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This article was Originally Published on Dec 31, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 6

Expeditionary Airfield Equipment

Industry works to get smaller, lighter, multifunctional and more deployable. Despite being austere, operational airfields must have the critical elements for equipment and personnel support to maintain the OPTEMPO.

By Scott R. Gourley

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It's become something of a 21st century mantra for contingency planners throughout the Air Force: smaller, lighter, easily deployable and multifunctional. Those are the key characteristics that are going to further reduce the proverbial "logistics tail" while continuing to improve warfighter capabilities. And nowhere are those characteristics more evident than in the latest generation of expeditionary airfield equipment.

Marking the airfields

Expeditionary equipment char-acteristics have traditionally been associated with the Combat Control Teams (CCTs) of Air Force Special Operations Command. Using systems like the SMP-1000 (I-band)/SST-181 (X-band) radar transponders, AN/TRN-41 TACAN and newer AN/TRN-45 navigational sets and DTM-series Nikon Total Stations, CCTs have been able to mark, designate and even survey remote landing sites in support of special operations missions.

Sierra Monolithics Inc.'s SMP-1000, for example, is described by its manufacturer as "ideally suited for tough environments." The system includes a "microponder" receiver, which receives an I-band radar signal by creating a reply pulse, train coded for the radar that allows identification and location of the transponder.

Visual/infrared marking systems are also a ubiquitous presence, as austere airfields and landing zones are established under combat conditions. In addition to well-used ground designator systems like BE Meyers Inc.'s Green Beam Designator II Model 532 (GBD II) and the AN/PEQ-1A Special Operations Forces Laser Marker (SOFLAM), companies also offer handheld "pointing/illumination" systems like Meyers' new Infrared Zoom Laser Illuminator Designator (IZLID)-1000, a lightweight 900+mW output laser capable of targeting as well as wide area illumination.

Along with designating, pointing and illuminating, other infrared systems work as visible light markers for pilots equipped with night vision imaging systems. Examples of these markers can be seen in LFD Ltd's product range of infrared markets from the pocket-sized Polestar II (used primarily to mark helicopter landing sites) to the remotely activated Polestar V (with multiple colored outputs that permit designation of refueling areas, taxi areas and other austere airfield functional areas).

The U.S. Air Force also has more than three-dozen Textron AN/TRN-45 mobile microwave landing systems (MMLS) available for global deployment. Described by the manufacturer as "the world's only rapid deployment precision approach and landing system in production today," MMLS provides for establishment of a precision approach and landing capability in unprepared (and prepared) areas.

Expanding the Expeditionary Philosophy

While these and similar systems have long been employed by AFSOC's "Quiet Professionals," the last decade has also seen the philosophical expansion of expeditionary thinking throughout the Air Force. The expansion draws from an accumulation of global lessons learned that have reinforced the mandate to apply the mantra of "smaller, lighter, easily deployable and multifunctional" to all types of ground support equipment.

A recent example of the expeditionary equipment planning coming to fruition was outlined in a late August 2003 U.S. Air Force release from Tallil Air Base, Iraq. Referring to an "airport in a suitcase," the release described how airmen from the 5th Combat Communications Group were operating the airfield through the use of a newly repackaged, easily transportable system consisting of a tactical navigation system, mobile control tower and radar system.

Along with combat proven programs like "airport in a suitcase," additional evidence of the importance placed on the expeditionary equipment characteristics can be found in a review of the first two dozen initiatives conducted by the Air Expeditionary Force Battlelab (AEFB) at Mountain Home Air Force Base in its six years of existence. Examples range from runway enhancements like the Combined Aerospace Ground Equipment (CAGE) initiative, which demonstrates the operational value and footprint reduction of recent prototype aircraft power cart (i.e., A/M32A-60A) rooftop-mounted Air Cycle Machine, to support programs like the Compact Air Transportable Hospital (CATH).

Moreover, recent "sources sought" announcements indicate that AEFB is continuing to seek these expeditionary characteristics in a widening array of systems. A recent example was AEFB's announced desire "to obtain information on mobile hard-walled shelters that are easily deployable, preferably can be palletized for airlift, and can be used in a variety of missions." Noting that the battlelab was "planning to conduct an initiative that will evaluate the feasibility and advantage of deployable/mobile hard walled shelter technology for an austere base type scenario," the announcement described a notional shelter solution that "would preferably be palletized and expandable into a variety of sizes. This shelter would serve as a replacement or alternative to the current TEMPER tent system representing a cost and weight savings. The shelter will have no less than a minimum of 640 square feet and weigh no more than 10,000 pounds.

"The objectives of this initiative include demonstrating a composite type shelter that is expandable and easily deployable. This shelter would have an infinite number of uses to include a repair shop, billeting, medical facility, offices, fitness facility, etc. It shall fit in the confines of a 463L pallet or similar type mobility system… To clarify, this shelter is meant to be easily set-up and torn down in austere base scenarios, as an improvement or alternative in quality and flexibility to a soft walled tent."

And AEFB is not alone in their investigation of applicable expeditionary airfield technologies. Another recent "sources sought" announcement noted the intent of the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Battlelab (AMB) "to conduct a concept dem-onstration of a commercial/government off-the-shelf (COTS/GOTS) system or emerging technology for a Portable Airfield Laser Lighting System (PALLS). The AMB envisions this technology as a lightweight, man-portable system capable of being rapidly deployed and set up by special operations and Global Mobility Task Force personnel in austere locations. The complete system should be as lightweight as current technology permits, make the most efficient use possible of requisite portable energy sources, and must be sturdy enough to withstand and provide sufficient airfield lighting in any adverse environment. Ideally, the system would produce light of sufficient strength that it could be used as final approach lighting for landing aircraft in low-visibility conditions. System must be both visible light and IR capable, providing both overt and covert operational capability. System should be capable of being converted for use as permanent airfield lighting system in forward locations."

Industry Hears the Message

In addition to these and other service initiatives, several new industry equipment initiatives provide clear evidence that the mantra-smaller, lighter, easily deployable and multifunctional-has been heard and clearly understood.

Two program areas that serve as archetypes for industry's understanding of expeditionary thinking include the new mobile nitrogen generation system and modular maintenance platforms developed by CV International. Both programs provide representative examples of how strongly industry is embracing the expeditionary doctrine in their new equipment designs.

The nitrogen generation system, for example, provides the critically needed dry nitrogen that is required across a myriad mobility platforms and systems from aviation tires to the purge of optical devices. Until several years ago, the nitrogen required was available for purchase only in steel cylinders or in cryogenic liquid form. Neither option adequately addressed the military maintainers' needs to have high-pressure nitrogen as close as possible to its point of use. In fact, both cryogenic and cylinder options represented significant additions to the already lengthy maintenance logistics tail.

According to company president Bob Tatge, CV International introduced the Mobile Nitrogen Generator (MNG), a system that pulled, separated and filtered requisite quantities of clean, dry nitrogen from surrounding air. Design capabilities of the original system were based on the performance specifications of the 75-gallon liquid nitrogen carts used for aircraft servicing.

On-site nitrogen generation, which was first demonstrated to the Air Force in 1987, eliminated the need for a liquid nitrogen cart and cylinder nitrogen supplies. The U-2 fleet was an early recipient of the first generation MNGs. Although gas purity levels and flow rates were increased over the next few years, the original carts still fell short of meeting all of the emerging expeditionary equipment requirements.

"A few years later I got a call from a special operations NCO, John Morris, at Fort Campbell, at Task Force 160," Tatge says.

In response to the inquiry, Tatge and a CV engineer visited Fort Campbell, learning that representatives from that unit were tasked with developing an operational requirements document (ORD) for a nitrogen generation system that would meet special operations' expeditionary requirements.

"They told me, ‘We need air transportability.  We need to deploy. We have split deployments: we go somewhere, we land, we're at forward base operations,'" Tatge explained.  "So I asked them how they got [the nitrogen] to an airplane when they were sitting in a sand dune."

After hearing an answer that tended to rely on brute strength and not a small amount of luck, Tatge and his team brainstormed a "family" concept based around a platform called the Mobile Air/Nitrogen Charging Station (MANCS).  The four-wheeled, 1,650-pound trailer measures 40 inches by 42 inches by 84 inches and can be towed, truck-carried or sling-lifted to the point of need. Moreover, the charging station supports a smaller Nitrogen Deployment Sustainment Kit (NDSK-4) and Nitrogen Backpack Kit (NBK-1).

The NDSK-4 is an easily deployable transport, storage and point of use kit that carries its own 30 foot long pressure hose as well as four high pressure cylinders that can be filled from an external source of regulated nitrogen gas (like MANCS). Moreover, each of those cylinders can be easily removed and converted to the 33-pound  NBK-1 backpack configuration, insuring the ability to bring high-pressure nitrogen to any point of need under any expeditionary environments.

"We went ahead and developed the MANCS proactively," Tatge said. "One of the parameters was that it had to fit the 463L pallet. It does and the others don't. MANCS is also air transportable. It's lightweight. It has a smaller footprint. The whole concept was, if you're going to fight a rapid deployment someplace, and you don't know where, you've got to have something you can air transport. You can shove it in and it will fit your load plan. Once it gets there you can get it to a forward operating base by putting it in a CH-47 or even putting it crosswise in a Black Hawk. With the generator in a forward operating base you can fill the backpack cylinders. If you have a runway or landing field you can use the wheeled NDSK-4 to move up and down the tarmac. From there you can also pull out a backpack and carry it from the forward operating base out into the woods or the sand. He can go wherever that aircraft is located. He can go three stories up the back end of a CH-47 pylon and service the high pressure accumulator.

"Our plan was always to give the soldier or airman something that gets the product to the point of need," he added. "If you can't get a product to where it's needed, you're in trouble."

But servicing and maintenance of expeditionary operations involves more than just nitrogen, fuel or spare parts. The fact is that operational maintenance frequently requires its own maintenance infrastructure. It's one thing to land fixed and rotary wing aircraft at austere operational sites. But once they're on the ground, many of them require maintenance. Remember that three-story height at the rear of a


Tatge is quick to acknowledge that need, pointing to another family of expeditionary airfield equipment products that meets the mantra of smaller, lighter, easily deployable and multifunctional.

Known as modular maintenance platforms (MMPs) the multi-functional platforms are designed to meet the deployment needs of military aviation and transport vehicles. The kits are packaged in a series of rugged modular transport cases. Each case measures 29 inches by 108 inches by 12 inches  and weighs less than 150 pounds. The man portable cases fit easily on the 463L shipping pallet.

The kits come in two basic styles. The MMP-K1 kit, which comes in three transport cases, provides a basic work platform 4 feet wide by 8 feet long that can operate at heights from 18 inches to 94 inches. The MMP-K2 kit consists of the standard K1 plus balcony and stabilizers, providing 37 inches of lateral extension at work platform elevations of 84 inches to 114 inches. Based on the austere base conditions, the platforms can be equipped with wheeled casters or swivel feet. In addition, adjustable outriggers compensate for uneven work surfaces.

The platforms, which can be set-up or torn-down in just 15 minutes, can also be equipped with uniquely-configured maintenance platform surfaces with cut-outs to facilitate operations around specific aircraft.

Referring to both product families, Tatge observed, "They were developed for a proactive force and not a reactive force. And a proactive force is what we've got today."

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