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Is Parachute Assault as Dead as Disco?

Parachute drop RAF Hercules

In the fever-pitched briefing and counter briefing in the run into 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 returned 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 let’s 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 the 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 bring 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

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48 Responses

  1. The Parachute Regiment should be moved over to SF Support Group in it’s entirety.And F Company RM returned back to 3Cdo.

    The Army lost the plot both literally and figuratively when it scrapped the “Arms Plot.” This should have been retained for the Guards and line infantry.

    But the Rifles should have been used to establish 2 light brigades using scales of equipment similar to those of the RM. (Using 7RHA plus another another RA re-equipped with L118.) Even taking on the Commando 21 structure. Perhaps a role could be found for FRR too.

    It is interesting that there is always talk of merging Para and RM. Yet nobody ever seems to mention the RAF regiment.

    PS: For homework you should go and find US figures for broken limbs per 100 troops in a divisional sized drop.

  2. Parachute assault would seem to be useful when it comes to forced entry: helicopters have very limited range and are less mechanically reliable than fixed wing aircraft. No airhead, no entry…

  3. This is funny. I coincidentally wrote a bit about airborne assault yesterday, too.
    My piece is not finished yet and likely to remain so for weeks until I’m in the mood to polish and publish it, though.

  4. x is spot on and, building on that, couldn’t an emerging brigade structure look something like the following (leaving aside integral brigade artillery etc etc)?
    4 Infantry Brigades (with 4 Mech/Armoured Infantry Batallions each)
    1 Air Assault Brigade (with 4 Light Infantry Batallions)
    1 Marine Brigade (with 4 Marine/Army Commandos)

    I’d expect these to be grouped into 2 “Divisional” structures (although a US Marine MEF is a lot closer to what I am shooting for), with supporting Artillery, Aviation, Armour, Logistics Engineering at that level – one with the Marine Brigade, the other with the Air Assault Brigade.

    Lastly we would have a Spec Ops Brigade with –
    2 SAS Regiments
    1 Spec Recon Regiment
    1 SBS Regiment
    2 Parachute Batallions
    Supporting Logistics; Signals; Aviation Assets

    With the expectation of deploying and maintaining a full Spec Forces Regiment and supporting Para Batallion in the field at any time.

    The third parachutte batallion could either be canabilised to form the above structure or, should funding permit, could be rotated with the other 2 as an Op For Batallion for the rest of the Forces.

  5. When was the last operational parachute jump, by anyone?
    Honest question I dont have a clue.

    I think, given the possible actions the UK could be forced to take, parachute capability is a niche thats not worth keeping.

    What do paratroopers do?
    They provide a method to insert our forces behind enemy lines, quite handy.
    Once there, they either need to be supplied by air, or “the lines” need to move until main forces link up with the paratroops.

    So, they form an airhead, or they seize objectives ahead of the main push.

    The UK lacks the strategic airlift to supply an airhead, even before we consider the enemy ability to interdict supply planes. So Dien Bien Phus are out.

    That leaves seizing objectives ahead of the “big push”.
    For the second, the helicopter is just as good, if not better than, the A400M.
    Range and payload is considerably less, but range and payload arent hugely relevent, you need to be in range of your ground push, and are never going to have the resources to win if they make a fight of it.

    I would suggest the “parachute” troopers are reroled as helicopter assault troops.
    They seize objectives in advance of, rather than in place of, ground troops.
    This could be in advance of landings, so to secure the beach head, or in advance of “the big push”.
    Severe the enemy line of retreat, push from the front, in the time it would take the enemy to break through a few hundred dug in paratroopers holding a bottleneck, our advancing armoured brigade would tear the enemy to pieces. So they accept they are encircled and surrender.
    Or they fight to the death, in which case the Paras are screwed.

    Helicopter Assaults also have the advantage of forward basing from LPH’s, whereas Parachute jumps need a friendly airfield.

  6. “When was the last operational parachute jump, by anyone?”

    Sri Lanka used parachute elite units to raid LTTE positions a few years ago. These elite infantry units were an important part of the ground campaign. Losses were substantial on both sides.

    “What do paratroopers do?
    They provide a method to insert our forces behind enemy lines, quite handy.”

    You could also think of them as a 800 km/h quick reaction force for the entire theatre. The German paratroops of the Cold War were meant as quick filler for gaps in friendly lines, for example.

  7. The last operational parachute jump by a regular parachute infantry battalion of the British Army was at Suez in 1956. The joint Anglo-French operational to capture the canal zone was an unqualified success, Unfortunately our offensive actions to secure the Suez canal zone to prevent it being nationalised by the then President of Egypt, Nasser, upset the USSR so much that we were forced to pull out. That was politics not operational effectiveness limiting the parachute role. Indeed, there remain a number of situations today where both the strategic and tactical use of brigade-size parachute drops remain highly relevant. For example, a battalion of paratroopers armed with Javelin anti-tank missiles could be a useful force to intercept an unexpected armoured thrust.

    In truth, current doctrine suggests that a large parachute force might be very vulnerable to rapid interdiction by a mobile force equipped with light armour. I have seen no hard data to back up such a suggestion. Indeed, I am not sure whether potential conventional threats are greater today than they were in 1944 and 1945 at Arnhem and the Rhine Crossings respectively, but politically, the kind of casualties that might result from a large airborne operation may no longer be acceptable.

    Perhaps more relevant to the kind of asymmetric threat we face today, the SAS and other SF units continue to use both HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) and HAHO (high altitude, high opening) parachute techniques. Both remain highly effective and valid insertion techniques. I believe that squadron-size units can be dropped in this way. They cannot be detected by ground radar systems. Parachuting is here to stay for SF deployment.

    That said, however, the US has shown that large scale helicopter deployments are a much better way of inserting sizeable airborne forces. Look at Vietnam, Grenada and of course both iraq and Afghanistan. Helicopters offer an element of surprise because they can approach an LZ from any direction. Secure LZs are essential to their success, but this is easily accomplished. So, Parachute Regiment soldiers should be seen as airborne troops not parachute troops and remain very relevant, with the Chinook CH-47 replacing the C-130 Hercules.

    Moreover, however the Paras are delivered to the battlefield, they remain an elite cadre of highly-motivated regular infantry in any situation. Disbanding the Parachute Regiment because we rarely make large operational parachute drops would be like disbanding the Household Cavalry because we no longer charge into battle with swords and lances at the ready.

    In terms of future operational needs, we seem to be moving to a 2 or 3 division peacetime army structure. i agree that we need a rapid reaction division, but we also need a traditional armoured division.

    My suggestion is a rapid reaction division consisting of:

    1 Para brigade – air transportable by sufficient helicopters to facilitate rapid insertion
    1 Commando brigade – seaborne via commando ship with both landing craft and helicopters
    1 Striker brigade – road borne battalion equipped with FRES / Boxer / Piranha

    (total 9 infantry battalions)

    My armoured division would have three brigades of Challenger tanks, Warrior IFVs and FRES Scout.

    (total 9 infantry battalions)

    I would additionally provide a further 12 FRES-eqipped infantry battalions, to be used in a general purpose, but highly mobile role.

  8. Sven
    I wasnt expecting anything quite that recent, I cant even argue thats not a proper war, damn.
    Still, given the size or Sri Lanka, presumably they could have heli dropped without much problem?

    I’d not considered reinforcing existing forces, but again, helicopters are slower, but does it matter?
    I suppose it does if your paratroopers are in Greenland.

    Didnt Suez see the first use of Helicopter insertions as well?

  9. Some Sri Lankan commandos were dropped with helicopters, others with parachutes.
    The Rhodesian fire force of the 70’s rested heavily on parachutists as well, the ARVN used parachute combat drops troops during the 60’s, the Indonesians used parachute assaults many times in internal conflicts…

    There’s a thread about recent parachute combat drops somewhere at

  10. Before I forget; early on in 2001 the U.S. dropped rangers on a raid – long before Marines landed and built a base. That drop was most likely a parachute drop as well (no helicopter base was in range), though I’m not sure.

  11. All,

    I surprised at this, given the collective knowledge here.

    The last large scale operational parachute drop was actually 26th March 2003. The combat elements (over 1000 troops) of the US 173rd Airbourne Brigade conducted a jump into Northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom…. It was the largest US paratroop assault since WW2…..

  12. Against a conventional enemy, parachuting has gone the way of the dodo, but is still a VERY important tool in the toolbox that politicans would be loathe to give up, in the arena of rescuing britsh and other nationals in advent of hostile uprising, a la the Battle of Kolwezi in 1978 ( I think this actually saved the Parachute regiment from disbandment at the time).

  13. Panama is also another example, perhaps one of the best

    Of course Northern Iraq still counts.

    Just because the US airborne forces weren’t dropping into fields of Iraqis machine gunning them out of the sky does not make it an irrelevant operation or useful demonstration of a useful operational capability.

  14. Actually, the Americans could simply have landed on the Kurdish airfield afaik.
    They jumped because this adds another argument and story for the airborne and it gave a couple hundred soldiers an additional, rare badge.

    I don’t consider that as a real airborne drop operation. It wasn’t much more than an exercise.

  15. Not sure I agree Sven, they could have landed yes,but the additional fuel burn, impact on aircraft availability, time taken to marshal, land, unload and take off again all factored into the decision to air drop.

  16. If you want a valid recent paratroop operation, Rio Hato qualifies. Helicopters cannot reach more than 200K max, paratroops can go more than 10 times as far. Dropping on top of alerted defences may be suicidal, but doing so is hardly compulsory; the Soviet ai-mech doctrine still has a lot to teach us


  17. I raised this on ARRSE a few weeks ago. The problem is that if we look at the future A/T fleet, you’ll see that the J’s will hit OSD in about 10 years, due mainly to the airframes being absolutely knackered beyond belief. Our future AT fleet is going to be C17 and about 20-25 A400M.

    We won’t have the ability in 10 years to generate enough aircraft to do a brigade level drop – so in many ways this is a theoretical conversation as the Brigade airlift option will dissapear.

    What does make sense is retaining the ability for company group landings, and also to create a sense of ‘in it together’ that helps make the Para Regt so succesful as trained soldiers. By retaining seedcorn capability, we can quickly regenerate a jump capability if it was required – however to my mind it makes more sense to keep 3 para bns, with 1 roled for spearhead duties (e.g. provide airborne coy at short notice) and the other 2 allocated as SFSG support. This keeps the para regt as a centre of excellence, and provides a natural feeder for SF selection.

    The airborne assault in Iraq was a bit of a farce. Despite jumping in about the most placid conditions imaginable, it took 15 hours for the force to link up – during which time they’d have been very vulnerable to any determined assault by the Iraqis, with no hope of relief at that point.

    I can see the logic of retaining the ability to put small numbers of people into a small area to to SF style raids. The moment you start dropping a brigade though, you need to be 100% certain that you can secure an exit point, and that the heavy support isn’t far behind, otherwise you end up with an Arnhem situation. No government is willingly going to let this sort of thnig happen again.

    So, I think we’ll see the Parachute regt and role retained, but de-emphaised in favour of it being an elite organisation with strong links to SF. Jump qualifications will remain out there, but its unlikely that we’ll see the sort of brigade level jump discussed ever envisaged again.

  18. Rupert
    The RAF could presumably drop paratroopers from Cornwall to Kent without flying east if it had to.
    (IE by flying all around the world)

    The problem is not deploying them at extreme range, its what you do afterwards, we cant supply them 2000km away.

    Ok, so parachute drops are in some cases better than helicopter drops.
    Are they better often enough to justify the cost?
    I’m thinking no.

  19. The interesting tools of airdrops with parachutes are HAHO (jump very high with oxygen supply, open chute immediately – kind of assault glider tactic that’s suitable for standoff distances like 60 km) and freight pallets. The latter can be equipped with GPS or INS-based navigation computer for precision landing. The Russians can airdrop 10 ton class vehicles using multiple chutes and brake rockets for the last few metres.

    look at 2:00

  20. Paracute drops still have a place for SF and other elite units but the days of battalion or brigade trops are over. I think we are going to have to start looking at the Paras and RM as having similar roles to the US Army’s Rangers with only limited airbourne capability. Both have substantial air mobile capability and training and although they lack organic lift ae very effective formations. Yes the RM have seabourne skills but why couldn’t the paras also recieve training in this. remember the UKs last big seanbourne operations, the Falklands both the RM and Paras landed on the beach.

  21. Jim, I think the J’s may be retired early as part of the SDSR cull post Afghanistan.

    Its the way the RAF want to go, 2 types for fast jet and 2 types for strat at, this makes it even more unlikely.

    Do 16AAB even have enough jump qualified to do a brigade level drop today, let alone the RAF aircraft

    Its an interesting point about capacity though because A400 will have an airdrop capacity of over a hundred or three land rover type vehicles plus 50, the C17’s can deliver about the same number of paratroops but obviously more cargo.

    Brigade size drops are obviously off the menu but when I wrote this I wondered if with some planning we might still be able to retain a smaller but harder hitting and more sustainable force in line with a raiding approach.

    Maybe at a reinforced battalion strength

    As for Iraq, yes, it exposed the limitations but this was largely because they were using yesterdays technology. What is available today and deployed, makes a repeat of that ‘my god we are spread over half of Iraq’ scenario much less likely.

    In fact, I think air drop operations, not just parachute assault, have enjoyed a mini revival of late and if you look at some of the Russian capabilities in this area, as Sven points out, they were leaps ahead of us 20 years ago and not just in scale.

    Have a look at their static line parachutes, can you see how they use a drogue, unlike Western versions that deploy on leaving. The rocket retarded drop chutes also mean that you can avoid expensive drop platforms and time consuming rigging/derigging for vehicles.

  22. No mention of the South African para drops from Dakota’s in the Angolan bush war? They were subsequently recovered using SAAF Pumas.

    In a rush at the mo, will post something more coherent shortly.

  23. I agree there is still a role for the airborne forces – I think we just need to be realistic about how large a role it is. Small drops up to Bn strength for short missions make a lot of sense, and I can see this being retained. I think though that the days of large drops are over.

    As for the J’s – I’ve also heard the SDSR to go early rumours – makes a lot of sense. Talking to mates on the J Fleet, you realise how utterly flogged the airframes are now. We’ll likely see K’s that are left go ASAP, with the gradual running down of the J fleet as A400M comes into service over the next 10 years.

  24. Admin – which comes back to the idea of having a dedicated Spec Ops Brigade which could continuously generate 2-3 Spec Ops Squadrons, supported by a paratroop batallion and a limited signals / logistics squadron as previously noted. In a larger operation context, that would form your sustainable raiding force, which could then be reinforced either by heli-bourne assets (Air-Assault or Marine) or by a general advance of ground forces (depending on the depth of penetration).

    Alternatively it would enhance the ability to generate more classic Special Forces activities, building the Special Forces Support Group concept to it’s logical conclusion.

    Finally, I’d also expect the Brigade to take its’ turn in forming the UK’s spearhead battallion, in rotation with a Marine Commando and an Air Assault Batallion (although the last, may be optional, since I’d expect it to be the most heavily tasked Brigade in the forces anyway!

  25. 16AAB isn’t a parachute brigade; just because the Parachute Regiment (and associated “red beret” units like 7RHA) form the foundation of the organisation. Considering that RAF can’t supply enough helicopters to move the brigade in total I would haven’t included non-para’ trained battalions in the organisation. I believe our French friends call this a demi-brigade.

  26. Another thing in that my proposal I am not saying the infantry or the guards are second class formations. What I would like to see if the UK establishing itself as a centre of excellence of peace keeping. One of the fundamentals I think for peace keeping to work is for the civilians in theatre to identify up to a point with those soldiers sent to keep the peace/protect. The strength of the UK armed forces is that their Britishness shines through and all the wonderful ideals we as a nation stand for. So what I see for the infantry and guards is these formations rotating through home based armoured roles (waiting for the big one) and then on to peace keeping abroad. God knows the UN could do with more Western troops. We would benefit internationally. And perhaps it would add some more justification to our permanent seat on the UN security council beyond us having nuclear weapons.

    (Sorry if the above is a bit woolly. I am not very good at these throw away informal comments.)

  27. As someone who has some considerable interest in this subject I would say that both the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines Commandos, both by there selection and level of training, are really equivalent to the US Rangers. I do not consider either as ‘just’ light infantry. The only reason the that 1 Para and others were taken to form SFSG was because the previous policy of taking either Paras or Marines to support SF on an as required ad hoc basis had run its course. i.e. Taking a company or so of either was disruptive to the parent formation. To my mind 3 Commando Brigade should stay as it is with a reformation of the Parachute Brigade to become more like the US Rangers (with a dual role of SFSG (perhaps mainly SAS) and independent ops if and when required) They should also have supporting arms. A further light brigade should be formed as Air Assault i.e. helo assault trained. There will always be a need for ‘small’ units (up to Battalion group strength) to be available for Parachute operations that may well tie in with amphibious commando ops. The Commando Brigade could support SBS in the Maritime environment when required. I think if you look at the history of the 173rd …… they have always been an independent airborne formation that was allocated to ‘special’ operations and as such were based in Northern Italy for some considerable time.

  28. That is why I said Rifles and not “light infantry” as in the regiment The Light Infantry (and their partners in crime the Royal Green Jackets.)

    It is nice to see a consensus has been reached here. It doesn’t happen on these comment threads that often.

  29. I think Afghanistan has diverted the RM and Para very slightly from their core role and when deployed to Afghanistan you could make a reasonable argument that they are replacing other ‘bog standard’ light infantry units in broadly the same role.

    Are we really getting maximum benefit from either Paras or RM when deployed in this fashion, its a real contentious point I know and I am not being deliberately obtuse but to stand up to those who would see them disbanded they both have to find continued relevance post Afghanistan

    The problem with the RM is that whilst everyone loves them, no one really wants to pay for them. RN have to pay for a unit that is largely under LAND command and deployed on operations, taking funding from the surface fleet and the Army would love to get their hands on RM but would have to lose another Regiment or two in order to do so, can anyone see this happening.

    I know the fleet protection and assault squadron role is largely unloved but operating in the littoral is a fantastic opportunity and a capability that will secure the future of RM. Lots of small boats and hovercraft, raiding and boarding type capabilities.

    Same with Paras, as others have said, raiding and rapid reaction, perhaps to secure areas inland in prep for an amphibious operation.

    Whatever we do, we need to retain paras and marines as separate entities. Its their unique heritage, ethos and approach to training and operations that means for the UK, they are more than the sum of its parts.

  30. “The Army is a weapon best fired by the Navy.”

    Apart from a few RLC sailors nobody joins the Army to go to sea. But I think most (not all! ;) ) Bootnecks know that joining that service means ship time. Though with A-stan and cut backs I know some Marines have had limited time aboard the amphibious ships.

    The RM will survive for the same reason the RAF Regiment has survived. That is because both are efficient organisations for producing “infantry.”

  31. To answer your question: Yes, and erm’ no……….

    I agree with many of the comments about the considerable utility of a para capability but more bent towards the “special Ops” role.

    I also agree that both RM and the Parachute Regiment battalions are closer to US “special operations forces” (NOT special forces – which would be SAS / SBS), rather than just good “light infantry” – they are in many ways elite formations.

    As such it is that elite ethos, the training etc that is important. We do not have enough para’s nor enough aircraft to undertake brigade or larger level para drops like the most recent US examples given by other commentors. So why not be sensible about this, we don’t need the Para’s to be the light infantry component of a helicopter based 16 AAB.

    All 3 battalions of the Parachute Regiment should be the core of the Army “special operations forces” alongside the Strategic Recce Regiment and elements of the Int. Corps etc. in other words a role like that of the US Army ‘Airborne Rangers’. So they would retain para delivery capability, and may undertake limited (company / battalion) size jumps, mostly in operational circumstances that would not need organic armour or artillery support.

    If the future is strategic raiding OR (god forbid) more Afghanistan type ops there is a definitely a role for a highly trained elite in formations above the size of those nominally provided by the SAS, and for less ‘complex’ scenarios.

  32. whatever the results of the SDSR the paras will very much still be there altough there role may have changed. 1 PARA will not be touched, due to them being the core of the SFSG. 2 and 3 PARA on the otherhand will find themselves in a different role or brigade. I personally do not believe there will be a 16 AA after the SDSR, for that reason the PARAs should do one of the following.

    As i see it 2 and 3 PARA should either go to join 1 PARA as part of a larger special operation unit, much like the US airborne rangers. Or they should be put into a brigade combat team, similar to the 173 airborne BCT. although we dont have the ability to even parachute a BCT, the army has enough para trained personel to fill such a unit. they could then be used as a rapid reaction fires brigade.

    Although i dont see either of the above happening. Intead the PARAs (2 and 3) and the Commandos will find themselves in a new rapid reaction brigade. Which means that the likelyhood of them maintaining their parachute capability looks small, as with the marines amphibious ability (if the navy is to loose three amphibious ships). this would mean that both elite units would just be light infantry.

  33. Panama and Kolwezi (and the abortive American operation in Haiti in the mid-’90s) certainly make the best relatively modern cases for the utility of paratroop operations above the small-raiding level. (And that carries on — Sven’s right to point out Sri Lanka, and at some point around the middle of the decade the US staged a small-unit combat drop, damned if I can remember the operation’s name, but it wasn’t the more public and controlled drops of 2001 and 2003.) But unless you have the resources of the US to go global with a brigade-sized force rapidly followed on (or, if you’re Russia, China, or India, around the edges of your massive borders with a fairly rattletrap tactical airlift capability) then it seems from the historical record that most combat airdrops worth doing (with a clear and achievable set of operational goals) hang around the size of a battalion battlegroup or slightly smaller. With the C17s and entry of A400M to the air fleet that’s still both a reasonable and a manageable goal.

    My own two cents? This is a chance to bang on my “battalion-sized regiments” drum again for the infantry. Keep the Parachute Regiment as a battalion-sized battlegroup with 16AAB, as a spearhead force that can be deployed separately for small deterrence or stabilization missions, or adds a maneuverability wrinkle to the larger brigade. (And SDSR will be fools if they drop 16AAB. In fact, I’d group it in a divisional command with a singular heavy brigade, which (heavy bde) would be squared on C2/Warrior plus a fifth, cavalry, maneuver regiment on the American/Dutch “armoured cav” model. The American 101st Air Assault Division and the Dutch 11 Luchtmobile Bde are fine demonstrations of how useful heliborne maneuver is on the whole run of possible battlefields.)

    Then take what’s now 1 PARA, wind down this hobbledehoy SFSG structure, and rebadge as the Commando Regiment (non-support pongos have worn sherwood green before, they can again.) Make it the Army combatant battalion in 3 Cdo Brigade, and continue the special-operations and SF support role as several in this thread have suggested. A company at a time, roulement, on immediate standby for SF support and emergency raids, ready to roll out the whole bn in short order. Rather than manning up a parachute brigade in support of SF, I’d rather jump-qualify the Army commando-support elements of 3 Cdo Brigade. Then not all of them have to ride in on the constrained amphib fleet (or they can meet up with their gear when they’ve jumped in, rather than taking up scarce shipboard space.) You also get threefold options for putting the elements of your “initial entry” force into the breach (heliborne, landing craft, and airdrop.)

    Setting up big structures to support SF operations sets off warning bells for me. Not because I dislike or devalue SF, quite the opposite, rather because I don’t trust the political leadership, of any stripe. Maintain large SF/special-operations forces, and not only do you tend to cream off talent from line formations, but you create a large base of resources by which politicians can meddle their way into quagmires while planning out an interesting chapter of their memoirs and dreaming of Rambo (or, if they’re a little older, The Wild Geese.) Many of those circumstances need approaches other than military force applied, and use of it there drains the ability to concentrate that force where and when it’s actually needed.

  34. Sorry for the late reply. Still busy catching up after the holidays.

    From the Dutch MoD:

    In July 2009, a Task Force 55 special forces team of 9 personnel from the Commando Corps and an Afghan coalition partner carried out a very unusual parachute deployment in Afghanistan. An operational parachute jump by Dutch personnel was carried out for the first time since 1949. As a result of the operation, the commandos who took part in the jump were awarded with the ‘operational free-fall wings’ last year.

    The last time that Dutch military personnel made an operational jump was 10 March 1949 during the Dutch operations in Indonesia.

    Whole story press release (in English!):

    First time in 60 years, but they must have been glad they had the option to do it.

  35. I’ve got to ask again, have any of these examples been impossible or even difficult to do from helicopters?

    How about a Parachute Company?

  36. I totally forgot about “Operation Cactus,” when the Indian Army dropped a battlegroup into the Maldives to roust hired guns trying to overthrow the Gayoom regime. And three of the big examples, in terms of effect — Rio Hato, Kolwezi, and that job in Maldives — could not have been done by helo, both because fo the distance involved, the urgency of the time frame, and the need — much as with land-based fighter cover — to move the helos, their ground crew, fuel, stores, etc., into place. Helicopter assault is an excellent way to move around infantry as part of a conventional battlefield (if I had druthers pairing a heavy brigade or two with a heliborne assault brigade would be a typical configuration.) But short, sharp, time-sensitive shocks still leave a role for parachutes.

  37. Just to follow-up on some of the points made below, many recent parachute drops have been tactical anomalies: using paratroops because they were available not because the tactical situation made it a necessity.

    It is important that we divide the future use of parachute troops into conventional operations (e.g. a strike against Iran) and asymmetric operations (e.g. a flare-up in Iraq). For conventional operations, we do need a brigade size airlift capability. What is different about today versus parachute operations in 1939-45 is that there are many more airfields. The air drop of a battalion-size force to capture one is entirely valid: you need to deploy a lot of troops very quickly and sometimes you need to do this in locations well beyond the range of helicopters. To support such an objective, you might also need concurrent drops to cut-off bridges, roads and reinforcement points or other tactical targets, such as a town or small city’s power supply. Once the primary objectives are seized, you have the means to deliver additional troops and other assets by air. Therefore a Brigade-size drop capability needs to be retained for conventional operations IMHO. The question is whether we can afford it? Alas, it seems we cannot.

    As far as asymmetric threats are concerned, again a battalion and company-size operational deployments are entirely foreseeable to bring rapid relief to an area terrorised by insurgent forces.

    It goes almost without saying that Special Forces need a jump capability for a variety of mission types.

    Another factor that makes the parachute soldier relevant to future operations is the increasing sophistication of portable weapon systems. Javelin, for example, is a superb anti-tank system. There is no doubt in my mind that a battalion-size force equipped with Javelin could obliterate an advancing enemy tank division. Handheld computers also make the use of 60 mm mortars at platoon level much more effective.

    Finally, the V-22 Osprey has been a disastrous project so far. I wonder if a larger similar type of aircraft with turbofans might provide us with a better means of long-range deployment of troops to the battlefield. Can you imagine a battalion-size force flying from RAF Brize Norton and landing vertically in a field in Afghanistan 8 hours later That’s what I call shock and awe.

    Someone somewhere else on TD made me laugh out loud when i read: my fantasy airlift list would include 30 Thunderbird 2s! Such aircraft will surely come.

  38. Jackstaff
    But presumably that could have been done with a parachute company seizing the airfield and an air mobile battlegroup following shortly after?

    Scaled up, a parachute battlegroup could seize an airfield, and then conventional forces can be flown in.

    Which I suppose requires three parachute groups.

    Never mind…

  39. I am lead to believe that parachute training for the Parachute Regiment has suffered because of a shortage of aircraft. It says something when one of the world’s leading economies can’t afford to assign one aircraft and crew permanently to this sort of training.

  40. Ref the qoute: “my fantasy airlift list would include 30 Thunderbird 2s! Such aircraft will surely come.”

    Not surprising that all these DARPA funded projects for modern hybrid airships tend to have a similar shape to TB2 ? Slower of course, but for vertical landing of large amounts of troops with considerable amounts of logistics……. ah well, just a thought…

  41. 56 years. That’s how long its been since the para’s operationally jumped. If UK SF are parachute trained, there seems no point in paying all that money to train infantry solders to do something that has not been needed for over half a century.

    Geneva convention prevents paratroopers from being shot while in the air.
    How many of our current enemies adhere to the Geneva convention?
    Answer: none

    The para’s and all the other infantry regiments should be amalgamated into one large infantry unit with one command structure.

    The UK will have the SAS, SBS and Royal Marines for all specialist tasks and rapid reaction and if any parachuting is required the SAS and SBS have the skill

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