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Strategic brigade airdrop: effects of army transformation and modularity.


On March 26, 2003, more than 1,000 soldiers of the 173d Airborne Brigade parachuted from 12 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft into northern Iraq, 8 days after the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Assigned to the US Army Southern European Task Force, the Sky. Soldiers parachuted into Iraq to secure the strategically situated Bashur Airfield and to assist special operations forces in deterring the following.

* Iraqi operations against the Kurdish-held region

* Factional fighting among regional Kurdish tribes

* Intervention into Iraq by Turkey (1,2)

During the next 96 hours, C-17s airlifted the second echelon of the brigade's forces into Bashur, consisting of over 400 vehicles, 2,000 soldiers, and 3,000 tons of equipment. (3)

The airdrop of the 173d Brigade into Iraq was the largest American airborne operation since Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama in 1989. (4) A complete success in terms of execution and objectives achieved, this large-scale combat airborne operation constitutes what is known within joint doctrine as a strategic brigade airdrop (SBA). SBA has long been a part of US military capability but known by different names. SBA has in recent years received significant attention within the Army and Air Mobility Command (AMC). The focus of this attention is AMC's inability to execute SBA within specified Army timing parameters and the measures it has taken to meet those requirements. Army transformation and its concept of modularity presents new dimensions that may affect the nature and execution of SBA as well as AMC's multifaceted program to satisfy Army requirements for SBA.

Transformation permeates today's Army. The post-Cold War environment prompted the Service to examine its roles, mission, and structure during the 1990s, which the September 11th attacks and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom accelerated. The Army recognized that its heavy force orientation constrained its ability to meet current and future probable threats and initiated a Service-wide agenda to transform itself into a more capable and responsive force. Service structure, unit organization, equipment, and personnel now fall under various transformation initiatives and programs--a number of which may directly affect SBA operations.

Modularity is the Army's concept of reorganizing its division-based combat force structure into one that is brigade-based. The goal of modularity is to "obtain a more relevant and ready campaign-quality Army" that better serves joint requirements. (5) Change within the Army will be far-reaching and among the many possible consequences of modularization are modifications to the composition and execution of SBA. While the Army wrestles with this process, Air Mobility Command has the responsibility of determining how to execute whatever changes are implemented to SBA operations.

SBA--Doctrine and Practice

SBA in Joint Doctrine

Airborne operations have been integral to American military strategy and force structure for 7 decades. Although the strategy, doctrine, and capabilities for airborne forces have varied over the years, there has always been a requirement for the capability to execute large airborne combat operations. Referencing current guidance, SBA falls within the domain of early-entry capabilities in the 2004 National Military Strategy and forcible entry operations in joint guidance. (6) Joint Publication 3-18, Forcible Entry Operations, defines forcible entry as "seizing and holding a military lodgment in the face of armed opposition." (7) Joint Publication 3-17, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Air Mobility Operations, categorizes SBA as a specific forcible entry capability. (8) Numerous other documents detail aspects of forcible-entry. For instance, United States Joint Forces Command produced the Joint Forcible-Entry Operations, Joint Enabling Concept in 2004 to provide joint commanders a set of principles and capabilities to consider for forcible-entry operations through at least 2015.

As the enabler of SBA, the Air Force imparts its doctrinal say in Air Force Doctrine Documents 2-6, Air Mobility Operations, 2-6.1, Airlift Operations, and 2-6.2, Air Refueling Operations. Ultimately, it is AMC's responsibility to execute SBA and it resources that responsibility in its Air Mobility Master Plan (AMMP). According to AMMP, mobility air forces must be able to "airdrop a brigade-size force over strategic distances and sustain combat forces by aerial delivery or airland operations." (9) Rather than redundantly discuss how various Army publications cover forcible entry and SBA, it is now possible to examine what the Army actually plans for and requires of the Air Force to execute SBA operations.

SBA Defined

In 1980, the requirement for strategic brigade airdrop was levied by a Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum. (10) In 1997, the Army and Air Force formed a joint integrated process team (IPT) to examine SBA in light of several dynamics facing both Services. First, the composition and capability of the AMC strategic air fleet was changing--C-17s were entering the inventory in greater numbers and C-141 s were being retired. Second, the Army began its introspective path towards transformation and was scrutinizing its roles and missions. Third, the changing international environment and threats to the United States merited a joint look at SBA. (11)

Two future Chiefs of Staff (Lieutenant General Jumper-Air Force, Lieutenant General Shinseki-Army) chaired the IPT, which made a number of determinations. Among the most significant determinations were the following.

* Intercontinental distances, assumed compressed mission timeline, and force protection issues precluded the general use of staging bases. SBA can be conducted within a theater, as was the case of the airdrop and deployment of the 173d Airborne Brigade into Iraq, however the baseline scenario is one conducted from an intercontinental distance.

* Intercontinental distances precluded the use of C-130 aircraft. The use of alternative aircraft, such as the C-130 for SBA, is not addressed within this article. (12)

* SBA is planned for use at or near a short, austere airfield. Such an airfield is loosely defined as a hard or semiprepared airfield, which is too short to accommodate C-141, C-5, or other heavy lift aircraft. As a result,

* SBA will be accomplished by C-17 aircraft only. Since this 1997 IPT decision, the Air Force has contracted for 180 C-17s and is likely to increase the current total. Headquarters AMC also ceased discussions of using other aircraft to execute or assist in executing SBA. Based on these factors, the use of any other aircraft to augment the C-17 in executing SBA will not be discussed.

* The maximum on ground at the airfield is four C-17s. This item, along with the previous and last item, raise an aspect of SBA not mentioned yet. SBA, in fact, comprises two echelons of combat forces insertion--an initial echelon of airdrop and a follow-on echelon of troops and equipment airlanded to a target airfield.

* The airdrop portion of the SBA must be completed within 30 minutes of the time over target (TOT). (13) Hereafter, this period of time will be referred to as pass time.

* The airland portion of the SBA commences no later than 4 hours after the airdrop TOT and concludes no later than 24 hours after the TOT.

SBA--The Army's Perspective

Strategic brigade airdrop is a method of employing Army forces into combat. This mission belongs to the 82d Airborne Division of the 18th Airborne Corps. As the lead agent for SBA, the 82d has had the responsibility of devising the composition of SBA since the late 1980s. In conjunction with the higher-level doctrine discussed previously, the 82d approaches SBA using this statement of work: "Within 18 hours of notification, the 82d strategically deploys and conducts forcible-entry parachute assaults to secure key objectives for follow-on military operations in support of US national interests." (14)

The division ready brigade (DRB) is the means by which the 82d executes SBA. The DRB concept is based upon the division's three-brigade organization and comprises a three-cycle rotation of each brigade. Each cycle is 6 weeks in duration. One brigade, known as mission DRB1, is fully trained, mission-ready, and on the hook for deployment within 18 hours. A second brigade, known as training DRB2, is in a training phase during which it trains and prepares for its operational mission. This training includes events accomplished at home station and away from home station. Examples of off-station training are participation in Louisiana's Joint Readiness Training Center, California's National Training Center, and joint task force exercises. The third brigade is the Support DRB3 and is in a stand-down mode in which personnel are on leave, attending school, or assisting with post support activities. (15) Each of the three brigades and battalions within those brigades, abide by specific recall windows. Using baseball vernacular, DRB1 is at bat, DRB2 is on deck, and DRB3 is in the hole.

SBA is an airdrop and airland delivery of a DRB. The airdrop package is referred to as alpha echelon and the airland package is referred to as bravo echelon. Although the DRB is tailorable, there is a planning standard, which is described in Tables 1 and 2. The number of C-17s required to deliver both echelons is listed in Table 3.

As shown in Tables 1, 2, and 3, executing a strategic brigade airdrop is a mammoth undertaking. Although this discussion does not include force structure or planning considerations it is worth mentioning how massive such an operation would actually be. The total aircraft requirement of 99 C-17s represents nearly five-sixths of the entire fleet as of September 2004. Given the assumption that SBA is conducted from an intercontinental distance, few, if any, of the aircraft and crews will be able to conduct multiple sorties. The scope of the operation is magnified when taking air refueling into account. Depending on where the SBA is conducted and how many air refuelings are needed for each C-17 it is possible for the tanker requirement to reach approximately 200 airframes. (19) Even when all 180 C-17 aircraft have been procured, this force comprises a significant portion of AMC's airlift and air refueling capability.

Resolving SBA Issues

Pass Time

Notional theory and good intentions aside, executing an SBA within the 1997 SBA Joint IPT requirements has been a difficult, expensive, and somewhat elusive proposition. The central reason for the difficulty in translating paper-based requirements into actual capability has been the C-17's inability to meet the 30-minute drop zone pass-time requirement. There are several different reasons why the alpha echelon of C-17s has exceeded the 30-minute pass time.

C-17 Personnel Airdrop Geometry

During the mid-1990s, personnel airdrop testing of the C-17 at Edwards Air Force Base revealed an occasional tendency for the parachutes of jumpers (exiting both the left and fight paratroop doors) to come into contact as the chutes deployed downstream of the aircraft. Rare as it was, AMC, the C-17 System Program Office (SPO), and the Army decided that such interactions were not safe and initiated a program to eliminate the problem. In 1996 engineers developed a solution that consisted of modifying the paratroop doors, raising the deck angle of the aircraft during airdrop, and using 20-foot static lines to initiate parachute deployment (as opposed to standard 15-foot static lines). Testing then commenced for formation personnel airdrop.

Remedying the chute collision problem resulted in another problem. During evaluations of formation personnel airdrop, parachutists from following aircraft were observed being jostled about excessively after exiting the aircraft. Analysis revealed that the jostling was caused by excessive wake turbulence from the proceeding aircraft. High-wing, high-drag, powered-lift design characteristics that enabled the C-17 to perform its tactical airland and airdrop missions at large gross weights caused the C-17 to generate a significant amount of wake turbulence and wingtip vortices. When the deck angle was raised during personnel airdrop to alleviate chute interactions, it exacerbated the extent of wake turbulence and vortices.

To rectify this new problem, the program office and AMC initiated an extensive modeling and aircraft-testing program. After months of testing, a workable solution was achieved by altering the geometry of personnel airdrop formations. Standard C-17 formation airdrop of personnel and equipment had been similar to that of the C-141 and C-130--aircraft flew in three-ship elements with 12,000 feet of separation between the lead aircraft of each element. The number two and three aircraft flew to the right and left respectively of the element leader at a spacing of either wingtip-to-wingtip separation (visual conditions) or 500 feet (instrument conditions). The new personnel geometry required 40,000 feet between elements and both wingmen flew on the same side of the element lead (which side depended on wind drift) at a spacing of 650 feet and 1,500 feet respectively.

The consequence of the exceedingly large spacing between elements, magnified over the entire length of a C-17 SBA airdrop formation, resulted in a pass time of 51 minutes. As a result, AMC, the C-17 SPO, and the Army initiated a comprehensive three-program effort to reduce the pass time. The first program involved more modeling and formation geometry testing that resulted in a new procedure of 32,000 feet spacing between elements. This reduced the pass time by 5 minutes to 46 minutes. The program office then analyzed reducing the element spacing to 27,000 feet, but the interaction rate exceeded an acceptable margin and the effort was terminated. (20) The other two programs are Dual-Row Airdrop System (DRAS) and station-keeping equipment (SKE) upgrades.


The DRAS is a process by which C-17 cargo compartment logistics rails are used to airdrop equipment platforms. A C-17 cargo floor has two types of rail systems built into it--Aerial Delivery System (ADS) rails and logistics rails. The ADS rails are a pair of centerline rails designed exclusively to airdrop heavy equipment platforms along the aircraft centerline. Logistics rails are two pairs of rails used to load standard 463-L pallets side-by-side along the length of the cargo compartment.

In 1997, based upon a company loadmaster's idea, Boeing made a proposal to use the logistics rails for airdropping heavy equipment platforms. (21) By using both sets of logistics rails to airdrop platforms this would enable the jets to airdrop more platforms per plane, decrease the total number of aircraft required for SBA, and reduce the airdrop pass time. The SPO and AMC agreed and authorized testing in 1997.

Testing proved successful; however, DRAS raised several difficult and expensive deficiencies. One issue was the logistics rail locks were not designed for the load forces the ADS locks experience during airdrop, which necessitated alternate drop procedures. Platforms that are dropped via standard procedures exit the aircraft when the extraction chutes exert enough force to overcome predetermined values on each of the variable lock settings on the ADS rails. The logistics rails do not have locks with variable resistance settings. As a result, the drop procedures were altered for DRAS by retracting the locks prior to a DRAS airdrop. Sometimes DRAS platforms shifted slightly during flight due to turbulence, deck angle changes, or pilot maneuvering and the platforms applied pressure to the logistics locks and caused one or more locks to bind when the time came to retract them. Such binding occasionally damaged the locks. A second deficiency was the mechanisms for releasing the parachutes and extracting the loads using the ADS rails could not completely support the extraction of two rows of platforms. Instead of extracting DRAS loads through a drogue chute process, as is the case with standard equipment loads, they exited the plane using a gravity-release process flown at a different deck angle. The deck angle change induced a third set of problems involving center of gravity issues that affected how the platforms exiting the aircraft caused interactions during deployment, and complicated the rigging process of DRAS platforms. (22) A fourth problem was that 463-L pallets were not designed for airdrop. They are smaller than standard airdrop pallets and not as durable.

Faced with a must do situation, the Air Force and Army set about resolving the DRAS issues as best they could. New DRAS air review procedures were developed and new contracts let to procure new platforms. Modifying the logistics rail locks, however, proved to be too expensive and AMC has not been able to acquire the funds to modify the fleet. Using procedures for the current aircraft capabilities, DRAS reduces SBA pass time by 6 minutes, lowering the total pass time to 40 minutes. (23)

SKE Follow-On

C-17s utilize SKE to maintain formation position and execute airdrops during instrument meteorological conditions. Formation aircraft do not have to see each other--aircraft positions are displayed electronically on screens in the cockpit. One aircraft serves as the master and the other aircraft electronically synchronizes their internal clocks off of it, providing accurate presentations on all aircraft. A limitation of SKE is that aircraft must be within 10 miles of the master in order to receive acceptable signals. Another limitation is there can only be one master per formation. Aircraft greater than 10 miles from the master must operate on a different SKE frequency (of which there are four) and the SKE presentations are only capable of displaying aircraft using the same frequency. A large formation can tactically work around the frequency limitation by flying separate, smaller formations but the formations require separation for safety sake that greatly lengthens the overall formation. A final limitation is that formations using the same SKE frequency must be at least 80 nautical miles from each other.

Remembering SBA consists of 53 aircraft, which equates to a formation length of roughly 90 miles, C-17 SKE hindered executing SBA. Air Mobility Command initiated an acquisition program to procure a new, more capable SKE system which it named SKE Follow-On (SKE-FO). Completely digital in nature and capable of managing and displaying up to 100 aircraft, SKE-FO eliminated SKE's shortcomings. Most importantly, SKE-FO closed the formation and reduced pass time by 14 minutes, bringing the overall pass time down to an acceptable 26 minutes. (24)

SKE-FO was scheduled for a completion date of mid-2005 but the contractor encountered technical difficulties that forced AMC to cancel the contract in late 2003. AMC and the SPO responded with a short- and long-term solution. The short-term solution is a software modification to current equipment, known as Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) overlay. TCAS overlay solves certain all-weather issues associated with traditional SKE, but it does not provide any capability to condense formations and therefore does not shorten the pass time. The long-term solution is called Formation Flight System (FFS) and is tentatively planned for a production cut-in of aircraft number P-153 in July 2006. Full fleet modification will occur in 2013. (25) FFS will solve all SKE limitations and reduce pass time by 14 minutes.

Army Transformation and Modularity

Transformation--The Concept

During the late 1990s, the Army embarked upon a long-term plan to reorganize and equip its forces to more capably meet the nation's security needs of today, for the next 20 years, and beyond. The Army Chief of Staff at the time, General Eric K. Shinseki, launched this sweeping program in October 1999 with the following words.
 To adjust the condition of the Army to better meet the requirements
 of the next century, we articulate this vision: Soldiers on point
 for the nation transforming this, the most respected army in the
 world, into a strategically responsible force that is dominant
 across the full spectrum of operations. With that overarching goal
 to frame us, the Army will undergo a major transformation .... (26)

Every aspect of the Army--personnel, organization, equipment, strategy, and operations--is enveloped within the transformation construct. Seven goals are enumerated to guide the efforts of organizations and individuals alike. Transformation is to make the Army more responsive, deployable, agile, versatile, lethal, survivable, and sustainable. (27) Transformation comprises three capabilities-based phases. Legacy forces are the heavy armored and mechanized forces that constitute the Army's current primary combat power and will do so for the near future. The interim forces are units modified in structure and enhanced with new, available technologies to make them more deployable than heavy units and better armed and protected than the lighter airborne and air assault units. Not all forces would necessarily transition to this stage. Some interim forces will function as technology and feasibility demonstrators for forces that will comprise the third phase of forces. The third phase was initially entitled the Objective Force and constituted "the art of the possible: what can be done to equip, organize, and train units to assimilate the best aspects of the heavy, light, and interim forces." (28) In late 2003, the new Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Schoomaker, renamed this phase Future Force to reflect a programmatic change in emphasis that is more process-oriented and aimed at "fielding future capabilities as soon as they are available." (29)

A core element of transformation is the institutionalization of brigades in place of divisions as the fundamental combat unit of the Army. Given the immense size of a division (typically around 15,000 personnel) and the dynamic nature of the strategic environment America now faces, divisions are not readily transportable and employable in contingency operations. The primary drawbacks of divisions are as follows.

* They are optimized for major land campaigns against similarly organized forces.

* They are large, fixed organizations with interconnected parts.

* They require extensive reorganization to create force packages.

* They limit the combatant commander's ability to mix and match packaged capabilities for multiple missions.

* They possess limited joint capabilities. (30)

Brigades are more inherently capable of attaining what General Schoomaker envisions for the Army, a "more relevant and ready campaign-quality Army with a joint and expeditionary mindset." (31) Brigades are strategically flexible, adaptive, sustainable, lethal, and can be the antithesis of the division shortcomings identified. The brigades of today are not optimally structured or equipped to maximize these attributes so the Army is focusing on transforming the various brigade types. The overarching concept that governs the transformation of brigades is modularity.

The Modular Army

At present, brigades employ via unit structures known as brigade combat teams (BCT). A BCT is formed by augmenting a brigade with functional elements from the division such as artillery. Commanders form BCTs to accomplish a specific mission. To do that, they employ force tailoring to build the BCT. Force tailoring is the process of selecting units of particular capabilities to accomplish a specific mission. This requirement to reorganize and force tailor reflects the conditions that brigades are not self-contained units nor are they capability-based, which limits their flexibility and immediate deployability. To provide combatant commanders with better capable units for rapid employment, standing combined-arms brigades are required. The Army is moving in this direction by creating units of employment (UE) and modular BCTs (also known as units of action).

A UE is a force of indeterminate, but large, size brought about to confront a contingency and is composed of modular BCTs. There are actually two UE organizations--UEx and UEy. The UEx is "the principle war fighting headquarters of the Army, exercising operational control over brigades employed in tactical engagements," and the UEy, which focuses "primarily on the Army Component responsibilities, supporting the entire theater and the operational forces ... as required by the combatant commander." (32) The new building block of the Army, a modular BCT, is composed of modular battalions and companies that are "self-contained organizations that can plug into and unplug from unit formations with minimal augmentation or reorganization." (33) Force tailored for mission purposes, modular BCTs are self-contained organizations that are more flexible, responsive, and deployable than traditional BCTs.

The Army's primary tactical unit will be the combined arms maneuver BCT. There are three types of maneuver BCTs: heavy, infantry, and Stryker. Other modular brigades will support the maneuver BCTs and serve UEx functions. By 2012, the Army plans to field a fourth type of BCT composed of future combat systems units. (34)

Of crucial importance to the concept of a modular Army is deployability. Units are reorganizing and equipment is being designed that will be capable of "operational maneuver from strategic distances," which is defined as the rapid projection of scalable, modular, and force tailored combined arms that are capable of operations immediately upon arrival. (35) Pursuant to this philosophy, the Army requires that brigades be capable of deploying worldwide in 96 hours and UEs in 120 hours. These ambitious requirements have reverberated throughout the Army as units at all levels investigate, plan, and structure themselves to meet them.

Modularity and Systems Development

Unit deployability in the modular Army encompasses not just the structure or size of units but also unit equipment composition. Central to transformation and modularity are robust new weapon systems optimally designed for functionality and deployability. Several of these programs will likely affect SBA operations. One program is currently being fielded and the other two are under development.

Stryker IAV. The Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV) is a family of vehicles the Army is procuring from General Dynamics Land Systems under the interim forces construct of transformation. Departing from the Army's tracked-vehicle tradition, the Stryker is an eight-wheeled, 19-ton armored vehicle that is both strategically (C-5/C-17) and operationally deployable (C-130). There are two Stryker variants, the infantry carrier vehicle, of which there are eight configurations, and the Mobile Gun System. The vehicle is capable of speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour and its range exceeds 300 miles. (36) A C-17 aircraft can airlift four Strykers (airland mission) or carry and airdrop two vehicles.

The Army is on contract for 2,112 Strykers that are being fielded to six Stryker brigade combat teams (SBCT). (37) Strykers present combatant commanders a vehicle that is very mobile, armored, combat ready, and more easily deployed than Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles. On August 13, 2004, a Stryker was successfully airdropped by a C- 17 at Edwards Air Force Base. It was the first of several test airdrops planned to evaluate its suitability for use with airborne forces. Although programmed for long-term use by Army units, the Stryker is an interim program that leverages current technology to satisfy current needs.

FCS Vehicle. The Future Combat System (FCS) vehicle will be the primary weapon and infantry-carrying vehicle of the Future Forces. The vehicle and its eight variants encompass a portion of 18 hardware systems collectively known as the Future Combat System. Still largely on the drawing board, FCS will incorporate many advanced technologies in multiple configurations that make use of a common vehicle platform. Variants of the FCS vehicle roles include mounted combat, command and control, infantry carrier, reconnaissance and surveillance, cannon, mortar, maintenance and recovery, and medical treatment. The vehicle will also incorporate network-centric capabilities for reception and dispersal of information.

Deployability is critical to the FCS vehicle design. The vehicle must meet the following requirements.

* Total weight is limited to 20 tons.

* Be capable of airlift by a C-130.

* Be 70 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller than an Abrams tank. (An Abrams tank weighs 70 tons.) (38)

An airdrop requirement has not been set for the FCS, however since it is approximately the same size as a Stryker, that capability is assumed for this discussion. The Army is striving to design, build, test, and field the FCS by 2008 and equip a majority of intended units by 2013.

PEGASYS and JPADS. The Army and Air Force are keenly interested in developing precision airdrop capability, particularly from high altitude. Currently, equipment airdrop is accomplished by C-17s and C-130s using unguided dumb chutes normally at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the ground or less, at airspeeds close to landing speed. These factors make the aircraft extremely vulnerable to ground fire and surface-to-air missiles. Dropping at higher altitudes to avoid threats decreases the accuracy of the airdrops. It is not uncommon for airdrops conducted at altitudes greater than 20,000 feet mean sea level (MSL) to result in touch downs a mile or more from the planned point of impact.

The Army initiated a program to field a smart airdrop system known as the Precision Extended Glide Airdrop System (PEGASYS) to negate the disadvantages of standard airdrop capabilities. PEGASYS is a family of four Global Positioning System-guided, autonomous, precision high-altitude airdrop systems. The system capabilities are as follows.

* PEGASYS-XL. Cargo from 200 to 2,200 pounds

* PEGASYS-L. Cargo from 2,201 to 10,000 pounds

* PEGASYS-M. Cargo from 10,001 to 30,000 pounds

* PEGASYS-H. Cargo up to 42,000 pounds

The systems are releasable at altitudes up to 25,000 feet MSL with a drop accuracy of 25 to 300 meters, depending on the drop altitude. Each of the PEGASYS systems will be linked to the Combat Track II satellite system, which will allow for in-flight changes of the release point. (39)

In 2003, the Army's PEGASYS-L program teamed with AMC to form a program titled the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS). The Joint Requirements Oversight Council recognized the importance of the program by ranking JPADS as its second highest priority for fiscal year 2004 technology demonstrations. JPADS will be payload independent, meaning it will use a platform that can accommodate anything that can fit on the platform. A PEGASYS-M variant will be capable of handling the Army's Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck Load Handling System and Future Tactical Truck System vehicles. (40)

Transformation, Modularity, and Their Effect on SBA: Determining a Reasonable Approach

The effects of Army transformation and modularization on SBA are still largely unknown. Planners on the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82d Airborne Division staffs have worked various elements of both programs. Members of the corps G-3 (operations and plans) staff indicate that progress has been steady but many issues remain to be worked. (41) Planning to this point can be characterized in three ways. First, both units have been subject to a high wartime operations tempo--personnel deployments have constrained planning efforts. Second, many aspects of the two programs remain in flux. Decisions on organizational issues are further along than weapon system considerations. The 82d is already programmed to transition from a three-brigade to a four-brigade structure. The FCS vehicle and JPADS/PEGASYS programs, on the other hand, are not close to production and this impedes decision making. Third, since the programs are so new, nearly all planning remains at the classified level.

This article suggests two approaches for analyzing how transformation and modularity may affect SBA. The first examines the issue from an Army perspective--What are general actions the Army could take that affect SBA? Since there are many potential permutations and combinations of hardware and organizational structure, the Army could implement general courses of action. Qualitative considerations are discussed as opposed to quantitative guesses with too many unknown variables. The second presents a proactive Air Force perspective--What can Air Mobility Command do to optimize SBA for the Army? This method assumes that forewarned is forearmed. That is, participating in the decision-making process that involves a significant portion of AMC assets is better than reacting to Army decisions after they have been made.

Army Actions Affecting SBA

There are four principal ways transformation and modularity can affect SBA--Improve unit restructuring; field the Stryker, FCS vehicle, and JPADS/PEGASYS. None of these are mutually exclusive of each other. In fact, it is not a question of whether any of them will be incorporated into SBA, but when they will and to what extent. In the following discussion only the predominant positive or negative factors are examined.

Unit Restructuring. Deployability, flexibility, and independence are key characteristics that govern the reorganization and restructuring of Army units. Although the Army is due to increase in overall size during the next few years by 30,000 or more personnel, Army planning is for more efficient and effective smaller units. (42) The four-brigade structure that the 82d is in the process of transitioning to maintains the division's current overall manning strength. (43) However, reducing the brigade size may decrease the number of aircraft required for either or both echelons.

It should be noted, however, some individuals caution that modularizing units may actually increase the size of the subunits or the parent unit because of the economies lost by having certain support functions pooled at the parent-unit level. (44) Spreading a function across battalions within a brigade or across brigades within a division may result in more total personnel performing that function than originally was the case. Similarly, modifying units by fielding smaller or lighter weapon systems may entice commanders to want more of the new system. All weapon systems have a logistical tail associated with them, so placing more of them within a unit may enlarge the unit's logistical footprint. Because a C-17 can carry three or four Strykers at a time as opposed to just one Abrams tank does not mean commanders will need to or should do so.

Stryker. There are five major options for incorporating the Stryker into the SBA. These options are not mutually exclusive.

Option 1--Replace Alpha Echelon Vehicles. Replacing vehicles to be airdropped on a one-to-one basis with any Stryker variant will increase the number of C-17s required. Strykers are twice the length and wider than the average vehicle that is airdropped. Most alpha echelon vehicles are capable of airdrop via DRAS procedures, however, Strykers are not. Thus C-17 requirements would increase. If each Stryker added replaced more than one vehicle because of its greater utility, then it would be possible to maintain or reduce the number of C-17s required.

Option 2--Add to Alpha Echelon. Adding Strykers to the standard airdrop package without decreasing the number of other vehicles airdropped will increase the number of C-17s required at up to a one-for-two rate. A C-17 is capable of dropping two Strykers on a single pass, but doing so requires the aircraft's maximum airdrop capability. No other platforms can be dropped from the aircraft.

Option 3--Replace Wheeled Bravo Echelon Vehicles. This option is similar to Option 1 but with less negative impact. Airlanding any type of cargo permits more efficient use of the cargo compartment because fewer rigging and restraining devices are required than for airdropping equipment. The ratio of wheeled vehicles removed per Stryker is greater than it is for Option 1.

Option 4--Add to Bravo Echelon. C-17s are capable of carrying four Strykers per aircraft. The number of C-17s required is therefore a one-to-three Strykers carried ratio.

Option 5--Replace Tracked Bravo Echelon Vehicles. A C-17 is capable of carrying four Strykers, two Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, or one Abrams tank. Depending on which and how many vehicles are replaced, it is possible to reduce the number of bravo echelon C-17s, especially with a one-to-one replacement. Conversely, if the Army desires to retain the same number of C-17s, more Strykers can be carried. However, logistical and personnel support would have to be taken into account.

FCS Vehicle. The FCS affords the Army opportunities similar to those of the Stryker since the two vehicles will be approximately the same size and weight. Changes to the airland and airdrop components of SBA will depend on which vehicles or pieces of equipment the FCS replaces. There is the potential to reduce the number of C-17s if the Army replaces equipment at roughly a one-to-one ratio. If the FCS proves to be a quantitative leap forward in capability over the current wheeled, tracked, or towed equipment, there is the possibility for a greater ratio of legacy equipment replaced, which would also serve to reduce the number of aircraft required.

JPADS/PEGASYS. These two systems may have more of a qualitative than quantitative impact on SBA depending on how they are actually fielded. Their precision nature will facilitate the post-drop assembly of airborne forces on the ground--soldiers will not have to spend as much time searching for their designated equipment. The payload-independent functionality of JPADS and PEGASYS-M may influence the number of C-17s required if they allow for higher density airdrops. Higher density airdrop means the platform or container used can hold more equipment or cargo. If the systems can airdrop more equipment, fewer C-17s may be required unless the Army decides to make use of the additional volume by adding more equipment to the drop package.

What Can AMC Do to Optimize SBA for the Army?

Air Mobility Command is a major stakeholder in transformation and modularity initiatives. Although AMC does not always have a vote in Army decision making, it does have opportunities to facilitate and optimize planned initiatives. There are four ways in which AMC can specifically optimize SBA for the Army.

* FFS. The unfortunate cancellation of the C-17 SKE-FO program imposes a 3-year delay in AMC's ability to meet the 30-minute pass time requirement for SBA. The 3-year slip should obligate AMC to advocate Formation Flight System (FFS) as a priority program and be willing to fund it accordingly. Both the C-17 SPO and AMC must carefully monitor the program to prevent setbacks and any further delays.

* JPADS. Precision airdrop capability benefits AMC and all its airdrop customers, not just the Army, during SBA operations. Properly designed and functional JPADS platforms will not only facilitate ground recovery, they will reduce equipment losses due to errant and off-drop zone drops. The 2004 Air Mobility Master Plan combat delivery and C-17 roadmap both identify precision airdrop systems as a highly desired capability. (45) AMC should fully support the design and testing of JPADS, which is being carried out by the Army Natick Soldier Center (NSC) in Natick, Massachusetts. AMC should also consider providing additional funding to NSC for JPADS. Such action would accelerate the program and serve as a good-faith gesture in light of the pass time delay caused by the cancellation of SKE-FO.

* Stryker Airdrop. Now that a C-17 has successfully airdropped a Stryker, the Air Force and Army need to coordinate, fund, and initiate a full developmental testing program followed by full operational testing. Since the first drop was made using estimated ballistic data, actual ballistic data for a drop of 10 G-11C parachutes must be developed and incorporated into AFI 11-231, Computed Air Release Point Procedures, and the C-17 mission computer database. (46)

* SBA-Related Training. Conducting a complete SBA or even a portion of a brigade airdrop (known as a brigade slice) in a training or combat environment is a daunting operation for all involved, from crews to maintenance personnel to ground support personnel. C-17 formation flights and airdrops of more than nine aircraft are only occasionally practiced due to limitations of available crews, aircraft, ground support, and real world operations tempo. As difficult as it may be to schedule, AMC should ensure that the operational C-17 wings perform periodic large formation airdrop flights of 12 or more aircraft. The 18th Airborne Corps and AMC conducted such exercises on nearly a quarterly basis at Pope Air Force Base during Large Package Weeks and annual Big Drop exercises; however, high wartime operational tempos for Airborne and C-17 units forced the cancellation of some of these events over the past several years.

Ideally, large formation exercises should be conducted in concert with the 82d, dropping personnel and actual SBA cargo and equipment. In particular, AMC should coordinate to drop Stryker and FCS vehicles as they enter the inventory. Outsized, 20-ton vehicles such as these are a challenge for ground personnel to rig and aircrew to load and drop, and are seldom actually airdropped. Providing as many individuals as possible with first-hand experience airdropping Strykers and FCS vehicles will improve the execution of actual SBA operations.


Predicting with precision the effects transformation and modularity will have on strategic brigade airdrop is a difficult proposition. The four primary elements of potential influence discussed in this article--unit reorganization, the Stryker, the FCS vehicle, and JPADS/PEGASUS--are independent programs with separate timelines spread out over a number of years. It is possible to make some general assertions using the framework of how Army actions may affect SBA and how the AMC can optimize SBA for the Army. It is also possible, and wise, to compare the two sets of options, and determine what actions can be considered deal makers or deal breakers.

Modularizing the 826 presents the best opportunity to reduce the size of SBA operations for the Army and AMC. Implementing a four-brigade structure with the existing division decreases the size of each brigade, which should reduce the amount of airlift required to airdrop and airland it. Adopting either or both the Stryker and FCS vehicles for SBA could increase or decrease the size of a notional SBA depending on how it occurs. Replacing alpha or bravo echelon wheeled vehicles with either system could reduce the airlift required depending on the ratio of vehicles replaced. Adding Strykers or FCS vehicles to either echelon will increase echelon size by a handful of C-17s if the swaps are done on a one-for-one basis. Swapping at a different ratio could still result in a net airframe reduction depending on the ratio used. It is too early to judge the influence JPADS or PEGASYS will have on SBA, since the systems are still under development. If the system variants employ some sort of container or platform that will allow a greater density of material to be airdropped, some airframe reductions are possible.

Air Mobility Command has several opportunities to positively influence SBA for the Army. First and foremost AMC, in concert with the C-17 program office, must vigilantly manage the FFS program so as to expeditiously field an effective system. The Air Force is on contract with the Army to meet a 30-minute drop zone pass time. The 3-year slip due to the failure of SKE-FO accentuates AMC's obligation to achieve this capability. AMC's active support of a successful JPADS program will improve post-drop ground operations and could result in decreasing the size of a notional SBA. The successful test drop of a Stryker appears to prove the viability of doing so in an SBA. If AMC accelerates the test program it can verify that possibility sooner and facilitate ongoing transformation planning. Finally, AMC should maintain an active large formation training program for its C-17 crews. The demands of real-world operations do constrain training opportunities but AMC can provide temporary relief for periodic exercises.

Deal Makers and Deal Breakers

The Army and AMC have a number of courses of action by which they can influence SBA. Since these options are different in terms of viability, cost, timing, and impact, certain courses of action can be considered deal makers or deal breakers--the bottom line actions that will most positively and negatively affect SBA. There are two deal makers, unit restructuring and FFS, and two deal breakers, FFS and FCS.

Unit restructuring presents an opportunity to condense SBA and save air mobility resources if 82d brigades are reduced in size. Since AMC is the supporting command, it is not in a position to actively pursue or advocate brigade downsizing. The Army does not have to reduce the size of its brigades but there are significant advantages in doing so. The FFS, on the other hand, is a must do for AMC which qualifies it as a deal maker and deal breaker. AMC cannot make the 30-minute pass time requirement without replacing the C-17's current SKE system. A sufficiently functional FFS must permit at least a 10-minute reduction in pass time. FFS will be a deal maker if it functions as advertised; it will be a deal breaker if it doesn't function as advertised, or is fielded later than planned because of technological or funding issues.

The FCS poses the potential to be a deal breaker if it is not fielded within or close to the design weight criteria. If technological limitations preclude a 20-ton vehicle, a heavier vehicle could significantly affect SBA. A heavier FCS vehicle may not be capable of being airdropped. The FCS should prove a benefit to SBA if its weight is kept under control and the Army replaces SBA vehicles (wheeled or tracked) vice adding FCS vehicles to the echelons.

The airdrop and airland movement of the 173d Airborne Brigade into Bashur, Iraq in March 2003 proved the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are willing to conduct a strategic brigade airdrop in combat. The comprehensive impact of the Army's transformation and modularity programs on all aspects of Army combat capability does not diminish this desire. In fact, the central thrusts towards improved deployability, mobility, and lethality, leveraged by technology, increased the possibility of future SBA operations. As the Army reinvents itself through transformation and modularity with the support of AMC, both institutions will affect the composition and execution of SBA. With proper coordination and realistic planning the Army and AMC can significantly enhance a vital element of our national military combat capability.

Article Acronyms

ADS--Aerial Delivery System

AMC--Air Mobility Command

AMMP--Air Mobility Master Plan

BCT--Brigade Combat Teams

CDS--Container Delivery System

DRAS--Dual-Row Airdrop System

DRB--Division Ready Brigade

FCS--Future Combat System

FFS--Formation Flight System

IAV- Interim Armored Vehicle

IPT--Integrated Process Team

ISR--Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

JPADS--Joint Precision Airdrop System

MANPAD--Man-Portable Air Defense

MSL--Mean Seal Level

NSC--Army Natick Soldier Center

PEGASYS--Precision Extended Glide Airdrop System

SBA--Strategic Brigade Airdrop

SBCT--Stryker Brigade Combat Team

SKE--Station-Keeping equipment

SKE-FO--Station-Keeping Equipment Follow-On

SPO--System Program Office

TCAS--Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System

TOT--Time over Target

UE--Units of Employment

Article Highlights

Strategic Brigade Airdrop is a method of employing Army forces into combat.

This article examines the effects of Army transformation and modularization on SBA. The first section looks at the joint and Service doctrinal foundations of SBA. It also includes a discussion of the Army's parameters for SBA and a description of a notional SBA as it currently exists. The next section details the challenges of accomplishing SBA, and the programs AMC is working to overcome those challenges. The following section describes Army transformation and modularity in greater detail and their possible impact on SBA. The last section examines the implications for SBA given the proposed direction of modularity. Since the Army's march towards modularization is in a dynamic state of simultaneous theory development and implementation, it concludes with a discussion of the probable consequences of Army actions and offers recommendations as to how AMC can optimize SBA for the Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian E. O'Connor, USAF Colonel Stephen O. Fought, PhD, USAF, Retired Notes

Concentration and Logistics

To win in battle we must concentrate combat power in time and space. Strategy and tactics are concerned with the questions of what time and what place; these are the ends, not the means. The means of victory is concentration and that process is our focus here. There are only four key factors to think about if we seek success in concentration. This is not a simple task. Although few in number, their impact, dynamics, and interdependencies are hard to grasp. This is a problem as much of perspective as of substance. It concerns the way we think, as much as what we are looking at. The factors are not functions, objects, or even processes. They are best regarded as conditions representing the nature of what we are dealing with in seeking concentration. They are as follows.


Logistics is not independent. It exists only as one-half of a partnership needed to achieve concentration. Why is understanding this so important? Logistics governs the tempo and power of operations. For us, and for our enemy. We have to think about the partnership of operations and logistics because it is a target. A target for us, and for our enemy. Like any target, we need to fully understand its importance, vulnerabilities and, critical elements to make sure we know what to defend and what to attack. All military commanders, at all levels of command, rely on the success of this partnership. How well they understand it will make a big difference concerning how well it works for them and how well they work for it.

Wing Commander David J. Foster, RAF

(1.) Lt Col Thomas W. Collins, "173rd Airborne Brigade in Iraq," Army Magazine, [Online] Available: 7A6FFCF6D28F558985256D2D0059ED5C?OpenDocument. 26 August 2004.

(2.) "U.S. Forces Parachute Into North," JSOnline. 26 March 2003, [Online] Available:, 30 August 2004,

(3.) Cynthia Bauer, "Commander Recounts Historic C-17 Airdrop Into Iraq," USAFE News, 12 April 2003, [Online] Available: http://, 24 August 2004.

(4.) Ibid.

(5.) Gen Peter J. Schoomaker, "The Way Ahead--Our Army at War, Relevant and Ready," Army Home Page, 30 August 2004, [Online] Available:, 30 August 2004.

(6.) Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Military Strategy of the United States of America: A Strategy for Today: A Vision for Tomorrow, 2004, 19.

(7.) Department of Defense Joint Publication 3-18, Forcible Entry Operations, 16 July 2001, I-1.

(8.) Department of Defense Joint Publication 3-17, Joint Doctrine and Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Air Mobility Operations, 14 August 2002, IV-4.

(9.) Air Mobility Master Plan (AMMP) 2004, Combat Delivery Roadmap, Air Mobility Command, October 2003, section 2.3.2.

(10.) Maj Rob Risberg, PowerPoint Presentation, Strategic Brigade Airdrop--The XVIII Airborne Corps Perspective, 25 November 2003, slide 3.

(11.) Risberg, slide 4.

(12.) Capt Seth Beaubien and Major Robert Jacobson discuss the use of alternate aircraft for SBA such as the C-130J.

(13.) Risberg, slide 6.

(14.) Maj Douglas Storr, PowerPoint Presentation, Strategic Brigade Airdrop Concepts, April 2004, slide 14.

(15.) Storr, slide 20.

(16.) Risberg, slide 15.

(17.) Risberg, slide 16.

(18.) Storr, slide 26.

(19.) Storr slide 37.

(20.) Brig Gen John R. Vines, Chief of Staff, XVII Airborne Corps, memorandum to Brig Gen Charles L. Johnson, Director C-17 System Program Office, subject: Strategic Brigade Airdrop Capability, 30 June 1998.

(21.) Capt Mark L. Stoddard, "Rail Locks for Strategic Brigade Airdrop," Army Logistician, Sep-Oct 2000, [Online] Available: http://, 9 August 2004.

(22.) Ibid.

(23.) Air Mobility Command, Airlift Requirements Section (A58A), "C-17 SBA Pass Time Reduction," Briefing, 17 August 2003, slide 1.

(24.) Briefing, slide 1.

(25.) Ford Rowland, "SKE Follow-On Replacements," e-mail, 23 August 2004.

(26.) Dennis Steele, "The Army Magazine Hooah Guide to Army Transformation," Army Magazine (supplement), 2001, 2.

(27.) Steele, 3.

(28.) Steele, 7.

(29.) James Jay Carafano, "The Army Goes Rolling Along: New Service Transformation Agenda Suggests Promise and Problems," The Heritage Foundation, 23 February 2004 [Online] Available: http://, 3 September 2004.

(30.) Headquarters U.S. Army, "Why We Are Changing the Army," Briefing, 13 May 2004, slide 5.

(31.) Schoomaker.

(32.) Michael D. Burke, "Unit of Employment," White Paper, Version 3.5, Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate, Ft Leavenworth, KS, 16 July 2004, 11-12.

(33.) John A. Bonin and Telford E. Crisco, Jr., "The Modular Army," Military Review, March-April 2004, 26.

(34.) Burke, 12-13.

(35.) Army Concept Branch, Headquarter Training and Doctrine Command, "Army Concepts Summaries," 29 March 2004, Soldiers For The Truth, [Online] Available: database=Unlisted.db&command=viewone&id=11, 7 September 2004.

(36.) "Stryker Fact File," [Online], 10 September 2004, [Online] Available: The eight configurations of the Infantry Carrier Vehicle are: Mortar Carrier, Reconnaissance Vehicle, Commanders Vehicle, Fire Support Vehicle, Medical Evacuation Vehicle, Engineer Squad Vehicle, Anti-tank Guided Missile Vehicle, and NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle.

(37.) Ibid.

(38.) Steele, 13.

(39.) Adam Giebel, "Gently to Earth," Special Operations Technology, 9 February 2004, [Online] Available:, 7 September 2004.

(40.) Ibid.

(41.) Capt Nathaniel Farris, "82nd Airborne Division Restructuring," email, 23 August 2004.

(42.) Gen Peter J. Schoomaker, "Defense Department Special Briefing on U.S. Army Transformation," Defense Link, 26 July 2004, media briefing, [Online] Available: tr20040726-1042.html, 18 September 2004.

(43.) Capt Nathaniel Farris, "82nd Airborne Division Restructuring," email message, 14 September 2004.

(44.) Carafano.

(45.) AAMP, "Combat Delivery Roadmap (2.3.2)" and "C-17 Roadmap (2.3.10)."

(46.) Maj Landon Henderson, "Stryker Airdrop Testing," e-mail, 7 September 2004.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian E. O'Connor is an action officer in the mobility division, Joint Staff logistics directorate (J-4). At the time of the writing of this article, he was a student at the Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Colonel Steven O. Fought, PhD, USAF, Retired, is the former dean of the Air War College, and remains on staff.
Table 1. Division Ready Brigade Alpha Echelon Composition (16)

Alpha Echelon--Airdrop Package

1 Brigade HQ
1 Division Command Post
3 Infantry Battalions
1 Artillery Battalion
1 Engineer Company
1 Air Defense Battery
1 Combat Support Element

Troops 2,460
105mm Howitzers 18
Wheeled Vehicles 102
TOW Systems 60
Javelin Systems 58
81mm Mortars 12
60mm Mortars 18
Stinger MANPADS 21
Engineer Repair Packages 12
CDS Bundles 54
Supply Platforms 9

Table 2. Division Ready Brigade Bravo Echelon Composition (17)

Bravo Echelon--Airland Package

Aviation Task Force
 --Cavalry Troop
 --Attack Company
 --Assault Company

Armor/Mechanized Team
 --Tank Platoon
 --Mechanized Infantry

Tailored Support Package

Remainder of SBA Units

Troops 680
Wheeled Vehicles 227
UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters 12
OH-58D Kiowa Helicopters 16
M1A1 Abrams Tanks 4
M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles 4
M113 Armored Personnel Carriers 2
Avenger Air Defense Systems 12
Engineer Repair Packages 12
Supply Platforms 41

Table 3. C-17 Aircraft Required for SBA (18)

Type of Delivery of C-17s

Equipment Airdrop (Alpha Echelon)
 --Dual Row Airdrop 21
 --Standard Airdrop 7
Personnel Airdrop (Alpha Echelon)
 --Personnel 24
 --CDS Platforms 1
Airland (Bravo Echelon) 46
Total Aircraft 99
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Author:O'Connor, Brian E.; Fought, Stephen O.
Publication:Air Force Journal of Logistics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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