At Green Flag Little Rock, a major Air Force exercise conducted last week at military bases in Arkansas and Louisiana, it’s easy to be distracted by the C-130s preparing to deliver supplies to warzones or disaster areas. But it takes a slew of other equipment to make these “contingency operation” missions a success.
Here are a few clever devices, inventive gizmos, and never before-tested tech that helps the Air Force get supplies where they're needed most.
Satcom is vital for contingency operations, and these airmen will be among the first on the ground in a warzone or disaster area. replaces the conventional dish (in the photo, behind the orange cones and tape, warning of radiation). A familiar curved surface sits inside the ball at its equator. The dishes can be airdropped and can be set up in less than an hour.
“We can find the satellite (signal) by hand,” says USAF Sgt. Daniel Moreno. “That’s why there are handles on the outside skin.”
The best ideas can also be the simplest. The C-130J is built to move cargo quickly — and in combat areas or shattered places that can’t accommodate many airplanes at the same time, wasted time can cost lives. Sometimes the crews are carrying a vehicle that needs a smooth floor, other times they need to prepare the airplane for pallets that can slide on rollers. These flip-over panels give the loadmasters flexibility to customize the ride for the cargo in moments.
With every delivery being urgent, saving weight means shipping more vital pieces of equipment. Any new device that cuts weight is especially valuable. Airmen at Fort Polk this week were testing a brand new weather station that would replace a (comparatively) towering, awkward mast. The MWS is a remote, unattended, fully operational weather sensor originally developed for the U.S. Special Operations Command. This is the first look for many airmen — and the public — of this new tech, made by Intellisense Systems.
It combines a laser radar to measure cloud height, 360 panoramic imaging for "eyes on the ground" observations, tiny cup for rain measurement, and a windspeed gauge. The manufacturer says it sells the units for $10,000, nearly ten times less than the cost of the current system. It also weighs less; under four pounds versus the 160 pounds of currently used weather monitoring gear.
Aircraft responding to an emergency must carry equipment that enable airmen to not only operate an airbase, but defend it. Often times this will look like a commercial airline hub-and-spoke setup, with a hub branching out to more primitive landing zones in far flung areas.
If there is a dirt strip and an assessment team determines if it’s good enough to land a C-130, and a new base pops up. All-terrain vehicles are frequent inclusions in the first deliveries. These rugged vehicles allow airmen to patrol airfields that may not have fences. At Green Flag, this Polaris Ranger RZR is being tested by the muddy conditions of Fort Polk.
Without heavy equipment to unload and move cargo, the entire Green Flag exercise grinds to a halt. The thing about military vehicles that load into airplanes is that they too have to fit inside the cramped cargo hold. That leads to some creative design solutions.
Just like a F-14 Tomcat built to fly on carriers, pallet-loading trucks can fold up their beds to fit into a space. The rollers enable quick movement of cargo, and the wider space means more pallets can fit. The side-mounted cab (needed for visibility) has a ladder so airmen can scramble across the top when needed.