In the fever pitched briefing and counter briefing in the run in to the SDSR one of the potential routes to cut costs was to reduce the scope of the parachute assault capability. This takes place against a backdrop of a serious shortage of Hercules aircraft means that current qualification training is suffering and rumours of merging with the Royal Marines.
The fact that the Parachute Regiment hasn’t made an operational jump for decades is always trotted out when the rivals of the Regiment return to their annual pastime of trying to get it disbanded. We never seem to say the same thing about torpedoes or anti aircraft missiles but the Parachute Regiment remains under threat.
As for some hybrid or merged force with the RM, we have to realise that the diversity in training and approach of the two delivers a range of benefits to the UK that is priceless, providing a world beating edge. The cost benefits would amount to a few headquarters staff and maybe some training posts, not worth destroying the two units for.
So lets not have any more talk of merging or disbanding.
It is a reasonable question to ask, is 16AAB anything more than an extremely effective light infantry unit and what is the future of its airborne aspect?
Although I am not convinced of the utility of the strategic raiding concept for a number of reasons, there is some logic behind it, would it make sense therefore to reinforce capability.
Proliferating and increasingly capable surface to air missiles mean that airdropping will remain a niche capability, only viable in a limited set of circumstances but it is an important niche and when it’s gone, the capability is gone.
This reality informed the establishment of 16 Air Assault Brigade, at 8,000 personnel it is the largest brigade force in the army and uniquely flexible. A number of non parachute trained units are in 16AAB, helicopter assault is much more likely and being transported intra theatre by helicopter does not require anywhere near the level of initial and continual training as parachute operations.
Despite the label on the tin, 16AAB aren’t very mobile at all and when they do rapidly deploy they are extremely lightweight, lacking any serious firepower, organic lift capacity or means of sustainment. It might be argued that this is exactly what you need, light forces equal rapidly deployable forces but in the context of this conversation, should we be improving firepower, sustainability and of course the means to get there.
Wherever there is…
Things brings us neatly back to helicopters, the Scimitars of D Squadron Household Cavalry, FRES, light vehicles, airdrop logistics, a replacement for the geriatric Medium Stressed Platform and other subjects we have been discussing