13 December 2022

Operation Christmas Drop 2022 brings the spirit of the season to the remote western Pacific

| Andrew McLaughlin
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View of cockpit

An RAAF C-130J Hercules crew on approach to an island airdrop. Photo: Defence.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) deployment of an aircraft and 24 personnel have returned to Australia following the completion of Operation Christmas Drop 2022 in the western Pacific.

Running from 6 to 12 December and centred on the US territory of Guam in the Mariana Islands, Operation Christmas Drop is an annual exercise where US and allied air mobility squadrons conduct humanitarian aid operations in support of remote communities across an area of more than six million square kilometres of the Pacific.

For the 2022 iteration, the US Air Force was joined by the RAAF, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Japan Air Self Defense Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force, all flying the venerable Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

In addition, observer status was given to representatives of the German Air Force, Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Philippines Air Force, Indonesian Air Force, Royal Thai Air Force and Royal Malaysian Air Force.

Hercules aircraft on a runway

Seven of the eight participating C-130 Hercules transports line up on Anderson AFB’s main runway on Guam for an ‘elephant walk’ photo shoot. Photo: JASDF via RAAF.

“This year marks our return to Christmas Drop Guam after a three-year absence and we are honoured to again have the opportunity to support our Pacific partners and celebrate Christmas with some of the more remote parts of the region,” said Air Commodore David Strong, the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group Commander.

“Additionally, the operation promises to be a professionally and personally fulfilling activity for the crews involved.

“It’s a unique opportunity to work side-by-side with other Indo-Pacific Hercules aircraft and build relationships at the aviator-level, which will benefit our cooperation in future,” he added.

Operation Christmas Drop has its origins in 1952 after the crew of a US Air Force bomber saw islanders waving at them from the island of Kapingamarangi, 6,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. In response, the crew dropped hastily gathered supplies via parachute to the islanders, and thus the idea was born to make it an annual event.

For 2022, airdrop operations were conducted to 56 islands throughout the Federated States of Micronesia comprising the Marianas, the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau.

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force crew airdrops bundles to waiting islanders. Photo: US Air Force.

Donations for the operation are collected by a private organisation established on Guam to lead the fundraising and to liaise with the US Air Force. Items include food, educational materials, boat parts, fishing and sporting equipment, clothing, and toys. These are packaged into 200 kg pallets or ‘bundles’ that are airdropped to the islanders by the aircraft and their crews.

Defence personnel in Christmas outfits

Operation Christmas Drop crews and civilians pose during the airdrop package assembly. Photo: Defence.

The participants use the Low Cost Low Altitude (LCLA) airdrop method, a cost-efficient system of delivery that utilises readily-available resources and re-purposed personnel parachutes to build pallets at a fraction of the cost of other airdrop bundles, and which are then dropped at low-altitude to improve accuracy.

The exercise is also an opportunity for the participants to practice coordinating their efforts in the event of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HADR) scenarios in the region.

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