For soldiers in remote war zones or natural disaster victims, the sight of a C-17 Globemaster dropping life-sustaining supplies is a welcome relief – unless the airdrop misses its target and lands in enemy territory. To help aircrews deliver loads with first-drop accuracy, Boeing Global Services’ software developers with Tapestry Solutions are modernizing the Consolidated Airdrop Tool (CAT) for the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC).
CAT development efforts are designed to improve the accuracy, speed and safety of AMC’s high-altitude precision airdrops tailored to the specific requirements of the C-17 and C-130 aircraft. CAT will support military airdrop missions of all types around the globe.
The U.S. Air Force chose the Tapestry /Boeing team to lead the CAT development effort under a Mission Planning Enterprise Contract II (MPEC II) delivery order valued at $26 million. The contract calls for the enhancement of CAT versions over a four-year period utilizing the agile development methodology. The final delivery of primary capabilities is projected for September 2020.
How Does CAT Work?
CAT software enables mobility airmen to calculate and plot both conventional and precision airdrop solutions to accurately deliver supplies in remote, austere environments. The software is the mission planning and execution component of the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) – a key aerial delivery capability for the U.S. military.
JPADS uses GPS-guidance systems, steerable parachutes and an onboard computer to steer the loads to a single designated drop zone. It enables the cargo to be released from multiple points to reduce the risk of enemy fire, taking into account factors such as weather, terrain, aircraft capabilities and threats.
JPADS includes a dropsonde, a type of probe that’s dropped prior to the cargo to measure wind conditions. CAT receives this data inflight on a laptop, and runs aircraft performance and weather algorithms to determine the best point of release.
Whether their dropping beans or bullets, mobility airmen have always faced uncertainty with precision airdrops. Oftentimes, aircrews only get one pass to make a drop, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. They must consider wind velocity, air pressure, payload mass and parachute drag, all of which can make or break an airdrop mission.
Thus, CAT development efforts will reduce uncertainty through advanced data and analytics. In addition to improving accuracy, the development efforts will provide greater automation inflight and workflow enhancements, including touch-screen capability utilizing Windows 10. This will minimize distractions caused by flight tasks in the cockpit, so aircrews can concentrate on the mission at hand.
Other improvements on the horizon include advanced algorithms for hazard/obstruction avoidance, weather assimilation capabilities and airdrop damage estimation. Support for newer parachute systems and configurations is in the works, along with software upgrades that would allow aircrews to drop heavier loads in higher altitudes to avoid threats on the ground.
CAT Development: Right on Target
Alongside teammates Jacobs Engineering and MORSE Corp, Tapestry/Boeing employees have been working tirelessly over the past year, advancing and testing the software to meet mission-critical deadlines. Their efforts are already paying off, earning Tapestry customer praise and a 100% incentive fee last month.
“We are thrilled to receive this incentive fee for delivering a quality product. It epitomizes our commitment to First Time Quality and trusted partnership with our customer,” said Debbie Churchill, Tapestry’s Vice President of Mission Products & Services.
The initial CAT development effort is focused on moving to a full service-oriented architecture (SOA) model. This layered SOA architecture will enable seamless data communication between devices. It will also allow developers to easily add new functionality and services in response to new and emerging requirements.
“Embracing this new architecture will provide greater adaptability of future iterations of development to address customer needs and ensure quality,” said Noel Kelly, CAT program manager for Tapestry Solutions. “It also will enable faster development and testing, so we can field critical software updates to the warfighter that can be leveraged as needed.”
CAT v6.1 is scheduled for delivery in August 2019 with fielding in December 2019. Future iterations will be delivered leveraging a full agile approach, allowing for continuous advancement of capabilities and immediate feedback from stakeholders each step of the way.
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