A C-130 Hercules from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., drops a cargo pallet to a drop zone, Oct. 3, 2012.
Credit: U.S. Air Force | Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm
Bombing from the air gets tricky when you want to drop nutrition bars and water at free-fall speeds without hurting anyone below. The U.S. Army has begun working on a way to airdrop such supplies to desperate survivors within 24 hours of a natural disaster.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center wants to find food and water packaging that won't cause injury when dropped at a free-fall speed — even if the objects strike someone's head. That simple tweak could speed up the U.S. military's already-impressive ability to deliver humanitarian aid in the aftermath of disasters around the world.
"The aerial delivery system is intended to be used in a mass resupply scenario," according to the Army solicitation for sources on the Federal Business Opportunities website. "This requires thousands, if not millions, of food and water packages to be produced and stored, ready for immediate use."
Army researchers have focused on a flexible container bag dropped by parachute that would fall to an altitude between 1,000 feet to 5,000 feet. The bag would then tip over and dump its food and water containers directly onto disaster survivors below.
The challenge comes from creating packaging that allows the USAID nutrition bars and water packets to free-fall without clumping up or reaching speeds that could injure people below. The Army also wants any solution to be cheap enough for mass production.
Such solutions may become even more important as the U.S. military assists a growing number of humanitarian relief efforts. U.S. troops, ships and aircraft have helped deliver aid in the wake of disasters such as the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Even the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — an agency devoted to high-risk, disruptive military technologies — has funded projects with a more humanitarian intent. Its ideas include parachuting robots and a swimming amphibious vehicle with inflatable tank treads to deliver supplies to hard-hit disaster areas.