Paratroopers have to be ready to strategically deploy anywhere in the world in support of U.S. national interests. When paratroopers exit the aircraft they trust their equipment to work as designed and as they have been trained with. But how do they and the Army know it will actually work?
The testing of that equipment is the mission of a small 85 person unit on Fort Bragg, the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate (ABNSOTD). The ABNSOTD has their hands in every piece of equipment used in airborne operations, sling load operations and required restraints used to secure Army equipment in Air Force aircraft, yet most people on the post know nothing about them.
“We are the last step between the big-brained person who took a concept and put it on a white board and before it is issued to an airborne Soldier or a special operations operator,” said Col. Brad F. Mock, ABNSOTD’s director. “We are sort of like Consumer Reports. We’re an independent tester who represents the paratroopers and special operators.”
Certification for every class and type of aircraft for airdrop of personnel and equipment, including new military, foreign and commercial aircraft, comes as a result of testing by this directorate. Their testing is finalized with the publication of approved airdrop rigging procedures.
“Operational testing is U.S. Army Operational Test Command’s opportunity to contribute to readiness; anything less compromises the Army’s ability to provide the forces that fight and win the nation’s wars,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Oquendo, ABNSOTD Test Division Chief.
Directorate personnel conduct operational airdrop testing, using sophisticated data collection instrumentation to validate rigging procedures and ensure that the dropped equipment functions properly when employed on the ground. “Testing without documentation or measurement is just an opinion,” is a rule the ABNSOTD follows.
The ABNSOTD test parachutist are the first Soldiers to jump with a new item. The directorate personnel also perform extensive testing of Soldier equipment to be employed in airborne operations, ranging from new personnel parachute systems to any new or modified combat equipment or individual weapons systems. The risk reduction jumps are conducted to ensure that operational Soldiers are not exposed to undue risks during formalized test procedures.
“With their technical knowledge coupled with experience, they are able to identify potential safety hazards that could impact jumpers during operational testing,” said Staff Sgt. Marcus Love, a native of San Diego, California and a test NCO with the ABNSOTD.
Earlier this year, the ABNSOTD tested the rigging of the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 (GMV 1.1) for airdrop from a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft on Sicily Drop Zone, followed by recovery procedures to make sure the system was fully operational after airdrop insertion.
“The GMV 1.1 will be become the standardized Special Operations combat vehicle with the operational flexibility to support the SOF core activities of Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Unconventional Warfare, and Counterinsurgency Operation,” said Oquendo.
Staff Sgt. Jon Weymouth, project NCO with the U.S. Army Operational Test Command’s Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate, said “What we do is use Soldiers to test current and possible future Army equipment and systems in a real-world training environment.”
He added this great nation’s Soldiers deserve only the very best equipment that is survivable and sustainable on the modern battlefield.
Mock said at the end of the day, he likes to go out to Sicily Drop Zone to watch paratroopers drop in and know that every single piece of equipment from the plane down to the parachute, at some point came through the ABNSOTD, whether it’s the helmet, the weapons case, or the weapon in the weapons case.
“When you look at the immensity of the airborne community and all of the things they bring to the fight, that’s kind of neat,” he said.