The C-17 Globemaster III has resumed combat airdrops to remote bases in Afghanistan for the first time in roughly a year and a half.

One of the first drops was conducted by an Al Udeid-based C-17 over undisclosed outposts in southern Afghanistan, between May 10 and 11.

“Our tasking and the aircraft selection for this mission really comes down to the C-17’s larger cargo capacity,” said Maj. Nicholas Coblio, the aircraft’s commander from the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

“The C-17 can complete this mission with one aircraft in one pass, minimizing risk and maximizing productivity,” Coblio added in a U.S. Central Command press release.

Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division watch as C-17 Globemaster IIIs airdrop cargo bundles carrying food and water in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, earlier in the war there. (Spc. Micah E. Clare/Army)
Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division watch as C-17 Globemaster IIIs airdrop cargo bundles carrying food and water in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, earlier in the war there. (Spc. Micah E. Clare/Army)

Officials from U.S. Air Forces Central Command would only say the resumption of C-17 airdrops is “requirements based,” and didn’t attribute the use of the large airlift assets to any specific changes in the threat environment for smaller, lighter aircraft.

Airdrop missions also reduce the risk undertaken by rotary-wing aircraft, which would have to loiter on the ground near one of these remote Afghan bases for much longer as pallets of supplies are unloaded.

“This airdrop represents a very significant mission — delivering needed supplies while reducing the burden and risk on our Army helicopter and maintenance crews,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Beville of the 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade that maintains tasking authority for the 824th.

The C-17 is one of the newer and more flexible assets in the Air Force’s airlift fleet.

The aircraft is operated by a crew of three — a pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster — reducing manpower requirements, risk exposure and long-term operating costs, according to the Air Force. Of note, the C-17 can carry virtually all of the Army’s air-transportable equipment.

With a payload of roughly 169,000 pounds and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 feet, the C-17 can fly along, without refueling, for a range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles, according to the Air Force. The C-17 is not only proficient in transporting troops and supplies, but it can also perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions and transport ambulatory patients during aeromedical evacuations.