Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Pallets and Containers

ISO Container

Completing our look at logistics I am going to delve into the complex world of pallets.

Anyone thinking that pallet dimensions would be coordinated with vehicle dimensions, aircraft hold dimensions and ISO containers are in for a shock!

We know that ISO containers are the desired method of shipping by road, rail and sea. Their large size and weight mean the opposite is true for air transportation and for small loads ISO containers don’t really make much sense.

For air transportation and small break bulk loads, the pallet is the obvious and preferred option.
There are 2 main systems.

The 463L pallet is a military system that uses a flush pallet designed for easy handling using cargo aircraft floor rollers. The standard 463L is made of aluminium with a wooden core and has slots for forklifts. because it is of smooth and uniform construction there is nothing to snag on aircraft floors, this means they can be easily moved within the aircraft without mechanical handling equipment and shoved out of the back door when airdropping. Each pallet can have a maximum weight of approximately 4.5tonnes and is 2734 x 2235mm. The only problem with the 463L system is their great cost which means they are rarely used intermodally, loads that are delivered to an airhead by air will be broken down and transferred to other types of pallet or container. Because the 463L pallet has so many uses outside of the transport sphere they have a habit of going missing. The associated intermodal platform supplements the 463L by using an intermediate pallet, the AIP is placed between the 463L and the load and used for transfers, thus keeping the expensive 463L within the air transportation system.

For commercial airfreight, the containers have to be very lightweight and conform to the hold dimensions and shape of the most common aircraft. the familiar aluminium notched rectangle is the most common and called the Unit Load Device.

The UK will be using the Airbus A330 as supplied by the Future Strategic Aircraft PFI Air Tanker which commonly uses the LD3 version of the ULD although it will be able to take 463L’s as well.

For ground transportation, the 463L and LD3 are impractical for a variety of reasons so the more familiar pallet types are used

Standardised Euro pallets come in 6 sizes but the most common are 800 x 1000 or 800 x 1200mm

ISO has 6 standard pallet sizes, 2 of which are the Euro pallet size and the other four are the most common types in other locations.

For military applications another standard is used, MIL STD 1660 is commonly used for ammunition pallets and designed for efficient ISO container packing. Amongst the many specifications, the size is 1016 x 1219mm

To see the benefits of the metric system for scaling and utility one only needs to look to the paper. The ISO 216 paper system has an elegant simplicity, A4 = 2x A5, A3 = 2xA4 for example and when scaling up or down the multiplication factors are consistent multiples of square roots. It might be a bit geeky but the difference this makes to photocopiers and printers is significant. It is one of those things that simply make sense. Bizarrely, North America is the only place that doesn’t use this eminently sensible approach and insists on using various combinations of imperial sizes, letter and legal for example. Toilet paper is usually in A6 format as well!

What has this got to do with military logistics?

I have just used it to demonstrate the logic of metric dimensions and the ease of which they scale and stack in multiples. 2 packs of A4 occupy the footprint of A3 for example.

The interlinking of metric and imperial measurements makes things immeasurably more complicated and as these different systems have evolved interoperability is still a problem. Equipment is built around one standard or the other, military airlift aircraft for example commonly use the 463L but civilian aircraft use the ULD.

Chinook internal cargo bay width, with the seats installed but folded, is approximately 2.1m and the length 9.1m which means the 463L cannot be used and if the MIL-STD 1660 is used, there is wastage on either side. this might not be a problem with a mixed personnel/stores load but it is not efficient.

Merlin internal cargo bay width is 2.4m and the length, a little over 7m. The width of the cargo bay means that it can use 463L pallets but there is some space left over lengthwise meaning only 2 can be carried.

Perhaps more importantly for helicopters, given they are likely to be at the end of the supply chain, is what can be done with those pallets once they have landed. 463L pallets are generally too expensive to be used in tactical roles unless airdropping and handling equipment is generally geared towards the smaller 1660 or Euro/ISO pallet.

As can be seen from this picture we tend to breakbulk loads and rely on old fashioned manpower. The scene below shows a Merlin, blades running, at an HLS near a FOB in Afghanistan. this scene may be atypical but there are 6 personnel and 2 vehicles, a Quad and Springer involved with unloading a relatively small amount of stores, perhaps just personal equipment. No mechanical handling devices are used.

A recent story from the MoD about nighttime airdropping of supplies and a new system that makes the whole exercise much more accurate meaning less area to sanitise for IED’s is also interesting from stores handling perspective.

The stores are then driven to the FOB/PB or other waiting vehicles, perhaps in a number of round trips. The story quotes 60 tonnes needing 20 personnel and a nights worth of dangerous activity, perhaps with as many as 3 or 4 aircraft involved.

So whilst the problems of pallet interoperability will likely continue to be an insurmountable problem, 463L, ISO, 1660 and Euro pallets are here to stay it would seem, are there any ways we can make this process at the sharp end more efficient?

Most loads comprise lots of small boxes, ammunition, ration packs, batteries, spares, medical supplies and other sundries so efficient packaging would seem to offer a lot of benefits. Airdrop pallets need to of course be tough, they may hit rocks or turn over on impact and have to be rigged very carefully so any airdrop system would need to take this into account. Slinging loads underneath helicopters to assist with rapid unloading makes them fuel-inefficient but in many cases, it is too dangerous to hand around whilst stores are offloaded, box by box and at many FOB’s there are no mechanical handling vehicles available to assist.

Looking at those grainy green images one wonders if we have really progressed from Market Garden or Burma, we might be able to drop onto a smaller area but it still needs manual handling on the ground.

In a previous post on the Springer, I asked if it was a retrograde step, the problem of retrieving stores from drop zones is not a new one and in what is a depressingly familiar tale, we have worked the answers out, deployed equipment and then got rid of it thinking we might not need it, only to have to relearn those lessons and start from scratch.

The Supacat ATMP can use a pallet loading trailer, the FLPT (Fork Lift Pallet Trailer) and SLLPT (Self Loading Lightweight Pallet Trailer) that are designed to reverse onto a pallet, hook it up in less than a minute and drive away. No breaking the pallet down, quick and easy.

These have all been sold now and whilst our soldiers are sweating it out transferring airdropped pallets by hand into the back of a Springer the trailers that might have actually been of some use are in civilian hands, transporting Rayburn cookers. The ATMP could even be fitted with a HIAB hydraulic jib if the trailers are not practical.

Another option may be simply to provide the FOB’s with a mechanical reach stacker. The C Vehicle PFI has provided 333 JCB 524-50 Telehandlers but these may not be suitable to cover the distance or terrain between the FOB and drop zone. We might call up those nice people at JCB and ask for several High Mobility Rough Terrain Forklift. The HMRTF can be underslung by a Chinook, carried in a 20ft ISO container and handle adverse terrain. Simply carrying a lightweight demountable forklift on the back of a truck would be yet another option and these are made by a number of manufacturers including HIAB, Loadmac, Manitou, Stonehall and Palfinger, as shown below.

One wonders if by using a truck and forklift combination the recovery operation above might have been quicker and carried out with less personnel.

This caught my eye and I wonder if there are military applications.

It is from a UK company called U Tail and although for military use it would need to be more robust I think it has potential.

The dimensions would have to be defined around the internal dimensions of the Chinook and Merlin. At approx 2m wide it could take 2 Euro or 1660 pallets and still fit inside a Merlin or Chinook. Lose stores could be pre-loaded into the container.

Airdropping might also be a possibility as it would comfortably fit within the 463L envelope.

Instead of relying on manpower, something we are chronically short of, especially in Afghanistan, using simple, off the shelf or easily developed technology we can make the delivery of materials to forward locations much more efficient.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

18 Responses

  1. Americans childish metrication phobia and the world’s meek acceptation of their navel-gazing behaviour is responsible for a lot of idiocies not only in containers, but also computers with stupid inch rulers, paper measrements in cm instead of mm, Adobe PDF dimensions and aviation flying in medieval feet, knots and nautical miles. Well, we all know that their best time is over and with metric China breathing down their neck that luxury wont last all that long anymore. What a shame that the champion of democracy turned out to be such a lousy global citizen.

  2. Nice comment from Eric who I think hit a nail on the head the USA and their way of doing things is a bit of a problem for everyone as they are by far the largest Military customer so can still make their own rules. I think Eric is right though things will change as the USA continues its decline and China rises and let’s not forget the EU’s powerful role in metrication.

    I quite like the U-Tail idea and yes I think it would be highly applicable to the military, could it possibly replace things like the Duro trucks with the equipment modularised and carried in ‘pods’?

  3. Tell me about it, as an engineer i have to have two sets of tools one metric and one imperial for the odd american machine it gets expensive buggers!!!

    As a military item the U-Tail is a non-starter all light to medium trucks have to be mine and IED resistant so need a V hull, could use it for some loads but we do need to try and reduce vehicle types and standardise.

  4. I was thinking about the concept rather than the specific implementation. Is there are any reason we could use the utail concept with a vehicle that had a protected crew pod

  5. I’m rather happy to inform you that the rumours of US demise are rather exagerated, but I’m rather unhappy to inform you that they should terrify you anyway.

    The US share of world GDP has been rock solid at 25% since the 50’s.

    The figures I have to hand only go from ’69, but then it was 28%. In 2009 it was 26.66%, which its been plus/minus 1% since 74.

    The EU 27 share of world GDP was 37.66% in 74, and is 28.95% today.
    There a declining power alright, but it aint the US.

    The mighty Germany leads the falls, from 8.5% to 5.8%, a fall of 2.7% of world GDP
    Italy lost 1.6% of world GDP
    France lost 1.4%
    The UK lost 1.2%

    China has gained 6% of world GDP since 1974, going from 0.8% to 6.9%.

    Theres a reason Russias most recent Wargame centered on fighting an amphibious war around Vladivostok, not an armour war around the Fulda gap.

  6. Yes US is about 28 % world economy.

    It keeps itself there by massive defecit spending.

    OECD figures project US Govt Debt being 125% of GDP within next 10 years.

    It was massive millitary overcommitment that broke Spain as a world power in the 1600s.

    There are strong parallels.

  7. IXION
    This isnt really the place for an economics lesson, but I’m usualy around AEPs comments pieces on the Daily Telegraph.

    Suffice it to say that, yes, the US borrows money, so does every state in the EU27.
    And Yes, US debt to GDP ratios are looking bad, but no worse anyone in the EU27.
    And finaly, Spains collapse in the 1600’s had a lot of factors, one was military overspend, but the US does not “overspend” militarily.
    As a share of GDP the US spends about 4%, the UK government spends 3%
    Between 1950 and 1970 it averaged 10%.
    The USSR averaged 40% of GDP on military spending in its final years.

    The simple fact remains, the United States share of world gdp has not changed significantly in two generations.

  8. “And finaly, Spains collapse in the 1600′s had a lot of factors, one was military overspend, but the US does not “overspend” militarily.”

    Ah, it doesn’t?
    There’s a huge federal budget deficit (actually, quite the same size as the military expenditures for years).
    There’s a huge trade balance deficit (the same until recently).
    What does in your opinion constitute “overspending”? Immediate bankruptcy?
    The U.S.’s spending is unsustainable both as a nation and as a state. This may be cured without cutting the military spending (unlikely) or not – but the huge military spending is certainly a substantial part of the reason why the nation as a whole overspends. Thus, it’s fair to say that the U.S. overspends on the military. And I didn’t even argue about cost effectiveness yet.

  9. Nope this is not the place for an economic lesson.

    Or a long running somewhat off topic argument.

    Suffice it to say there is a lot of distrust about the 4% fugure for the US, (In practice state subsidies to US arcraft manufacture), “Pork Barrel” contracts, etc etc.

    Why the obsession with EU27 Debt levels, what about the BRIC Countries?

    I do not accept the US’s status as sole superpower is fixed in stone or likely to outlast the next 30 -50 years.

    An aquantance lectures in the US about forcasting the future. He starts with a photo of a group of British industrialists and politicians from the 1890’s. He points out that if it had been suggested to them that 60 years from then, the British Empire would be Broke – defunct and totaly supplanted as a world power, they would have rubbished the very idea.- And backed up the rubbishing with statistics.

  10. On related Point.

    Spains collapse from World superpower 1550, to “Nice place to buy oranges” 1690. was occasioned mostly by a vastly overexpanded foriegn policy, in effect trying to be the army of Catholicism, and also in an inability to reform/ modernise internal economic and political structures, best example being the Mesta Men.

    Obvious parallels with trying to be the world army of Capital democracy; or the conservatism of the political power of Oil companies, Millitary industrial combine etc etc.

  11. Sven
    I’m afraid I’ve never heard of Manzi, and certainly didnt pilfer his work, I compared the EU27 to the EU 27, which does include some nations who were members of the USSR and COMECON at one point, but I also included Italy France and the UK (Germany being a former partial soviet state) individualy.
    I also have the numbers for the EU 15, various other political bodies and continents as well.

    That in 1969 Germany accounted for 8.9% of GDP, and in 2009 accounted for 5.8% exists in black and white, to be disproven if you feel its incorrect.
    Feel free to take a shot at my work, I get tetchy when people try and discredit it unfairly.

    Perhaps I should have said the US doesnt overspend militarily, in comparison to the rest of the world.
    Whether or not military spending is cost effective is not an arguement that can be ended on a forum.
    The US spending on defence is neither historicaly high, being half what its been for most of the last 50 years, nor is it wildly out of kilter with the rest of the world, its slightly higher, but hardly at the extremes the USSR reached.

    “what about the BRIC Countries?”
    What about them?
    Russia will die of old age before I do, Brazil has been on the cusp of becoming a major power since 1800 and something.
    India and China are both historicaly very wealthy places, but neither has yet made any real changes to propel them to the front.
    GDP per Capita is still rock bottom.

    “I do not accept the US’s status as sole superpower is fixed in stone or likely to outlast the next 30 -50 years.”

    Oh God no, I dont pretend to view much 50 years into the future, but we’re at least a decade away from seeing any significant change on the “america rules the world front”.
    Theres been no movement there for two generations, I see no reason to believe its about to start, whoch doesnt of course mean it cant.

    There has however, been constant movement on the other side of the pond, in the wrong direction.
    I see no reason to believe thats likely to halt or reverse.

    “and also in an inability to reform/ modernise internal economic and political structures”
    But does that problem apply to the US?
    I freely admit, its getting worse, but the US still has one of the worlds most uninhibited internal markets.

  12. “Perhaps I should have said the US doesnt overspend militarily, in comparison to the rest of the world.

    The US spending on defence is neither historicaly high, being half what its been for most of the last 50 years, nor is it wildly out of kilter with the rest of the world, its slightly higher, [but hardly at the extremes the USSR reached].”

    This is as incorrect as it gets.

    What is your comparison about? The U.S. has as a single country almost half of all military spending – while being secured by the mightiest alliance (including two nuclear and several of the top ten military powers) ever, two oceans and two friendly and weak neighbours.

    That spending is nowhere like half of what it was for most of the last 50 years – in no metric whatsoever. Neither %GDP nor real nor relative dollars. In fact, the military spending of 2009 was roughly twice that of the late 90’s (absolute dollars).

    Besides; the past is irrelevant. What counts for “overspending” or not is whether the spending is sustainable and necessary. Today’s U.S. industry lies in shambles in comparison to the early 70’s. Only about a fifth of the GDP stems from the industry, and the industry produces only about 4/5 as many goods as the nation consumes (in $).

    On your last comment; you don’t seriously compare to the heavily allies-subsidised* de facto war-time economy maintained by the Soviet Union and North Korea for decades!? That would be about the most stupid thing imaginable.
    Their 20-30 %GDP military spending must not be a benchmark at all.

    The CIA World Factbook lists the U.S. as 25th of 176 in military expenditures in %GDP. That is far above average. Only seven democracies and only one country that can be considered to be well-governed (Singapore) are ahead. Most countries ahead in %GDP mil spending are either very small or oil countries or broke or in conflicts that make the GWOT look like an exercise.

    How much (national and allied) military spending is necessary for national and collective defence?

    How much military spending is fiscally and macroeconomically sustainable?

    The answer is never “almost a trillion”.
    There’s simply no threat to justify even half of that.
    National savings rate, trade balance deficit, federal budget deficit, net capital stock and output reduction of U.S. industrial sectors, education and infrastructure crisis all point at the need to free more unproductive spending for productive spending (public & private investments, education). The military budget is an obvious source for such macroeconomic redistribution & repair efforts.

    *: The primary purpose of the COMECON/Warsaw Pact was to subsidise Russia with unfair trade in order to enable it to upkeep a large military.

  13. Sooooooooo to get back tologistics……

    Is not yr discussion of pallets and manual unloading a major arguement for “Skycrane” type helo’s ? Perhaps an AW101 skycrane type without fueselage, but with CH54 type pods/ containers ??? Of corse the US does not seem to see ( understand) the advantages of building the CH53K in this config, so perhaps AugustaWestland should seize the market ???

  14. I could never understand why Sikorsky & Mil dropped the CH54/S64 and the Mi-10R. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

    It seems from the post that the UK Armed Forces has adopted a metric pallet system by default by buying into the ISO container system. Only interoperability with the US is causing “inefficient” loadbay dimensions in transport aircraft. And how many times do we transport stuff for the yanks anyhow, with the amount of helos and Hercs those guys have got ?!?

    Pictures of the FLPT merely confirm my opinikon that we should nevver have got rid of ATMP in the first place. Sell the Springers to the Afgans and buy more supacat’s, I say!

  15. An ISO container, unless they have been revised, is 8 feet high, 8 feet wide and 10/20/40 ft long.

    The paper example is actualy quite good, but its for imperial not metric.
    An A1 splits into two A2s, or four A3’s, or eight A4’s or sixteen A5’s.
    Which could correspond with inche, half inch, quarter inch, eighths and sixteenths.

  16. Dom, I used metric for completeness, yes they originated in imperial measurements

    There is a scaling elegance in metric measurements that usually isnt seen in Imperial because imperial measurements are based on real world examples

  17. I think A1,2,3,4 paper sizes are metric ‘cos the Americans don’t use them.

    Maybe Augusta Westland could develop a AW101 Skycrane variant and deploy it themselves like AIrbus Beluga.

Comments are closed.