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Cheap, Low, Slow And Accurate
by James Dunnigan
April 28, 2012

Although U.S. troops are beginning to withdraw from Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense is still spending over $5 million a month for one-use, low cost, low altitude cargo parachutes. These low velocity parachutes were developed by the U.S. Army six years ago as a cheaper alternative to the more expensive low altitude parachute the air force was already using. These parachutes are also quite accurate when delivered from aircraft (or helicopters) flying low (under 400 meters/1200 feet) and slow. Coming like that puts less stress on the cheap parachutes and insures an accurate drop.

This type of parachute was a timely development because, in Afghanistan, there was a major problem supplying troops in many small bases. This was especially true because in the last two years more and more American troops arrived and were dispatched to remote bases and outposts. There are over 300 American bases that have to be supplied either by truck or by air. There aren't enough helicopters to do this and it's often too dangerous (because of the Taliban, the terrain, or the weather) to do it by road. So air drops were the favored method. But even here there were problems that had to be taken care of.

Often, accuracy is needed for the drops (because of the presence of hostile forces or very rough terrain). Air dropped supplies have landed, on average, within 185 meters of the aim point when dropped from higher altitudes. This is often necessary when there is a risk of enemy fire. To solve that accuracy problem there are GPS guided pallets that can land within 50 meters of the aim point. So when greater accuracy is needed (or it has to be done at night), a GPS guided parachute rig is used. These are more expensive and have to be returned for reuse.

However, it was found that, in most cases, the low altitude drops got the job done. C-130s could come in low over most of these remote bases, shove the pallets and their cheap, low-altitude parachutes out the back ramp, and the troops were resupplied. The C-130s arrived unexpectedly (for any Taliban in the area) and rarely received ground fire. The troops got their supplies and could use the one-use parachutes in their camps or gift them to local villagers, who were always in need of more cloth.


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