Staff Sgt. Steven Parker, Aerial Delivery Project Officer for Product Group Raids and Recon of Infantry Weapons Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command, is proud to show how well the Joint Precision Airdrop System—JPADS, for short—has performed in testing. One test in Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona surpassed even his expectations. “I have some pictures of four or five JPADS systems sitting within a few meters of each other,” he said. “We’ve actually hit the target itself a few times, too.”
The systems, when fully loaded, could bring thousands of pounds of supplies at a time to forward-positioned Marine more safely than ever. JPADS systems use GPS, a modular autonomous guidance unit, or MAGU, a parachute, and electric motors to guide supply deliveries within 150 meters of their impact points. The systems were born out of an Army research and development project in the 90s, which evolved into a statement of need and later a joint program. The Marine Corps, specifically MCSC, joined in the program in the early 2000s to get two JPADS variants as additive capabilities as well as a smaller JPADS system through a statement of need in 2007. MCSC is the Department of the Navy's systems command for Marine Corps ground weapon and information technology systems. It is also the Marine Corps commandant's agent for acquisition and sustainment of warfighting systems and equipment. Thus was born the ultra-lightweight JPADS, which can handle drops between 250-699 pounds. The two larger systems, the 2K and the 10K, can handle 900-2,200 pounds and 7,000-10,000 pounds, respectively. To get the supply drops to the impact points on the ground, the MGU links to the aircraft’s GPS system, or uses a GPS re-transmission system if the aircraft does not have a GPS retransmission system, to locate its position in reference to the targeted drop point. Then the MAGU receives additional variables such as parachute type, weight and ground elevation.
The MAGU will then give the user a launch acceptability region, or LAR, which is a conical area from which the JPADS can hit its target when released. The higher the altitude, the larger the LAR.
Once the JPADS hits the ground, the electric motors that control the parachute’s lines do a controlled line pull to collapse the chute for pickup and preventing the system being dragged by the wind. “We’re accurate up to 25,000 feet and eight kilometers out; even more if the wind is favorable. [The JPADS] comes in completely silently,” Parker said. “The conventional airdrop is low-level, low-speed and has large parachutes. Using JPADS, there’s much better aircraft survivability from ground threats because you can drop from such a great distance.” The MAGU avionics guidance unit weighs seven pounds and can be removed in less than a minute. The MAGU is much smaller than its predecessor, the autonomous guidance unit, which allowed for additional weight savings on ULW systems. “With the MAGU weighing so little we thought that we might be able to use some of our own canopies instead of having to buy new ones, so we did some tests,” Parker said. “It worked out pretty well, so we were able to mitigate the costs.” The spare canopies are MC-5 canopies, which are 370 square feet when deployed and were used for personnel airdrops. Re-purposing these MC5s saved the Marine Corps $3 million. The biggest cost reduction comes when the JPADS hit the ground. “If you compare what it’s going to take to deliver 16 of these out of the back of a C-130 versus what it’d take a logistics train to carry that amount of gear, it’s staggering,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jacob Reichert, Aerial Delivery Project Officer. “It’s going to take personnel, it’s going to take trucks, and it’s going to take security because of the IED threat. With the JPADS, I can deliver 16 bundles of 2,200 pounds from way up high, and all I need is the crew and the plane. Not only that, but you can also drop to several different locations at once as long as you’re within the LAR for each impact point.” While the Marines do not currently have any JPADS in-country, they have conducted supply deliveries via JPADS borrowed from the Army. This summer is a significant one for JPADS in the Marine Corps. The ULW has its final assessment, the 2K system is up for re-competition in August, and the 10K faces a fielding decision in July.
If all goes well, the 10K will be fielded in August, and that is good news for Marines who have seen the JPADS’s capability.
“They want the system now,” Parker said. “We’re fielding questions from [Marines] all the time. We have some fielding decisions coming up, and we hope we’ll be able to give this capability to them.”