BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan
– Months of planning and weeks of preparing culminates to an airdrop lasting a few seconds. While the time and effort that goes into planning a combat airdrop may seem long for something that lasts less than a minute, for the ground troops, the equipment they received will have a lasting impact.
The 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron conducted their first combat airdrop in nearly two and a half years, resulting in the successful delivery of 11,000 pounds of equipment to coalition forces.
The need for airdrops decreased in 2014 and 2015, and eventually stopped altogether. Even though the need may have decreased, it has remained a viable option.
“The purpose of an airdrop is to meet a user’s intent in a way that is tactically flexible for both parties,” said Maj. Rick Winfield, 774th EAS chief of tactics and C-130J Super Hercules pilot. “The requestor gets what they need and we are able to meet the ground forces intent and protect the aircraft.”
When planning on how to deliver cargo, the type of environment is a key factor in the final decision. Most forward operating bases in Afghanistan are on an airfield or located close to one, and delivering equipment by helicopter or C-130 is a common method. However, some areas are more dangerous than others, and an airdrop may be safer for the aircraft and aircrew.
“With the threat that is in country, it makes it tougher for helicopters to deliver supplies, so this is an important capability we can offer,” Winfield said.
An airdrop enables the aircrew to quickly deliver cargo and get out. To land an aircraft, offload and takeoff is a timely process, exposing the aircraft and aircrew to greater risks in a hostile environment.
“The beauty of an airdrop is that we are vulnerable for only a short amount of time,” said Capt. David Ince, a 774th EAS C-130J pilot.
While there are plenty of positive aspects to an airdrop, there are still some risks involved. When conducting an airdrop, the plane is still susceptible to attacks since it needs to get low to the ground and slow down. But, every mission has some sort of risk involved—something the aircrew knows all too well and constantly trains for.
“We train all the time for this back home, so we can do it operationally in places like this,” Ince said. “Airdrop is a staple in the C-130 world and we were incredibly lucky to be the crew to fly the first operational airdrop mission in almost three years.”
The Airmen currently assigned to the 774th EAS are deployed out of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The C-130J crews at Dyess AFB fly multiple times a week, conducting an airdrop every flight.
“Airdrops are a combat capability we are trained to provide to combatant commanders,” Winfield said. “We are always ready to do this and wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t.”
Since the squadron went years without conducting an airdrop in Afghanistan, it seemed like a forgotten tool. Regardless of the years between combat airdrops, the airlift Airmen knew they are more than proficient in accomplishing it. They train like they fight at home, so they can use their training in the fight.
“Airdrop is one of the ways to meet the needs of the supported force while minimizing the exposure of the aircraft and crew to unnecessary risk,” Winfield said. “In the end, it is all about getting them the things they need to accomplish their mission.”