WASHINGTON — The Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) is meant to land cargo exactly where it needs to go. But how would Tobyhanna Army Depot deliver an upgraded component of the systems where they needed to go, when they needed to be there in less than 10 days?

The Pennsylvania depot, which does JPADS reset and upgrade work, and is the center of Defense Department electronics repair, beat the clock to answer an emergency request from US Central Command, fielding 44 components to Afghanistan in seven days.

"Some of the work was different than what we had been doing, [installing] software and terrain data, but it was still shifting the personnel, managing the workload," said Jim Kessel, chief of Tobyhanna's repair shop for aircraft navigation equipment.

Fielded to Afghanistan since roughly 2006, JPADS is used for accurate, high-altitude airdrops in difficult terrain for bundles containing food, water, ammunition and other supplies. The idea is to save air crews from ground threats, keep the cargo out of enemy hands and save troops from long hikes across harsh terrain or perilous ground convoys to retrieve cargo drops.

Likened to a flying computer or the logistical version of a joint direct-attack munition, the system uses an autonomous guidance unit (AGU), which houses a battery, military GPS, avionics and an actuator. The actuator drives an attached steerable parachute that puts the cargo where it needs to be.

In most cases, the Army packs the cargo with the JPADS and turns it over to the Air Force for delivery. It's used by the Army, Air Force and special operations forces.

The system must be programmed before it's loaded onto the aircraft, and once it's deployed, it uses GPS data to form the glide path. It can take airspeed data and adjust itself in flight and terrain data to avoid obstacles that would otherwise cause the drop to crash or miss its target.

The military has four fielded variants that can handle payloads ranging from 2,000 to 60,000 pounds.

The Army-led JPADS program encompasses two of these, the 2,000-pound payload variant, JPADS 2k, and the 10,000-pound payload variant, JPADS 10K. JPADS 2K uses a container delivery system, while 10K allows platform-type airdrops of larger supply loads or small vehicles. Tobyhanna works on the JPADS-2K.

The systems were originally considered single-use items, but program officials have since rethought the program to make it more reliable, and reusable. Since 2012, Tobyhanna has been converting the AGU to a modular AGU (MAGU), fabricating brackets, mounts and enclosures, re-installing original components and adding new electronics. Meanwhile, its reset effort began this year.

In the old system, if one component failed, the entire system was considered a loss. The MAGU's components can be more easily removed and repaired individually.

Tobyhanna is also installing software upgrades, which improve the accuracy of the drops. A program official at PM-Force Sustainment Systems in Natick, Massachussetts, declined to elaborate, citing operational security. In mid-October, Tobyhanna received word Central Command might need JPADS systems urgently, confirmed a week later.

At that point, the team pulled more than 20 previously reset MAGUs from the Defense Logistics Agency's (DLA's) stocks and had them delivered within six hours. From there, all that the team needed to do was update the terrain data and software on the systems, aided by technical experts from Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

"The timeframe has seemed like we weren't going to make the mark, so we ended up working with our DLA counterparts," Kessel said. "Our relationship with Tobyhanna DLA helped an awful lot."

Email: jgould@defensenews.com.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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