As the U.S. military fine-tunes its use of high-tech air drop systems, HDT Global Inc. in Solon, Ohio, says the market can expect to see increasingly sophisticated tools in play in the near future.
A number of new capabilities are emerging from HDT’s airborne system division in Pensaulken, N.J. That team has been pushing advances in aerial systems that can drop heavy loads from high altitudes using precision targeting. HDT is working under a $17 million Army contract awarded September 2011.
“The idea is to resupply ground troops and especially the special operations teams that are scattered around the mountains and in very harsh places,” said J.C. Berland, chief technology officer for HDT Global’s Airborne Systems Group.
Berland describes the most significant recent advance in the system as having less to do with what gets dropped into a scene, and more to do with what gets carried out after the landing.
A new “one-time” drop system will keep troops from having to carry out bulky packaging and expensive components once a shipment has landed. HDT has developed a biodegradable casing, along with a set of electronic component that can be wiped clean and disabled once a delivery is complete.
“You get the same level of performance of a very expensive system, but it is now cheap enough that it can be used as a one-time system,” Berland said. He expects a one-time drop could cost $5,000 to $10,000 as compared to $30,000 to $50,000 for a traditional reusable delivery system.
“The goal is to minimize the whole logistic footprint. The soldiers are there to fight a war, not to worry about logistics,” he said.
With a canopy wingspan equivalent to a 747, the precision-guided system can drop a parachute payload from as high as 30,000 feet — well out of harm’s way.
Since 2010 HDT says it has delivered 2,000 such systems to the U.S. military, each with a maximum cargo of 1 ton. A new system, expected to deliver by the end of the year, will bring up the maximum payload to 10,000 pounds.
HDT also is working on a similar system meant not for cargo drops but for individual parachutists. Named jTRAX, the system would enable new night-flight capabilities, using auto-pilot like technologies to guide jumpers into the target area, even in zero visibility.
The key to producing effective technologies in this arena, Berland said, is to keep it simple.
“It needs to be as user-friendly and simple to operate as possible. The soldiers are not there to play around with a lot of nice technology,” he said. “We want you to be able to turn on your system through your lap and get to the drop without touching the system again. It should be as easy as using your phone.”