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Special Operations Forces Tactical Advanced Parachute System (SOFTAPS)

The Special Operations Forces Tactical Advanced Parachute (SOFTAPS) is a static line parachute system designed to provide operators with a dependable, reduced opening shock, lower rate of descent and steerable parachute, capable of use in the full spectrum of SOF operational environments. SOFTAPS will replace the MC1-1C and T-10 parachutes. SOFTAPS is the eventual parachute of the SOF community. The Operational Requirements Document (ORD) requires the parachute to have a turn and glide capability allowing the SOF operator some steering ability while descending. SOFTAPS will leverage the Army's Advanced Tactical Parachute System to meet this ORD requirement.

The Special Operations Forces Tactical Advanced Parachute (SOFTAPS) is being developed because of performance issues displayed by the Maneuverable Canopy (MC) 1-1C Parachute. During the period of 1988 - 1998 the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) experienced numerous problems with the MC1-1C Parachute, especially when used on high altitude drop zones (DZs). Soldiers experienced extreme opening shocks and canopies experienced extensive apex damage; in fact 40% of all canopies jumped experienced damage.

In December 1998, the US Army Special Forces Command (USASFC) requested an interim parachute be provided for use on high altitude DZs until the Advanced Tactical Parachute System (ATPS) Program Office fielded a maneuverable parachute (Pre-Programmed Product Improvement (P3I)), to permanently address their needs. USASFC enlisted the services of the Airborne Special Operations Test Directorate (ABNSOTD) and conducted down-select testing of 6 candidate systems to replace the MC1-1C. This testing was conducted at Ft. Carson, CO, in July 1999. The SF-10A, a Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) parachute, met the requirements and was selected. The SF-10A parachute canopy was integrated with the T-10 series parachute harness and Modified Improved Reserve Parachute System (MIRPS) as an interim measure until a permanent solution for the MC1-1C was developed.

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) approved the Operational Requirements Document (ORD) for the SOFTAPS in August 1999. The SF-10A Canopy is a very reliable canopy, in fact over 41,000 jumps have been logged on the SF-10A without incident from its' introduction through the end of calendar year 2002. The U.S. Forest Service has logged in excess of 27,500 and the USASFC has logged in excess of 13,800 jumps from various fixed and rotary wing aircraft. USASOC and USASFC soldiers are currently using the SF-10A canopy with the T-10 harness and MIRPS. All of the test data and operational use of the SF-10A by Special Operations Forces (SOF) to that date have indicated that the SF-10A will meet the SOFTAPS ORD requirements.

USASOC representatives met with members of the Product Manager - Clothing & Individual Equipment (PM-CIE) at Ft. Bragg in SEP 02 to discuss the possibility of managing the efforts for the SOFTAPS development and Type Classification - Standard of the SF-10A as the Army common maneuverable canopy replacement of the MC1-1.

This discussion was prompted by a decision made by the Army G-8 to merge the ORDs for the ATPS and the Advanced Harness and Reserve Parachute System (AHRPS) into one document. This merged document includes two P3Is, one for an Automatic Opening Device (AOD) for the reserve parachute and the other for a maneuverable variant to replace the MC1-1 series parachutes. Both organizations realized this as an opportunity to fulfill two requirements with the same effort. This also allows for significant savings in time and funding required to complete the development and introduction of a new personnel parachute system to the field. USSOCOM, thru USASOC, agreed to partner with PM-CIE in this effort and share the costs of this program.

The concept of the SOFTAPS program is to integrate the SF-10A canopy with the personnel harness and reserve parachute being developed by the ATPS program. A new riser assembly was developed in order to complete this integration. Program Executive Officer (PEO) - Soldier approved Milestone A in April 2003 and Concept Exploration testing was conducted at the Yuma Test Center (YTC) and completed in June 2003.

In December 1999 the United States Army, Special Operations Command (USASOC) determined the need to replace the Maneuverable Canopy (MC) 1-1C for high-altitude static-line operations. The MC1-1C demonstrates significant canopy damage when used at high altitude with heavy jumper mission loads and has proven unsuitable for Special Operations missions. The 10th Special Forces Group (SFG), located at Fort Carson, Colorado, and with a drop zone altitude in excess of 6000 feet above sea level, was chosen as the test facility. Addressing the need, USASOC sought out, tested and adopted a Forestry Service parachute aptly named the FS-14 (FS meaning Forestry Service). This was the primary parachute used by Smoke Jumpers. A few modifications later, USASOC renamed the parachute the SF-10A (SF signifying Special Forces) in honor of the 10th SFG USASOC attached the SF-10A canopy to the T-10 harness and Modified Improved Reserve Parachute System (MIRPS) and began to use this non-standard parachute system for operational requirements.

The advantage to this solution, obviously, is that USASOC rapidly acquired a solution to their operational requirement without extensive acquisition research, development, and testing lag-time. The shortcomings to this approach are equally obvious. For now USASOC is responsible for the purchase, care, upkeep, and maintenance of a non-type classified (equipment not officially recognized by the Army), non-standard parachute system. Basically, they foot the entire bill for a system that could be adopted Army wide.

Concurrent to the USASOC effort, the United States Army Infantry Center and School (USAIC&S) determined the need to develop a parachute system that would significantly reduce the number of jump injuries associated with current static-line systems (the T10C/ D parachute). As a result, the Advanced Tactical Parachute System (ATPS) was developed which included the requirement to produce a steerable parachute that would replace the MC1-1C canopy. USASOC observed the development of ATPS and the improved parachute harness and reserve. They quickly realized a way to eliminate their non-standard parachute system, fulfill their need for a static-line, maneuverable parachute system that could operate with heavy mission loads at altitude, and be relieved of the costs of maintaining a USASOC specific item.

In October of 2002, USASOC approached the acquisition community with the idea to develop the Special Operations Forces Tactical Advanced Parachute System (SOFTAPS) which simply takes the SF-10A canopy, already in operational use, and with minor modification to the risers, integrates it with the ATPS harness and reserve parachute. Concept exploration testing of this integrated system is complete with the Developmental Test (DT) scheduled to begin in the third quarter of FY04. The DT will closely evaluate the performance characteristics of this integrated parachute system to ensure it is operationally suitable as indicated in preliminary concept exploration testing. Upon successful completion of DT, Operational Testing (OT) will begin with the end result of type classification and fielding to the entire force.

Units start receiving the new parachute as early as 2rd Quarter 2006. Irvin Aerospace of California and Para-Flite Inc of New Jersey. have been awarded the contract to develop the new system. Irvin is responsible for developing the canopy while Para-Flite is responsible for developing the parachute harness and risers. Once officially adopted by the Army, the parachute will be known as the MC-6 Personnel Parachute System.




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