LAPS Assists Ammo Drop to Soldiers in Firefight
A recent news story on the Air Force Website "455th AEW Bagram Airfield" alludes to ESRL's valuable contribution to the support of US efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom. It reports on the Alaska Air National Guard's 144th Airlift Squadron mission to airdrop a load of ammunition to U.S. Army Soldiers operating near a high-desert drop zone and engaged with the enemy. There was a lot of satisfaction in that drop because in spite of technical and weather complications, the C-130 ("a truck with wings") was pointed to the drop zone, and at just the right moment the crew dropped six bundles of ammunition to the ground. The C-130 pointed its nose to the right course only after the crew measured the winds to determine the perfect drop-off location. The technology used by the crew to make that calculation, Local Analysis and Prediction System (LAPS), was developed at ESRL's Global Systems Division (GSD). LAPS is a wind assimilation scheme that GSD tailored for integration in the Department of Defense Precision Airdrop System (PADS).
Wind errors (forecast versus actual) are the largest contributors to the total error budget of a ballistic airdrop system, especially in mountainous terrain. The PADS LAPS project sought to reduce that wind error budget. The development team, including personnel from the Natick Soldier Center, Draper Laboratory, Planning Systems, Inc., and ESRL, focused on the use of real-time wind measurements over and near the planned drop zone using established technologies. The data were collected and processed by temporarily-installed onboard systems in US Air Force C-130 and C-17 aircraft. While real-time wind measurements are an important error-reducing component, assimilation of the data was correctly identified by the development team as a critical component of the entire airdrop in-flight mission planning system.
Use of LAPS technology for such cases as reported above marks a significant transition of a validated NOAA technology into operational military applications. Getting supplies and troops deployed at the right time in the proper location is of the utmost importance. Increased paradop accuracy, enabled by LAPS, enhances U.S. Air Force airdrop unit effectiveness, decreases cargo loss, reduces hostile threat to air units, and reduces dependency on ground logistics units.
Name: John A McGinley