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Precision Parachutes May Be Only Option for Aleppo Aid Deliveries

Amr Shayah, an aeronautical engineer with a degree from the University of Aleppo, explains the potential benefits of using steerable, GPS-enabled parachutes to drop humanitarian aid into besieged Aleppo.

Written by Alessandria Masi Published on Read time Approx. 6 minutes
Civil war in syria1
The Russian Army carries out an airstrike with a parachute mine on Ibin village in northwestern Aleppo province, Syria, on November 5, 2016. Mahmoud Faisal/Anadolu Agency

BEIRUT – When the last of eastern Aleppo’s food supplies ran out in early November, the United Nations ruled out humanitarian aid drops to get rations into the besieged area of the city, citing security and logistical issues. A month later, U.N. convoys have yet to obtain the “security and access guarantees” needed to deliver supplies to the area. There is no aid on its way to eastern Aleppo, which has now been under siege for more than 100 days.

The U.S. and U.K. have reportedly been in talks for months discussing the different possibilities of getting humanitarian aid inside eastern Aleppo. While neither government has been able to find and implement a solution, Syrian activists are calling for the immediate use of the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS). This would see steerable, guided parachutes drop much-needed food and medical supplies into Aleppo, where the situation has become even more critical since pro-government forces launched a ground offensive last week.

The JPADS is an American military system that has been used since 1993 and employs the U.S. Army’s Precision and Extended Glide Airdrop System and the Air Force’s Precision Airdrop System. Other military parachute systems have been used in the conflict, predominately by Russian forces, to airdrop humanitarian aid in Deir Ezzor and to bomb targets in northern Aleppo.

The system uses cargo planes, each of which can hold about 20 parachutes and their packages of up to 1,100lb (500kg). The planes can be flown at 35,000ft (11,000m) and the parachutes dropped from as much as 60 miles (100km) away from their targets then steered to the drop point using the guided missile. Each JPADS costs roughly $60,000, according to Air & Space magazine, and would require coordination with someone on the ground to receive the aid and recover the parachute.

Syria Deeply spoke with Amr Shayah, an aeronautical engineering graduate from the University of Aleppo, about the benefits and logistics of using the JPADS and how it may be the only option left to deliver humanitarian aid to eastern Aleppo.

Syria Deeply: What are the benefits of using JPADS instead of the other humanitarian aid drop systems deployed, for example, in Deir Ezzor? How has it proven to be a safe option?

Amr Shayah: Using JPADS is maybe a little bit more expensive than using normal humanitarian aid drops like what’s happening in Deir Ezzor, but the benefits that you are gaining are huge. The first benefit is that we don’t need to risk [the lives] of anyone that will send or receive the aid.

In Deir Ezzor, the helicopter goes there and drops the parachute while coordinating with someone on the ground, but if this parachute isn’t controlled or guided it could land on something like a car or person and kill them, because each parachute weighs 1,100lb (500kg). By using JPADS we’re not taking this risk at all.

The other risk we are minimizing by using JPADS is that, with other systems, the helicopter or plane itself can be targeted. JPADS can be flown from Turkey, or any safe place, and drop this parachute with guided missiles and cameras on them and using the GPS to coordinate with someone on the ground so it will drop in a particular [pre-approved] place. The fault margin is between 160ft and 250ft (50 and 75m), which is very small, especially when we’re talking about making a drop from more than 60 miles (100km) away from the targeted area.

It will be safe. It’s not like flying in a war zone.

Syria Deeply: How much aid can the JPADS drop and how effective would it be for the besieged population?

Shayah: From what I studied, because I am a mechanical engineer and studied in the department of aeronautical engineering, the aircraft can carry 20 packages. Each package is about 1,100lb (500kg) and one plane can drop about 10 tons (9 tonnes) of relief and medical equipment.

Aleppo has been under siege for more than 100 days and those people haven’t received any kind of food for the last 100 days. Most of the food warehouses are now emptying and many of the reserve warehouses are in the areas that the regime has recently taken over. Even if they were storing some kind of, let’s say, canned food, it’s now controlled by the regime.

The regime has taken control of about 75 percent of eastern Aleppo and most of the people who were living in these areas have fled to other areas controlled by the opposition. So now it’s a lot of people in a much smaller area.

So if we started with just one plane, it would make a huge difference.

Map showing the remaining siege area of rebel-held Aleppo. (ISW/OSDH/AFP)

Map showing the remaining siege area of rebel-held Aleppo. (ISW/OSDH/AFP)

Syria Deeply: What can be done to assure people that aid will actually get to those in need once it’s dropped?

Shayah: This is the part that will come after all the agreements that have been made by the U.S. or U.K. government to drop this aid. They can coordinate with the White Helmets, they can coordinate with the Aleppo Local Council (ALC), they can coordinate with any organization that they believe has legitimacy and they can arrange a time and arrange a place. Those people who are going to receive it are the same people who are going to distribute it and deliver it it to the most vulnerable people.

I’ve been researching who would be the best partners to deliver this aid and it seems that it is the White Helmets or the ALC. This is my own opinion, but the one who will send it can do deeper research and can find out who exactly is the best partner.

Syria Deeply: The U.K. and U.S. say they’ve been talking for months about the different options for aid drops, including parachute systems. What do you think has prevented them from using them?

Shayah: The thing that’s preventing them is the will. They don’t have the will to do it. They think that this is expensive for the people of Aleppo.

I want to point out the credit that the international community can gain by showing the international community that they are doing something for them. If we look at the situation in Aleppo over the last eight months, nothing has happened from the international community. Even during the first siege, it was the armed groups, led by Jaish al-Fatah, who broke the siege.

Two chances were given to the international community to help the people of Aleppo. The first was to break the siege by opening humanitarian corridors. But that didn’t happen.

The second chance is now the JPADS. This is the other way to show the people of Aleppo that there is an international community taking care of them, trying to help them in any way that they can. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Syria Deeply: Many other proposals for humanitarian deliveries to Aleppo have failed. Do you think the JPADS is the only remaining option for getting aid into the area now?

Shayah: I haven’t heard of any kind of agreement to send relief into Aleppo that had been approved by the regime and Russia. If we are talking about sending relief trucks, the regime and Russia haven’t accepted those proposals for the last 100 days or even during the first siege of Aleppo.

With JPADS, you don’t need their approval, because they are not controlling the air space [where the plane will fly.] They [the U.S. or U.K.] can send it from Turkey or anywhere that they feel safe.

Syria Deeply: The Syrian government has made rapid advances on the ground in eastern Aleppo. Do you think this will deter the international community from working to get aid deliveries to those who remain in the area?

Shayah: The regime and Russia have been saying that Aleppo will fall for the last three years. Now, yes, there is an advance on the ground. I don’t believe they will take Aleppo even in months, but this is something to be fixed on the ground.

The fact is, there are more than 200,000 civilians in this geographical area who have been under siege for more than 100 days and we can help them, even if the regime will advance next week, next month, next year – nobody knows. But today, we are already late. We know that time is short. We know that they are waiting for us.

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