for updating CARPs (Computed Air Release Points) leading to
more accurate drop scores. Eliminates any radio calls normally done for feedback to crews.
Steps to an Objective System
1. A satellite laptop modem Blue Force Tracker communication link must be obtained and tested
for reliability. Certification for use of BFT devices on all types of C-130 operational aircraft.
2. A more standardized, robust Blue Force Tracker encasement must be built to protect the device
in bad weather and to withstand impact at 60-90 feet/sec. We must determine how to attach the
BFTs to operational CDS bundles (our airdrop test utilized training CDS bundles). The BFT
must have line-of-sight to satellites at all times; therefore, it must be attached in such a manner
that, should the bundle roll onto any of its sides, the attached BFT antenna will still have line-
of-sight to the satellites. IITA has USAFA cadets involved in various projects. This particular
project has 4 cadets majoring in mechanical engineering, astronautical engineering, engineering
mechanics, and systems engineering management. Their priority will be to problem-solve this
3. Common Operating Picture software integration: must be developed with the war fighter in
mind. For example, if a mass CDS airdrop is the mission, it may be a valuable capability for
the user on the ground to “filter” by priority supplies. If bullets and MREs are the priority, the
software should allow the user to filter those bundles that do not carry those items, allowing the
recovery team to prioritize which bundles to recover first. Interviews with personnel closely
involved with the process are paramount to ensuring the content data is delivered and usable in
the current theater operating environment (e.g., moving from a Google Earth view to
USA/USMC specific theater views via Army Battle Command System servers).
4. Data Integration & Security: the CDS content and position data merge as well as the Common
Operating Picture (COP) development must meet DoD certification and accreditation standards,
as well as data security requirements.
5. IITA will consider how to interact with the current Bagram logistical processes to bridge the
gap between theater logistics and “The Last Tactical Mile.” To ensure a working product, IITA
will proceed with Beta tests of the operational Bagram AELVIS 1.0 system in 2-3 airdrop tests
culminating in a useable product for a large scale joint airdrop exercise where all software and
hardware will be provided to exercise warfighters for implementation.
Steps to an Advanced System
1. Blue Force Tracker “Ping Rate”: currently, this device utilizes a 1 minute ping rate with the
satellites to determine position and kinematic data. We view 1 minute ping rate this as a
limitation. If the next generation BFT can be set to a shorter rate, near real time information can
be obtained enhancing situational awareness. We would like to see a 10 second ping rate. If
this is not possible, then perhaps another device similar to the BFT can be developed and
certified for flight quickly.