Thursday, December 10, 2009

PICTURE STORY: Afghan air-drop to front line

Loading the Hercules at the start of the mission

Crews from RAF Lyneham are reverting to World War II methods of resupplying troops on the front line in Afghanistan to help reduce the danger posed by roadside bombs. Traditionally the forward operating bases or FOBS have been restocked by road as air drops have been notoriously inaccurate. But now stores are able to be thrown accurately out the back of a moving Hercules, are helping to limit the danger to soldiers who resupply by land.
Hercules aircrew flying towards the drop zone

If it’s true that an army marches on its stomach, then what is contained the boxes should keep the soldiers at FOB Edinburgh in northern Helmand going for some considerable time. These ration packs were dropped under the cover of darkness at a secret location close to Musa Qal’eh. It’s only now a viable option because of the introduction of a new system that works out a precise time and location for the drop to begin.
One of the RAF aircrew working out the exact place to drop the stores

“If you drop by road, you put a convoy out for a long period where it’s vulnerable to attack and where the vehicles can run over IED’s and that puts the people at risk. We can lower the burden on those patrols and reduce them to the minimum by making more use of airdrops, where we can drop large numbers of supplies very close to the patrol bases and forward operating bases, precisely where the troops need them.” says Group Captain Terry Jones, Commanding Officer of Air Assets at Kandahar.
The last of the stores leaving the Hercules

Air drops to resupply the front line were used as far back at the war in Burma, but historically the vast majority of loads never landed where they should. For that reason the FOBS in Afghanistan have been restocked by road. But if the loads can be dropped more accurately from the air, it makes resupplying the FOBs less dangerous.
Floating down to earth

Flight Lieutenant Gareth Burdett, Captain of the Hercules C-130 aircraft dropping the supplies says, “The challenges with an airdrop in Afghanistan have always been knowing what the wind is doing. Dropping stores in the way that we do is a bit like dropping a feather in a corner of a room with a fan blowing. The kit that we have now enables us to find out accurately what the wind is doing, and therefore making sure that from where we release these stores the parachutes will all land in the correct position on the ground.”

Because of the accuracy of the new system, the size of the area the soldiers have to clear of improvised explosive devices is greatly reduced. All of the pallets during this mission land well within the drop zone which makes it easier for the troops to unpack them quickly and take the consignment back to the relative safety of the FOB.
Right on the drop zone - the parachutes collapsing as the pallets hit the ground

“We can secure the drop zone before, so we can make sure there are no IED’s or mines or anything there, and there’s no insurgent activity. That way we are happy that it is safe and we’re controlling the situation. In total I think we moved about sixty tones worth of kit and that was all man handled. A group of twenty guys did that last night.”, says Lieutenant Daniel Hurt, Second in Command of Forward Operating Base Edinburgh near Musa Qal’eh.

Picking up a huge volume of stores in the freezing cold of the Afghanistan desert at night in December is not as easy as it sounds, but the troops lifting the boxes on the receiving end were pleased to get their fresh rations.
Unpacking the pallets so the stores can be taken back to the base

Watching the stores arrive, Captain James Horspool, “It was eerily quiet apart from the brief flutter of parachutes far overhead, followed by gentle ‘thuds’ as they hit the ground. They looked something like jelly fish floating down from the starry skies onto the desert plain.”
Packing up a Springer vehicle with stores

There will always be some supplies that will need to be sent to the front line by road, but lessons learnt from World War II together with the use of emerging technologies should help to make being a soldier in Afghanistan a safer place to work.

Pictures: Corporal Steve Bain (RAF) & Sergeant Keith Cotton RLC


  1. I don't know what words to use to express how proud I feel about our British forces. Always in my prayers. C

  2. Fantastic images guys! From LW, AF and the team at M&C, LF

  3. I am pleased our efforts back home are paying off for you. We are working on things to make it even better.

  4. Who was the fantastic photographer ? a fan !!

  5. Fantastic images as usual from the Combat Camera Crew.

    Well done guys especially Keith and Stu x X x

  6. good job guys...well done...go ahead with this!!!

  7. It's great to see fresh, creative ideas that have never been done before.