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Low Cost Aerial Delivery System [LCADS]

The Low Cost Aerial Delivery System [LCADS] is a one-time use, stand-alone airdrop system consisting of a modular suite of low cost airdrop items, and be comprised of parachutes, containers, platforms, and other air items configured for low-velocity (impact velocity of 28.5 fps), hi gh-velocity (impact velocity of 90 fps), and free-drop (without the use of a parachute) aerial delivery of loads. All components must be simple in design, maintenance and operation, and have low production and lifecycle costs. The emphasis is on use of re adily available, low cost materials and ease of manufacturing in order to minimize production lead times and broaden the industrial base for LCADS items.

The High and Low-V parachutes when used with the Low Cost Container, form the Low Cost Aerial Delivery System (LCADS). The Low Cost Container, a container used to enclose the supplies when dropped from the aircraft, will be used for one-time use applications. The container is an inexpensive alternative to the heavier, more durable and expensive A-22 cargo container. It weights about 10 pounds and is made of a lightweight polypropylene, with only 6 pieces of hardware. Containing up to 2,200-lbs of supplies, it is suitable for both High Velocity and Low Velocity delivery from C-17 or C-130 aircraft, using either of the LCADS "Spider" chutes or standard parachutes.

These three components, developed by Force Sustainment Systems, Research Development and Engineering Command, Natick, MA, will be used for humanitarian relief efforts and resupply missions where it is difficult to recover airdrop equipment. The items are designed to be disposable, so they are light, simple in design and 55-80% cheaper than the standard parachutes and container now used for these sorts of mission.

This design is revolutionary because it reduces the high cost of material and fabrication through simplification. It even appears that the new chutes will have a lower rate of descent than the standard chutes, which equates to more of the loads surviving.

The simple design of the "Spider Chutes" and the Low Cost Container also provides a solution to the manufacturing bottleneck that normally forms when a relief mission begins. Initially, in order to meet relief effort requirements, the Army is challenged to meet the sudden surge in demand for the aerial delivery equipment used for humanitarian relief operations. In the past, the Army relied on a few major parachute manufacturers that were qualified to make the standard 26-ft Ringslot and G-12 parachutes. With a small industrial base, the Army was forced to pay high prices for increased production. Ironically, practically none of this expensive equipment, designed for many re-uses, was ever recovered.

With the new High-V and Low-V Spider parachutes, small companies that normally would never be able to make an Army cargo parachute will easily be able to manufacture the parachutes. During a surge, a number of small manufacturers can quickly meet the demand. These cheap, one-time use airdrop components help the user units, they help the recipients of humanitarian aid, and they help the taxpayer. It's such a great program to work on.

The system developed to meet the identified capability gap is called the Low Cost Aerial Delivery System (LCADS). The LCADS is a modular suite of low-cost, expendable parachutes and containers. The LCADS can be used as a standalone system or configured with current low- and high-velocity parachutes or the current A-22 Cargo Bag Assembly. For the most part, LCADS will be used instead of the standard CDS with its A-22 Cargo Bag Assembly and either the 26-foot ring slot parachute or the G-12E parachute for missions where recovery of the parachute system and equipment is either not possible or not desirable. The LCADS consists of a polypropylene container (instead of the A-22 Cargo Bag Assembly) and the choice of two parachutes: one for high-velocity cargo airdrop and one for low-velocity cargo airdrop.

The standard high-velocity CDS, capable of delivering up to 2,200 pounds of cargo, consists of the 26-foot ring slot parachute ($826) and an A-22 Cargo Bag Assembly with rigging materials ($404) at a total system cost of about $1,230. The LCADS high-velocity variant will have same performance capabilities as the existing high-velocity CDS but with a target cost of $345 for the parachute and $150 for the container for an LCADS cost of $495.

The standard low-velocity CDS has the same capability as the high-velocity CDS but is delivered at a lower altitude and has a slower rate of descent, thus the name low-velocity CDS. The G-12E parachute system is the current low-velocity parachute used at a cost of $3,815, whereas the LCADS low-velocity variant will cost about $1,260.

Examining cost alone, an observer might say the Army is getting three one-time-use LCADS systems for the cost of one current CDS. To units on the ground receiving the supplies, the advantage of the LCADS is less time spent on the drop zone retrieving supplies because the units do not have to recover the air drop equipment.

The Directorate of Combat Developments for Quartermaster (DCD-QM) expects LCADS funded and placed in Army War Reserve stocks in FY06 for use in any contingency operations that may arise, while each parachute rigging company may be authorized four systems for training purposes only. Because the low-velocity canopy will not have had its production decision before 24 Jun 05, DCD-QM has converted the LCADS Operational Requirement Document to the new Capability Production Document format with the document currently in staffing. The December 2004 tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia brought about a need for humanitarian relief efforts on an unprecedented scale. The new Low Cost Container (LCC), part of the Low Cost Aerial Delivery System, had recently become available for use in just such contingencies. The LCADS program is designed to provide one-time-use aerial delivery components for use in humanitarian and re-supply missions and to address the need for low-cost airdrop capabilities. The requirements document for the LCC was the result of the lessons learned from U.S. relief efforts during the previous decade.

In 1993, during Operation Provide Promise (in which U.S. forces helped keep a multinational lifeline of food and medical supplies flowing into Bosnia throughout nearly four years of war) over $31 million of standard airdrop equipment was used and never recovered, signaling a need for a low-cost alternative. Since predicting the scope of a humanitarian aid crisis is impossible, stocks of container delivery system (CDS) components used in the relief efforts were greatly depleted.

This set the stage to update the outdated 1930s-1950s technology. The Army needed a low-cost, one-time-use system to accomplish two goals: greatly reduce air drop mission cost and provide efficient low-cost aerial delivery capability for the full spectrum of Army operations to include combat resupply, stability and support operations, military operations other than war and the ongoing global war on terrorism.

While Operation Provide Promise was ongoing, engineers and technicians at the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), Natick. Mass., began the analysis and development of several low-cost airdrop components and specialized procedures. The goal was to avoid the complete depletion of all airdrop war reserve stocks of high velocity CDS systems and to reduce operation and support costs. Several alternative materials were used in the redesigns, reducing both the price and the rigging time for both components. At the time, the cost of these standard systems was about $1,100 each, which included the parachute, container, packaging material, and skidboard. Preliminary testing of these lower-cost components showed promising results. While significant progress was made in developing, acquiring, and - to a degree - implementing various low-cost airdrop capabilities and specialized rigging procedures, once Operation Provide Promise ended, the changes were shelved without testing.

Following the Operation Provide Promise experience, Training & Doctrine Command (TRADOC)'s Combined Arms Support Command took the initiative and developed an operational requirement for low cost airdrop capabilities, which was validated by TRADOC. However, it remained unfunded as a result of concern among Department of the Army staff that the effort didn't support an Army mission; thus, it should not be an Army requirement nor be supported with Army research, development, test, and evaluation funding.

During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in October 2001, there was another great increase in demand for CDS in order to supply Special Forces and Ranger units, as well as to provide humanitarian relief. CDS bundles, which use standard Army A-22 cargo containers for both high- and low-velocity aerial delivery, were dropped at a rate of 220 to 360 per day during this operation. The nature of the airdrop missions meant the equipment was non-recoverable, resulting in an estimated cost of $25 million and once again depleting Army war reserve stocks of CDS equipment to critical levels.

The Army lost valuable information and time by its failure to support or pursue low-cost CDS alternatives during both of these efforts. By the establishment and funding of the LCADS program, it initiated the development and fielding of low-cost airdrop capabilities. These capabilities provide a substantial return on investment, rather than continuing to allow humanitarian relief airdrop missions to incur significant costs and to deplete Army war reserve stocks.

The most important requirement of the 2002 operational requirements document was for LCADS components to reduce costs by 55 percent (threshold) to 80 percent or more (objective) over current CDS components. The system would have the same performance as CDS: 500 pounds to 2,200 pounds in capacity, capable of being deployed from U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft at release altitudes of 500 to 1,250 feet above ground level for low-velocity airdrop and 15,000 to 25,000 feet mean sea level for high-velocity airdrop with identical load accuracy and survivability. The items developed under LCADS would be interchangeable with the standard CDS component that each was designed to replace so that a standard parachute could be used with LCADS containers and vice versa.

Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems Cargo Airdrop Team, located at the U.S. Army RDECOM in Natick, was assigned the program and initiated it. At once, the LCADS team's attention turned to the light, easy-to-rig container developed by the Natick team at the time of the operation in Bosnia. Like the A-22 cargo container, it could be used for both high- and low-velocity CDS airdrops. Unlike the A-22 cargo container, however, which uses metal hardware and multiple straps of nylon webbing to contain a CDS load, the Natick container used inexpensive fabrics and a simpler design. The container didn't have the durability of the A-22, which can be repaired and re-used as many as 30 times, but this was ideal for its intended purpose. It promised to be a perfect one-time-use alternative.

A 04 June 2002 and a 13 January 2005 Sources Sought notices were posted to identify domestic products, suppliers, manufacturers, and technical information to develop a low-cost airdrop system. The notice stated the need for a modular suite of airdrop items, composed of parachutes, containers, and other air items configured for low-velocity, high-velocity, and free-drop aerial delivery. All components were to be simple in design, maintenance, and operation; have low production and life cycle costs; and be made of readily available, low-cost materials. They were to be easy to manufacture in order to minimize production lead times and broaden the industrial base. Product characteristics were to minimize or eliminate rigging time, allow for long shelf life, and have low weight and volume. Innovative designs, processes, and materials should be considered in the development of LCADS compone nts. Some examples include, but are not limited to, cross parachutes, stitch-less seaming technology and non-woven fabrics. Product characteristics should minimize or eliminate rigging time, have a shelf life comparable to materials currently used in CDS components, and have low weight and volume.

LCADS has both performance and cost requirements. LCADS performance threshold (T) and objective (O) requirements are: (1) Must meet the rigged load capacity of 500-lbs to 2,200-lbs (T) of current CDS drops or exceed 2,200-lbs (O). Future requirements will be for capacities of up to 10,000-lbs; (2) Must be capable of delivering serviceable loads in 13-knot ground winds (T), 18-knot ground winds (O); (3) Must meet (T) or exceed (O) the load accuracy and survivability of current high-velocity and low-velocity CDS drops; (4) Must be air-droppable from standard AF cargo aircraft (T) and special operations, NATO and other services aircraft (O); (5) Must be compatible with Army and Air Force ground material handling equipment (MHE); (6) Must be capable of being deployed at release altitudes between 500-ft AGL (O) to 1,250-ft AGL (T) for low-velocity drops and 15,000-ft MSL (T) to 25,000-ft MSL (O) for hi-velocity drops at airspeeds of 130-150 Knots Indicated Airspeed (KIAS ). LCADS cost threshold (T) and objective (O) requirements are: (1) LCADS must reduce costs by 55 percent or more (T) to 80 percent or more (O) over current Container Delivery System (CDS). This means that the cost for a container must be between $67 and $150, high-velocity parachute must be between $150 and $335 and for a low-velocity parachute between $726 and $1,635. Cost requirements include both cost of materials and producibility of components. Materials used to construct components are readily available. System components shall be easy to manufacture. Production lead times shall be minimized.

Responses to the sources sought notice were marginal. As the Natick low-cost container was further along in the development process than industry's concept, the in-house approach to the LCADS container solution began.

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