It was 0'dark-thirty and only the blue line of runway lights met the joint Air Force and Navy crew under the wings of a C-17 Globemaster III.
A 535th Airlift Squadron aircrew from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Unit One from Guam teamed up to drop a boat out of the back of a C-17 using the Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery System recently.
With more than 19,000 pounds locked in, and parachute riggings in place, the joint team strapped in was ready to go. The weather was ideal, the sea state was low and the jet had no maintenance issues. The training stage was set and execution was the only thing on their minds.
"This training is so important for forging and refining joint capabilities in the Pacific," said Capt. Alan Partridge, a 535th AS C-17 pilot. "The (Naval Special warfare Unit One) is extremely good at what they do, but don't have dedicated aerial delivery. The 535th is a fully capable airland and airdrop C-17 squadron in Hawaii with boat-drop-qualified aircrews. The more we train together, the more prepared we will be for (U.S. Pacific Command) and (U.S. Special Operation Command, Pacific) to leverage their assets in response to the challenges of the future."
The Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery System is an airdrop insertion capability for Naval Special Warfare Rigid-hull Inflatable Boats and Special Operation Forces personnel employing Air Force aircraft. The system provides the special-operations community the ability to deploy the specially designed boat beyond the range of detection systems such as radar, infrared or thermal enhancement, acoustical sensors, human intelligence, signal intelligence and active patrols.
"With today's military going joint, it is essential that we merge our technologies and capabilities," said Senior Master Sgt. Chuck Baker, the 15th Wing plans and programs superintendent and airdrop loadmaster. "Each branch has their own specialties, but we need each other to make the overall mission a success. This is why the training in Guam was so important. You never know when that call will come to fly down and pick up our Navy counterparts to go do a mission."
The C-17 arrived on the pre-coordinated drop zone to good conditions for the training exercise. When all signs pointed toward a green-light drop, the pilots lined up the plane along the designed flight path. The loadmasters opened the ramp in the back. The 15-foot drogue chute was released, fluttering in the wind behind the plane. Once it was released, a 25-foot drogue parachute pulled the boat out of the back of the plane, with nine high-altitude, low-opening jumpers immediately following.
Upon free fall, the MCADS is rigged on a 21-foot buoyant platform that separates from the boat. Four 100-foot parachutes deploy to safely descend the boat to the water's surface. The platform also has its own recovery parachute. Once the boat hits the water, the parachutes separate automatically using water activated release mechanisms. The platform also has removable buoyancy if the mission requirements do not have the capability of recovering the platform.
"It was a complete success," Captain Partridge said. "From an Air Force perspective, we accomplished all of our planned training and increased our boat drop qualified pilot and loadmaster force for (JB Hickam)."
The loadmaster echoed the pilot's opinion, only from a different point of view.
"This drop went extremely well," Sergeant Baker said. "Anytime you can drop a piece of equipment and personnel from the aircraft safely, and without any damage or injury, then, in my opinion, it was a successful drop."
The flight profile for the delivery of the MCADS takes the aircrew to 3,500-feet for free fall parachutists, or 1,250-feet for static-line jumpers. No matter what the scenario, the JB Hickam aircrew will put the C-17 through its paces to be a force multiplier.
"As we hone our skills together now, we are also looking at more robust, scenario-based joint training options in the future," Captain Partridge said. "The goal is to train like we'd fight. The next step in growing this capability is participating in large, multi-agency exercises that reflect real-world operations. We want to iron out kinks and problem-solve in the training environment so that when the time comes to employ forces, we are ready."
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