June 29, 2017, MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA, UNITED STATES – Marine Corps Systems Command fielded the last of 162 Joint Precision Airdrop Systems to the fleet in April, turning the page from acquisition to sustainment of the system for the Corps.
When the JPADS 2K was introduced to the Marine Corps in 2008, it opened the door to a potentially life-saving capability for Marines on the ground and in the air. In 2013, the Corps upgraded to the 2K-Modular which included an improved modular autonomous guidance unit called the MAGU. JPADS 2K-M improved accuracy over traditional airdrops while simultaneously enabling aircraft to conduct drops at higher altitudes and longer distances from the drop zone.
“JPADS brings an important capability to Marines,” said Capt. Keith Rudolf, Aerial Delivery project officer with Marine Corps Systems Command’s Ground Combat Element Systems. “It’s not the answer for every situation, but the main goal is to keep people off the roads in an [improvised explosive device] environment or when small units are in locations that are not easily accessible by traditional logistic means.”
JPADS is ideal for cases where it is easier and safer to deliver equipment and supplies to ground units from the air versus using a convoy, Rudolf said.
“An average combat logistics patrol in Afghanistan that’s running behind a route clearance platoon may travel at only five to six miles an hour,” he said. “Depending on how much supply you have on there, you may have a mile worth of trucks that are slow-moving targets. [JPADS] negates a lot of that.”
The system also helps keep aircrews out of harm’s way.
“From the aircraft perspective, [JPADS] can be dropped from up to 25 kilometers away from the intended target, while still landing within 150 meters of the programed impact point,” Rudolf said. “Throughout testing, the systems often averaged much greater accuracy. That means the aircraft does not have to fly directly over a danger zone where they could be engaged with small arms or enemy threats on the ground. They can fly outside of that and because the system is autonomous, it will fly its best path down to where it needs to go.”
The improved accuracy the MAGU provides also means supplies land closer to Marines on the ground who need to retrieve them.
The JPADS 2K was originally used by the Army and was upgraded by the Marine Corps as the 2K-M for airdrops between 900 and 2,200 pounds. At the same time, the Corps began to pursue another variant, called JPADS Ultra Lightweight, or ULW, capable of delivering smaller loads between 250 and 700 pounds. Fielding for the 2K-M and ULW variants began in September 2016, and included three aerial delivery units; three reconnaissance units; three Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command units; the Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, Virginia; and four Reserve units.
The command’s responsibility now is to ensure the JPADS remains updated, upgraded and relevant for the remainder of its expected service life.
“We will continue to keep up the maintenance and operation of the system,” said Rudolf. “This particular system includes a lot more technology [than traditional airdrop systems], such as software for the guidance unit and mission planner laptop that goes with it. That leads to block upgrades, which we’re already planning for over the course of the current life cycle.”
Specific plans for upgrades are still in the works, but as an example, the team may explore opportunities to use additional canopies to improve JPADS performance and enable reconnaissance Marines to “fly with their gear.”
“The idea is to match the performance characteristics of the ULW specifically with those of a new personnel canopy for reconnaissance and special operations Marines so they can bring their gear in without it being attached to them,” he said.
To date, MCSC’s Aerial Delivery Team has provided new equipment training to the units that received JPADS, and Marine-specific training on the 2K-M and ULW is incorporated into the Aerial Delivery and Field Services courses at Fort Lee.
“There is a learning curve because it’s vastly different and more technical than what we traditionally used,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Myers, an air delivery specialist who will assume project officer duties for Aerial Delivery at MCSC.
Despite the learning curve, Marines and commanders in the field are excited about the new capability, he said.
“Once they’ve gone through the course and learned about it, they’re very eager to use it,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on it.”
By Monique Randolph, Marine Corps Systems Command, Marine Corps Systems Command