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FEATURE ARTICLE  

New Ammunition-Delivery Devices Sought for Rapid-Response Brigades 

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by Sandra I. Erwin 

The Army’s new medium brigades, designed so they can deploy overseas and be ready to fight within 96 hours, currently would need 300 hours just to have their ammunition transported by air and delivered to the combat zone.

The reason that it takes 300 hours is not because of the flying time, but rather the cumbersome process of unloading ammunition pallets from airplanes and moving them to areas where Army logistics trucks can pick them up and get them to the front lines.

The Army now believes it can cut the 300 hours down to less than 100. That would be accomplished through the use of special pallets, three versions of which currently are in development. These pallets would be customized to fit inside Air Force aircraft cargo compartments and also would be sized to hold the Army’s standardized ammunition cargo beds, called flat-racks or CROPs (containerized roll-in/out platforms). The CROP fits inside a 20-foot ISO container.

There are three pallet designs competing for a contract award, explained Douglas M. Chesnulovitch, project engineer for ammunition logistics at the Army’s Armaments Research Development and Engineering Center.

The $1 million project was funded jointly by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Army Materiel Command and by the contractors competing for the award.

One design, called the “shoe,” is made by a Michigan-based firm, AAR Cadillac Manufacturing. Another concept, developed by the Boeing Company, is called the “slipper.” The third system is a roller platform for air delivery (RPAD), also made by AAR Cadillac and by a British firm called Joloda International.

Unlike the shoe and the slipper, the RPAD goes on top of the CROP, explained Chesnulovitch in an interview. It is used to transfer 463L standard Air Force pallets from the back of an Army PLS truck to an Air Force cargo-loading vehicle.

The PLS is the palletized loading system truck, used by the Army to haul ammunition containers.

The RPAD and the shoe complement each other, he said. The Army sometimes transports supplies on a CROP and other times on 463L pallets. The shoe, the slipper and the RPAD are compatible with both, said Chesnulovitch.

All three technologies were tested in early to mid-December at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. “Based on those trials, the Army will decide whether to acquire these items,” he said. “It’s my belief that the prototypes offered by the contractors offer us great capability. It will be up to the program manager to decide.”

That will be James Sutton, the Army’s program manager for heavy tactical vehicles. “[The new pallet devices] make for faster and easier loading into the aircraft,” he said in an interview. Flat-racks thus can be loaded and fastened into C-130, C-141, C-17 or C-5A cargo aircraft without a lot of tie-down equipment, such as straps and cables.

Sutton’s office expects to assume management of the program by January 2001. He said the Army could purchase up to 90 shoe devices for each interim brigade combat team (IBCT), two of which are being stood up in Fort Lewis, Wash. “We are awaiting funding for the first year of the program,” said Sutton.

There are 70 CROPs in each brigade, so Chesnulovitch speculated that the Army will need 140 shoes or slippers for both brigades in 2001. A smaller number, maybe 30 to 50, of RPAD devices could be purchased as well.

The current process for delivering ammunition by air is “slow and laborious,” because it requires special fork trucks to transport the supplies from the point of debarkation in the airfield to the ammunition area, said Paul Chiodo, acting associate technical director at the Armaments Research Development and Engineering Center. “We have to unload planes, move the load by truck to the [ammo] area, and then to the PLS trucks,” said Chiodo. “That is extremely time consuming.”

The Army’s PLS CROP was not designed to travel in the aircraft. Typically, the CROP has to be moved from the PLS truck onto a forklift. The forklift moves the CROP to an Air Force aircraft loader. The loader then transfers it onto the cargo airplane, where it has to be manually chained down.

The AAR Cadillac Manufacturing Co. is under contract for the development of a shoe prototype, called the M3 CROP shoe, said Stephen W. Peckham, the company’s vice president for military sales. AAR has a patent pending for this product.

The M3 CROP prototype unit was tested last month at Fort Bragg, N.C. It is 20 feet long by 9 feet wide and 8.3 inches high. It weighs 2,800 pounds.

The shoe’s competitor currently is in development by the Boeing Co. “Our product, which we call ‘slipper’ is a play on words, because it’s lighter than the original ‘shoe’ program,” said Dan Page, Boeing’s marketing representative for the C-17 heavy-lift cargo airplane, which is made by Boeing.

“The Army asked us to help ... to make it quick and easy to move [ammunition CROPs] from the PLS truck on to the C-17 without using material handling equipment, such as an aircraft loader or a forklift,” Page said in an interview. The only additional piece of equipment needed, he said, is an adapter for the truck.

The slipper project started out as a Boeing-funded effort, but is now receiving Army funding to demonstrate the technology, Page said. The company has built several prototypes, which are being tested at military installations.

This is how the slipper works: Each ammunition CROP is attached to a slipper device—two rectangular pieces of metal connected by two cables along the long end of the rectangle. The slipper is lifted (by a person) off the CROP and placed onto the ramp of the C-17, and locked in place. Then the PLS truck backs up and aligns with the ramp. The PLS crane lifts the CROP and sets it on one of the two rectangles on the ramp of the C-17. Then, as the CROP is pushed on to the C-17, the slipper acts as an interface between the CROP and the rails, helping move the cargo onboard.

Boeing expects to compete for an Army contract award. But whether or not it will build the pallets has not been resolved, said Page. If the Boeing design wins, the company may license it to another manufacturer.

According to Page, the slipper only works with the C-17. The design is customized, said Page, because the C-17 system of rails and locks are unique.

Chesnulovitch, however, said that both the shoe and the slipper will work in all aircraft. AAR’s shoe design, he explained, was tailored to the 108-inch width of the C-130. Boeing designed the slipper to accommodate the 88-inch width of the C-17 so the Air Force could put CROPs side by side inside the C-17, he explained. “The widths are different, but all pallets will operate on all Air Force aircraft. It’s just a matter of what kind of tie-downs [that] we would have to employ.”

Even though the slipper was customized for the rails and locks of the C-17, it could be loaded onto a C-130 and be tied down, said Chesnulovitch. The Air Force, meanwhile, has to certify that these platforms can be used on aircraft, he said. “We are attempting to get the Air Force players on board the program, once they have had a chance to look at our systems and data.”

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