The Future of Airborne Forces

Another guest post from Monty

Every now and then, some bright spark comes along and says that some established military paradigm has become redundant. We’ve heard it all before. Nuclear weapons are irrelevant. The tank is dead. Large calibre small arms are pointless. And conventional warfare is a thing of the past. Then, when you start to look at these things in more detail, you begin to realise that they’re not necessarily obsolete, merely that they need to evolve.

A look at the future of airborne forces

When it comes to airborne operations, quite a few strategic analysts have suggested that assault helicopters (think Chinook and Blackhawk) have become a superior delivery mechanism to the traditional airborne drop from a C-130 or C-17.

I don’t agree with this, although I do think that helicopters have become a very important tactical and strategic asset.

While the mission to take out OBL shows how effective heliborne ops can be, it also shows their vulnerabilities.

Stealth Blackhawk
Stealth Blackhawk

It doesn’t help that when you think something like a battalion-level jump, we still operate in terms of the old round canopies used since Normandy and Arnhem, where you jump blindly hoping that the wind will blow you more or less to where you need to be


There’s also a practical consideration. As much as we might like to consider executing brigade-size drops (let’s not forget we have three parachute infantry battalions), we simply don’t have the airlift capability to perform such an operation.

So, there are three questions I’d like to pose and then try and answer (with your help):

  1. Is the capability to deliver an airborne forces by parachute still relevant?
  2. If airborne forces remain important, what size / level of capability should we have?
  3. Could an improved capability be achieved more cheaply than it is with existing forces and equipment by embracing new technology?


It is perhaps worthwhile to start this discussion by looking at the origins of airborne forces.

When it comes to UK airborne forces, as an ex-Guards officer, I like to remind Parachute Regiment types that the first battalions were populated with volunteers from Household Division battalions.

Actually, we need to go further back. In addition to inventing the tank, Leonardo Da Vinci is also credited with inventing the parachute although Sebastien Lenormand, Faust Vrancic and Jean Pierre Blanchard bought the idea to fruition.

Winston Churchill also gets a credit, having advocated the use of a parachute forces to attack Germany towards the end of World War 1. Despite US experiments in the 1920s, which included soldiers clinging on to the wings of aircraft and opening their chutes to be pulled away from it, the first proper military parachute capability emerged in 1927 when the Italian Army developed the static line concept. This opened a soldier’s parachute automatically upon exiting an aircraft. In parallel, the Russians also did much to develop the concept.

The head of Luftwaffe, Herman Goring, and Luftwaffe General Kurt Student, had been impressed by early Italian and Soviet efforts, and so commissioned Nazi Germany’s Fallschirmjäger divisions.

The first major airborne assault was against Aalburg airport in Denmark in 1940. This was followed by a succession of increasingly more ambitious operations including the attack against Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium, which accelerated the eventual fall of that country.

Then there was the invasion of Crete in 1941, where an entire division was parachuted into battle.

German Paratroopers
German Paratroopers

The surprise achieved in Crete was total. German parachute forces created confusion and panic. Many historians who have analysed the campaign have concluded that the attacking airborne force could and should have been repulsed. The fact that it wasn’t speaks as much to the quality of parachute infantry employed as the effectiveness of the tactics used.

In these early days, parachute reliability was not anything like as consistent as it is today. Paratroopers didn’t wear reserve chutes and their main canopies often didn’t open. Even in training, injuries or deaths were frequent.  In combat, airborne troops usually jumped without heavy weapons and landed in direct contact with the enemy. Their aircraft were large easy targets and many were shot out of the sky before depositing their troops on the ground.

In short, the casualty rates of airborne troops were shocking and completely unacceptable by today’s standards. Indeed, after Crete, Hitler forbade any further large-scale airborne operations.

Conversely, the shock of Crete forced Britain to finally get its airborne act together with the US following soon after.

Paratroopers and Whitley at RAF Ringway Jan_1941 (Image Credit - IWM)
Paratroopers and Whitley at RAF Ringway Jan_1941 (Image Credit – IWM)

Volunteer allied troops became airborne pioneers and the tactics they developed evolved with every mission.

The Bruneval Raid in 1942 showed that we soon caught-up with Nazi Germany and by the invasion of Sicily in 1943 airborne units had become a permanent addition to the overall Allied force structure.

By D-Day, airborne units were highly skilled and drilled elite forces. The jumps made by the US 101st Airborne Division, US 82nd Airborne Division and British 6th Airborne Division were a vital part of securing the Normandy beachheads.


Operation Market Garden, to seize the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem in Holland, was the most ambitious airborne mission attempted. Had it succeeded, it might well have shortened the war. As it was, it ended in massive losses for the British 1st Airborne Division. Cornelius Ryan’s seminal book about Arnhem, A Bridge Too Far, is perhaps the best description of airborne warfare written so far. (One interesting theory to emerge was that UK Airborne Forces had been trained to such a fever pitch, that they were sent into battle even though intelligence reports indicated that the 9th SS Panzer Division was resting there – because there was a fear they might mutiny if they weren’t used.)

Operation Market Garden
Operation Market Garden

The airborne operation to secure crossings over the Rhine in 1945, Operation Varsity, was less ambitious, but proved much more successful. The audacity of World war 2 Allied airborne operations elevated the standing of airborne soldiers.

Today, they are the elite units of all regular armies and provide a steady stream of recruits for special forces.

After the war, airborne deployments tended to be restricted to Battalion-size  jumps rather than Brigade- or Divisional-size operations. During the Suez crisis in 1956, 3 Para successfully jumped into Egypt securing their objectives with very few casualties despite heavy resistance. The slickness of this operation represented a zenith in airborne forces capabilities.

Thereafter, combat jumps became a rarity.

The US 82nd Airborne Division made its first operational jump since 1944, when it deployed to Panama in 1989.

The US 75th Ranger Regiment jumped into Kandahar in 2001 to secure the airfield. Most recently, 250 paratroops  from the 11th French Parachute Brigade jumped into Mali in January 2013 to support the operation to capture Timbuktu from rebel insurgents.

The most recent British airborne assault was in Sierra Leone in 2000, but this used helicopters not parachutes.

The post war model for airborne operations has essentially followed lessons learned from previous WW2 operations, although modern equipment such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and C-17 transport aircraft have proved to be more efficient delivery tools than the ancient but robust Douglas DC-3 Dakota.

Advantages and Disadvantages

While modern tactical helicopters offer many benefits, mass airborne assaults using paratroops still offer a range of attractive advantages over heliborne assaults:

  1. Strategic reach.  Aircraft like the A400 and C17 are strategic assets that enable paratroops to reach objectives well beyond the reach of heliborne forces. Parachute forces can attack virtually any location on the planet within 18 hours of wheels-up.
  2. Speed. There is still no faster way to put 1,000 or more troops on the ground more less simultaneously in a forced entry operation. Parachute operations are still the preferred technique for airfield seizure during a forced entry.
  3. Load-carrying ability of strategic aircraft. Modern transport aircraft such as the C17 can drop much heavier equipment and armour than any modern helicopter can.
  4. Vulnerability of helicopters. Helicopters which have to land, take-off, or hover are much more vulnerable targets for enemy small arms and RPGs than fixed wing aircraft flying at 500-1000ft and 125 knots over the drop zone.

Despite recent developments and refinements in military jump techniques, a number of disadvantages still remain:

  1. LZ dispersion. Parachute delivery can deposit forces over a large area requiring them to regroup which can take time. Unexpected winds can blow units way off target, causing disorientation and increasing the distance between the landing zone and final objective and thus the time taken to secure it. This can void any element of surprise and may result in mission failure should a determined enemy be able to quickly mount a counter-attack.
  2. The amount of weapons, equipment and ammunition that airborne soldiers can carry is limited. The practical load limit that can be carried by dismounted troops is around 70 kg. Battle order reduces this to around 35 kg. The more kit you pile on a soldier, the more you reduce his combat effectiveness. The very real limits of equipment that a paratroopers can carry, means they can only hold positions for a few days before ground forces will need to link-up with them. This makes airborne operations short-term, limited initiatives even with air resupply.
  3. Limited number of strategic transport aircraft reduces level of immediate armoured support that can be delivered. While it is now possible to air-drop a variety of light tanks, heavy weapons and support vehicles, such as jeeps and CVR(T)s, the availability of sufficient aircraft is a practical limitation. While hand-held ATGWs will provide a reasonable defensive capability, scope for offensive actions by parachute troops will be limited.

Essentially, the ideal use of contemporary airborne forces is to deploy them behind enemy lines to seize strategic targets such as airfields, bridges, supply dumps, or areas inaccessible to vehicles. Operations may also include outflanking manoeuvres that deny the enemy access to key routes or strategic resources. Once an objective is captured, the airborne unit holds it until relieved. In some situations, airborne units may be dropped merely to delay an advancing enemy. This tactic can be used to cover a withdrawal or act as a diversion.

Perhaps most relevant to today, parachute delivery is ideal for the covert insertion of special forces. HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) or HAHO (high-altitude, high-opening) parachuting both require a higher degree of training, but this is consistent with the specialisation of such troops anyway. HAHO is more dependent on wind and weather conditions than HALO, but allows units to track large distances across country before landing near their objectives.


Gliders were used successfully during World War 2. On occasions, they proved to be a highly effective means of delivering larger concentrations of airborne troops into battle as well as inserting heavier support assets such as weapons and vehicles.

The British landings the night before D-Day to seize crossing points across the River Orne and Caen Canal were textbook examples of glider operations. Analogous to modern day helicopter assault operations, they enabled larger forces of better equipped airborne troops to land much close to their objectives. With soldiers ready to fight as soon as they disembarked, gliders reduced the amount of time required to regroup and thus maximised the element of surprise.

Gliders were, of course, slow, fragile and vulnerable, especially when being towed en route to an objective. Successful operations required large, flat landing areas. When glider operations went wrong, the consequences were often disastrous. During the invasion of Sicily, poor planning and bad weather led to a large number of gliders landing in the sea with the loss of everyone on-board. Sometimes glider infantry units could be scattered even more widely than parachute infantry. Glider operations also took a heavy toll on glider pilots, who were expensive to train and difficult to replace. After the war, glider operations fell out of favour, especially as techniques for air dropping large vehicles by parachute were perfected.

21st Century Military Parachuting

While there is a clear strategic and tactical justification of the requirement to retain parachute-capable troops, the cost of maintaining such assets is frequently debated. It is argued that only special forces are required to land by parachute in order to secure landing zones for main heliborne assault forces. While there may still be a strategic requirement to rapidly deploy large-scale parachute forces, analysis of the potential circumstances where this might be necessary are increasingly considered to be exceptional rather than routine. Notwithstanding such concerns, the USA remains committed to the retention of two parachute-trained divisions. The UK is less certain and only one battalion of our three regular Parachute Regiment battalions serves in a dedicated parachute-ready role at a time. If there are further defence cutbacks, the number of parachute battalions could even be reduced. Given the elite status enjoyed by Parachute Regiment soldiers, there is considerable resistance to reducing their numbers. That being the case, the UK continues to spend a lot of money on a military parachute jumping capability that is seldom used.

In defence of our highly valued Parachute Regiment soldiers, while they may never deploy by parachute, they are frequently deployed by helicopter and will continue to be so. The UK maintains 16 Air Assault brigade as a rapid reaction force that can be quickly sent to trouble sports. Despite a reduced parachute-jumping requirement, it is probably not expedient to rename the Parachute Regiment as the ‘Helicopter Regiment’.

What modern military parachute operations do not take account of is recent developments, not only in civilian sports parachuting, but also in extreme parachute base jumping. There is evidence to suggest that these might be extremely relevant to an improved capability.

Parachute design has undergone a continual metamorphosis over the last 20 to 30 years.

Parachuting started with round canopies. The first major evolution was rear vents, which were added to make them steerable.

New round parachute types have gradually become more sophisticated to achieve a limited degree of control. A major change in canopy design came with the cruciform (square) parachute design, which has a larger surface area and a reduced oscillation effect (the tendency of a parachute to swing from side to side to release trapped air).

The US Army is currently evaluating the T-11 Cruciform design to replace its T-10 parachute, which has been in service since 1955.

The quantum leap in parachute design came with the invention of the ram-air parachute in the 1970s. This is essentially a parachute with two layers instead of one. The two layers are divided into cells, with a typical ram-air parachute having between 7 and 9 cells.

As a parachutist deploys the canopy, air floods into the cells automatically filling providing lift as the parachute moves forward. Some designs have plastic rib inserts to help the canopy maintain its shape. Once inflated ram-air parachutes function like wings creating lift to slow the descent. They can be steered much more precisely. They can also be flared (stalled) immediately prior to landing to reduce speed and the force of the landing. The lift effect of ram-air parachutes means that they can be reduced in size yet still achieve the same controlled descent effect.

With the aid of computer-aided design systems and advanced high-strength nylon fabrics, the latest ram-air parachutes have steadily become smaller, lighter, and safer. At the same time, they are more manoeuvrable and controllable. The parallel development of parachute harness-containers means that these too have become smaller, lighter and more compact. They now hold both main and reserve chutes. Above all, they have been designed to facilitate the reliable deployment of the canopy.

Today, the fatality level for sports parachuting is approximately 1 in 100,000 jumps. According to published statistics in the USA, around 20 people a year die during parachute jumps, which is the same number of people killed on US golf courses and much less than the annual number of SCUBA diving or motorcycle accident deaths.

If the latest civilian 9-cell ram-air canopy types for sports parachuting were to be used for military parachute operations, they would allow paratroopers to steer, brake and land with much greater precision than any existing standard round parachute. Ram-air canopies would also substantially reduce the total weight of the jump load carried. While these advances are relevant for both HALO and HAHO jumps made by special forces soldiers, they could also provide a step-change in the tactical military capabilities of ordinary airborne troops.


The most significant development in sports parachuting over the last 50 years is the Wingsuit. This is a one-piece garment worn as an outer layer over other clothing like coveralls. With extra fabric that joins the arms of the suit to the body they create what is best described as a set of wings. with an additional flap positioned between the legs, a wingsuit adds significant amount of air resistance to a free-falling human body. When you wear one, you look like a flying squirrel. By allowing forward movement as the parachutist descends, impressive horizontal distances can be covered from a jump point to the landing area. Typically, the horizontal ratio of modern wingsuit designs is 1 to 4, that is 4 metres of forward flight for every metre descended.

Wingsuit design is still in its infancy. Every year new designs push the boundaries of what was previously possible. When we achieve a horizontal ratio of 1 to 10 or higher, the ability for individual parachutists to literally glide from an aircraft to the ground and to land in a specific place will be as easy as jumping of a fence. At some point, a parachute may no longer be necessary.

A parachutist wearing a wingsuit can reach speeds of over 100 mph, even terminal velocity. What makes wingsuit flying compelling for those who use them is that they enable a skydiver to turn with a high degree of control. Wingsuit aficionados describe the sensation as being about as close to flying as is humanly possible.

Wingsuits have given birth to a new sport called proximity wingsuit flying. This is a variation of base jumping, where an individual wearing a wingsuit jumps from a solid object, usually a mountain, and follows its contours down before opening his or her parachute at a low, but safe height above the ground. The thrill of flying unassisted at high speed close to the ground is addictive. Base jumping with wingsuits is popular, but dangerous. With approximately one fatality every 100 jumps, wingsuit base jumping is undisputedly the world’s most dangerous sport.

However, wingsuit flying has also percolated across to the safer and more conventional sport of regular sports parachuting. Many ordinary parachutists now use wingsuits without taking unnecessary risks. Jumping from much higher altitudes, 10,000 feet or more, a wingsuit can still provide an incredible sensation of flying. You can track across country to cover distances of several kilometres, depending on the height from which you jump.

When you combine the precision effect of wingsuit flying and the control imparted by modern parachutes, you have the potential for a large group of individuals to exit an aircraft some distance from a target – even across a border and then descend en masse to reach a very small landing area, something the size of a football field. Forget old style PLFs, you just flare your parachute around 10 feet above the ground and you coast to a halt.

The following films, provide an excellent visual description of the above.

This first video shows a modern parachute being packed in several deliberately incorrect ways. Note that the ‘chutes still opens and function correctly:

This video shows how easy modern canopies are to fly:

This video shows a speed flying canopy and the level of control it provides. (Yes. The guy really does execute a 360-degree turn!):

This video shows a wingsuit being used for base jumping. Note level of control, horizontal velocity versus speed of descent:

This video shows wingsuit precision flying from a helicopter. Really crazy, but it shows what’s possible:

This video goes one step further. Exit from a powered hang-glider passing in between buildings in Rio Da Janeiro Ultimate wingsuit flying

Potential Future Airborne Operations

Now, let’s consider a military application for the same technology. Put an airborne company of 100 men equipped with wingsuits in a single C-17. They fly under the radar, i.e. at very low level, to within 10 kilometres of a target. Then the aircraft climbs to 10,000 feet and they all jump out en masse and track towards the target. The team leader would follow a pre-agreed glide path to the LZ and everyone would track down behind him in formation. At 600 feet, each parachutist would open their chute (automatic opening at this height could make the process safer). This would enable the company to all land more or less in unison in a staggered formation. Using this technique, it should be possible for all 100 soldiers to land in an area not much bigger than a football field. Assuming they could all exit the aircraft within 60-120 seconds, then they should all land within about the same amount of time. That’s 100 men landing in almost complete silence, together and very close to an objective. Now multiply a single C-17 by 10 and you’ve landed an entire parachute battalion discretely and with precision.

Before they deployed their canopies, any airborne troops using wingsuits would be difficult to spot, even if you knew they were coming. Thereafter, once their canopies were deployed, they would be moving forward fast enough to present quite a difficult target to shoot.

What I am proposing is a very different from the type of military parachuting executed in recent years. What’s changed is the ability to control freefall descent. With relatively little practice inexperienced parachutists would be able to use a wingsuit to fly in formation – airborne drill if you will. Never before has it been easier to track horizontally across the sky from an aircraft exit point and then, with the benefit of highly steerable canopies, to achieve a precision landing at a specific drop zone. The ease with which a novice skydiver can now control a parachute is a world a way from what it was only 10 years ago. Although BASE jumping is dangerous because many participants take unbelievable risks, regular airborne troops would jump from an aircraft as before, not from mountains. Wingsuits obviously require more experience, training and practice, but new developments continue to reduce the learning curve.

In essence, parachuting as we know it is unrecognisable. It is no longer a matter of blindly jumping out of an aircraft via a static line and being carried by the wind to an area more or less in the proximity of your objective and hoping you land near your mates.

A military application of recent developments would require high standards of training and equipment, but would it be beyond the ability of our existing airborne troops to master the techniques required to execute a precision jump onto an enemy objective and then secure it? I don’t think so. As usual, it would involve planning, discipline and practice. I am sure that the UK Parachute Regiment, the US 82nd Airborne Division and French 2ième REP would all relish the task of mastering these arts.

In the final, analysis, I believe that an evolved jump technique would allow a large group of soldiers to be positioned where you want them much more quickly and quietly than landing by helicopter or driving in a vehicle. Once airborne troops get reasonably proficient with their wingsuits, you could give them night vision goggles and then jump at night. Covert infiltration on an industrial scale.

One of the problems of both helicopters and armoured vehicles is that they can easily be seen and heard from quite a distance. When the US conducted operations in Grenada, it lost a number of Blackhawks to a single enemy machine gunner IIRC. Opposed helicopter landings remain a risky proposition. In Afghanistan, vehicle tracks kicked enormous plumes of dust making them ideal IED or ambush locations. With 100 parachutists landing anywhere you want them to and almost simultaneously, one or two might get shot by an enemy that was quick to react, but the rest of the attacking force would soon be down and upon them. More often than not, they’d land and no one would know they were there. The element of surprise and psychological effect would be that much greater.

Airborne Unit Vehicles

The final piece of the future airborne jigsaw is delivering vehicles with the same level of precision.

World War 2 gliders were flimsy wooden machines with limited structural integrity. However, aircraft design has moved on even more than parachute design. So let’s imagine a glider constructed from carbon fibre and aluminium. It would be very light and very strong. Instead of towing it behind a C-17, we could design one that fits inside. Equipped with pop-out wings, it would fly close to the landing zone, and be released along the same lines as a battle box container. The glider would then release its ‘chute and manoeuvre towards the target. It would land quickly near the objective. Now pre-pack a 40-tonne vehicle into the glider and make it autonomous like a drone. It should be possible to air drop large armoured vehicles with relative ease.

There is no reason why other older ideas considered during World War 2 could not be resurrected and tried again. One particularly interesting concept was attaching aircraft to the gliders to deliver them.

These would then detach and return to base. As drone technology proves, modern aircraft don’t need pilots. So heavy lift gliders could be piloted by remote control. Gliders could be used to land much heavier vehicles than it is presently possible to land by parachute.

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In summary, by failing to embrace new parachuting technologies, we have reduced the relevance and effectiveness of our airborne forces. Recent advances have changed the paradigm: they allow large groups of soldiers to land with increased control and precision much closer to an objective. Mastering new techniques would require investment in new equipment and additional training. Naturally, there are risks, but in pioneering something like military wingsuits, the benefits outweigh the dangers, which are considerably less than they were in 1941.

There is no need to limit new parachute equipment to special forces. They offer more general strategic and tactical benefits which are hard to ignore. Landing a battalion-size force covertly wherever we wanted to would be a worthwhile advantage. Instead of being scattered over a wide area, we would achieve a greater concentration of force closer to an objective. This is the same benefit conferred by tactical helicopters, but there is much less risk of ground fire bringing down a transport aircraft. Ideally suited to COIN operations as well as general war scenarios, wingsuits combined with lightweight steerable parachutes would deliver combat soldiers exactly where they were needed. In the final analysis, you could say: The paratrooper is dead! Long live the paratrooper!




Sir H did a nice post on a similar subject a few weeks ago

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April 27, 2013 5:07 pm

I know I have something of a reputation for being a conservative thus I nearly dropped my tea when I read about wingsuits.

Maybe for PF or SF but the idea of blokes lobbing in with wingsuits doesn’t seem remotely practical at all even if all they landed with was an underwater fighting knife between their teeth.

What about kit? What about signals? What about ammo? And lobbing planes of blokes is actually quite complicated and dangerous because of air steal and collisions and entanglements and so forth – so a hundred blokes streaking through the air is going to do a far better job of destroying your fighting force than any SS Panzer Corps would. Even training jumps are dangerous enough. The 173rds lob into Northern Iraq hospitalised 18 of their blokes without a shot being fired let alone the much larger numbers of more minor injuries that eat away at your meagre strength.

I agree parachute forces have a role – and maybe even wing suits in the most niche of niche circumstances but the idea of combining them and a ABTF drop is not a good one IMHO. Too many practical problems.

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 27, 2013 5:10 pm

What was that raid the Americans did in the early operations in Afghanistan? The troops parachuted in, stormed a terrorist leaders house, then helicopters arrived to retrieve the force. Big publicity at the time, then silence as no instant great success, but long term, the intel from captured computers & documents was useful. So the strategic raid for intel, hostage rescue, etc should be part of UK capability.

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 27, 2013 5:16 pm

Slight agreement with Phil.
My 93 year old dad got a tiny pay out from the MoD for a training jump that went wrong in WW2, so yes, para jumping has risks.

April 27, 2013 5:24 pm

An excellent article.
In addition to the units you mentioned, I’m sure that 2 squadron RAF Regiment could also find it very useful apply the 21st century parachuting techniques you discuss in your article.

April 27, 2013 6:06 pm

The Parachutist is dead long live the same old parachutists with the same capabilities, but on a smaller scale.

Battalion sized drop for “special ops” don’t see UK capability changing much even with a change to latest civvy
Parachute tech, if it is applicable.

Although of course we could go all Felix Baumgartner, put some official MOD investment into
Virgin Space and turn the Paras into ODST ! (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers – a gratituous HALO

April 27, 2013 6:12 pm

“My 93 year old dad got a tiny pay out from the MoD for a training jump that went wrong in WW2, so yes, para jumping has risks.”

I’ve done medcover on DZs and you nearly always get injuries, even if it is just a concussion. A bloke in my unit sheared his pelvis in half because he landed with one leg stuck out, another, same unit, broken back. There are lots of risks doing even clean fatigue jumps in good conditions – operational jumps in weapons and canisters are very high risk.

That said I think they have a very valuable role to play and the company sized parachute element of the ABTF is the right size for operations like Sierra Leonne and Mali where you are jumping into a semi-permissive theatre. The days of Suez and Arnhem are long gone and as long as people realise ABTF is not about that sort of operation I think we have a very useful, flexible capability that combines parachute, air assault and air landing roles.

April 27, 2013 7:20 pm

In 2001, ll Squadron RAF Regiment, were parachuted into Seirra Leone.
This is from the Squadron’s official history page.


Op SILKMAN was the ongoing public information and capability demonstration within Sierra Leone. It was designed to reassure the law abiding locals of the continuing UK commitment to ensuring the stability within the region; whilst also providing an aggressive reminder to the rebels of the UK’s over-the-horizon military capabilities. This demonstration was to take the form of a strategic parachute insertion, live armed, into theatre.

The Squadron carried out this descent on to Yongro DZ, located some 7km south of Lungi Airfield. However, the mounting airfield was Ascension Island, with a transit via Dakar. The final move prior to the insertion saw 3 C130’s carry out a low level approach from the mounting airfield to the DZ. The local Government and the world’s press were there to watch the insertion, as were the local population. Immediately following the insertion the Squadron moved to Lungi airfield where it carried out joint tasks with the resident UN Battalion.

April 27, 2013 7:29 pm

“The initial task was a mundane guard task made worse by the poor standards set by previous units. The Squadron soon set about rectifying this after taking over responsibility for the various sites.”

On an official website. And they wonder why everyone thinks they are a bunch of copper bottomed, ocean going c*nts. Especially when they try and turn a training exercise in Sierra Leonne into an “operational jump”.

“The local Government and the world’s press were there to watch the insertion, as were the local population.”

paul g
April 27, 2013 7:31 pm

yeah and most of rhe Airborne REME were there on the|DZ to watch seeing as they had been in theatre for over a month, a training jump at most. Claiming it as an operational jump is a joke

edit phil got in first!
double edit the card arrying cocks wanted to put the wings above the left breast to signify it as well, like the guys from the WWII era. (note i have worked with RAF regt and got on well with them but i’ve worked with these 2 sqn guys and they are bell ends

April 27, 2013 7:39 pm

i must be reading a different link to everyone else do i need to be in the army to read it properly ? ;)

paul g
April 27, 2013 7:45 pm

I think it’s only expensive because we stick the troops in the top draw aircraft, A400 can carry 116 paratroops, c-295 can carry 71. So the question is at present prices how many 295’s can you get fro the price of one A400, what would be the running costs and would they have a greater role after they dropped the steely eyed deliverers of death off ( Would we had needed to buy the 146 for inter theatre trips if we had these)?

April 27, 2013 8:06 pm

i wonder what the range would be paul? both maxed out with paras i bet the a400m would be least effected by the load.

paul g
April 27, 2013 8:28 pm

good point, although wouldn’t that come under monty’s new thinking doctrine, pending where it is would we have to emplane everyone from the UK? Could we not put everyone into are super new voyagers and then into the 295’s at a forward point. Note i didn’t say just AAR using the voyager, don’t think we could afford their “super tax” that’s probably hidden away on page 1000 of the contract!!

April 27, 2013 8:38 pm

: that’s a great article, and I certainly subscribe to the attitude that parachute operations have great utility today; helicopters will never have the same reach or carrying capacity as fixed wing aircraft. However, I’m not sure that even company level wing-suit operations are really practical for the same reasons that mentioned.

However, the reasons you list for making parachute operations more practical by dint of improved parachute technology has much to recommend it. Looking at operations generally, you can see three classes of limitations:-

a) how to attack a target without an unacceptable loss rate for the drop aircraft

b) how to ensure the drop sustains minimum casualties and forms up rapidly

c) how to ensure the force has the mobility and firepower necessary to achieve it’s objectives

I would suggest a) requires the drop is well away from the target or mounted at ultra low level. b) requires low level drop to reduce dispersion or a technical solution for higher levels and either a very high level or training or another technical solution to reduce drop injuries which seem inevitable given that lower sink rates would produce more mid air collisions and dispersion. c) points towards mechanization of the force.

So, I would suggest we need to do the following:-

– train and equip parachute battalions with combinations of CVR(T) and Supacat, both of which are already parachute qualified.

– ensure all elements can drop at low level, including vehicles. Time to look at either airbag or rocket assisted braking for the latter

– develop an airbag based individual parachute landing assistance module. It should be designed as a single large (2m diameter, flattened sphere) semi-porous airbag that would inflate via a CO2 bottle from the top of the bundle line when the jumper’s equipment bundle hits the ground and would be deflating almost immediately in order to reduce the danger of the jumper accelerating sideways on landing. By reducing landing shock, even in the case of significant crosswinds, you would greatly reduce the chances of landing injuries.


April 27, 2013 8:49 pm

A great piece of writing…
I am glad that the covering of a withdrawal was mentioned, as the German’s did a masterpiece exit out of Sicily. This involved a regimental size (read: several bn’s) jump to deny a key airfield to the Allies. Embark in Marseille, refuel in Naples… and jump in Catane (if I remember the airfield name right).

Biggest jump after Crete, and it is noteworthy that the paratrooper force grew from 1 to 7 divisions in that time

April 27, 2013 8:55 pm

BTW, the US case is only the 82nd, not both
– 101 has the highest strength of any US division (USMC used to carry that honour, with their self-sustaining divisions) with a 27.000 strength
– if you multiply our 16 AAB 8.000 by three, you are not far off

Both: they have integral aviation assets

April 27, 2013 9:19 pm

Takes me back to the time I was with Hercs, esp. the clip with the corp helping push them out… reminds me of the times I would help give the para-pongos the extra push out of the door, super lads and deffo preferable to 2Sqn lads, though I am sure the other parties websites has similar chest thumping BS. ;)

Back then, the same complaints re ‘not enough aircraft’ and ‘they hardly ever jump’ were heard.
The para’s have basically fell in line with their US counterparts… most all their trade is delivered via helicopter, though calling them “airborne” would simply not do!

Good read Monty, though with wing-suits I can only see them being used with SF…if ever… the question has already been asked, what about the kit? Unless we drop the rather unstealthy UAV/motorised container chutes? Or GPS guided chutes (that were sorely missed in afghan several times…) to deliver the kit when the herc gets a bit closer/higher.

April 27, 2013 10:01 pm

I actually stayed at a Parachute Training Wing once upon a time, just a few points I want to point out.

1) The aerofoil type chute has a much lower load capacity that the canopy type, which is why the canopy is still used. Fat soldiers :), or huge carry loads.

2) The fatality rate for military drops is much lower than civilian ones, the 1:100,000 failure rate is per chute, which means with the main and reserve, the chances of total failure are actually 1:1,000,000,000 jumps. On the other hand, INJURY rates are much higher as military jumpers carry very heavy weights while jumping.

3) Wingsuits can’t be used, paras jump with their load tied to their feet, which means you get a vertical profile as opposed to the horizontal profile you need to use a wingsuit.

While people tend to complain about lack of airlift and being unable to put your whole airborne force into the field in one wave, I would say that that is impractical. It’s more realistic to assume a 3 wave push for your whole force to be inserted. Less aircraft needed, less aircraft sitting around doing nothing after the 1st wave etc. Even in WWII with huge amounts of resources poured into the war effort, there was still no way to put a whole airborne force into the field with a single drop.

wf, LALO drops really suck, much less time to get your bearings before you smack into the ground, a tree, etc. Ironically, the higher you are, the more time for you to get your bearings, get a better all round look at your surroundings and find the correct LZ than a low drop. Heaven help you if it’s a fricking NIGHT drop. 101 ways to bust your ankle.

Operationally, we semi-took a page from the Japanese campaign in Malaya for air and amphibious assaults. The peninsula is rather narrow, so it was easy for the British to throw up defence lines in the Japanese line of advance, but these often got bypassed by “coastal hooks” and hit from the rear, making their position unsustainable. Present day operational theory is similar but with the direction reversed. If defence lines are drawn across the land boundaries, landing ships and paradrop forces will take a dogleg over the ocean and bypass these defences to drop/land troops in the rear of these defence lines to force them out. Some armchair experts postulate that the reason Singapore has LSTs/LPDs is to “control surrounding islands”, but the real reason is the one given above, to bypass defensive lines via old Japanese tactics.

Long story short, there is still operational usage for paradrop forces. Need to find some way to clear an LZ for them though.

Jeremy M H
April 28, 2013 4:40 am

I appreciate Monty thinking about the future but that being said I think most of his conclusions are barking mad.

In regards to what we should learn historically I think all the wrong conclusions are drawn from Crete and Market Garden in this piece. Crete was a complete and utter disaster for the Germans and was really only saved by the allies basically handing them an airfield at which they could fly in more troops. The German troops were top shelf no doubt but it is telling that they were held up by a pretty piecemeal outfit and mauled as badly as they were and they did not really face a lot of heavy weapons.

Market Garden was a complete farce of a design from the get go and, unlike Crete, the 1st Airborne at Arnhem performed atrociously poorly, in an admittedly bad situation. Only one battalion of the whole division came even remotely close to accomplishing its mission. Much of that division was held up by scratch teams of German’s on the critical first day and while the story is a desperate battle for a bridge the reality is that the vast majority of the 1st Airborne spent the whole of the battle fighting for its own existence and accomplishing nothing at all. In contrast to the excellent performance of the 6th Airborne at Normandy the 1st in general and its commander in particular conducted themselves shamefully.

Both operations are really perfect examples of why airborne forces, at least as fixtures in major conflict, are really not considered all that practical. The presence of even token regular troops drastically impacts their operations.

The Future

I think that the operations the US conduct around Camp Rhino in Afghanistan are fairly telling here. The Rangers did indeed secure the airstrip at one point by parachute jump. But they also did not stay and left the area in short order. In contrast the MEU that eventually secured this area by helicopter assault was there to stay, until it moved along to another base. There is a reason for this. Helicopter based forces have an ability to continue to influence the battle space in an offense manner once they land. By seizing a forward operating base a unit like the 101st Airborne (really air mobile) division can control a large area of space as opposed to an airborne division which once dropped is pretty much stuck in place. The reason there is a preference to helicopter based troops is that they are far far more useful after insertion and far better equipped to look after themselves.

Parachute landed troops are useful for a pretty limited set of circumstances. But even the 82nd Airborne in the US now has an attached helicopter brigade because it makes the thing far more useful. Helicopters give you mobility, mobile fire support and anti-armor capability. Yes, you might lose a few helicopters. But you have far more capability than an true airborne division.

Your concept of operation for wingsuited troops is frankly bonkers. Any objective you can’t fly over and jump out directly over is far to dangerous to be bringing a C-17 to 10,000 feet to facilitate glide distance for wing suits or ram-air style parachutes. You would be turning expensive transport aircraft into $100 million dollar plus clay pigeons for any half competent air defense system. If such a system is not there then why fart around with the fancy insertion to begin with. This method of deployment does not solve any real problem.

The idea of just dropping penny packets of 100 paratroops around to accomplish the basic missions that helicopter born or armored vehicle based formation is accomplishing is just not going to happen. Airborne operations are all meticulously planned affairs and generally have really specific objectives. But they don’t help you avoid IED’s or ambushes. After all, you have to go get them out in the end with helicopters, armored vehicles or another aircraft that has to land somewhere. I suppose they could walk back but if they could do that then I would suggest they just walk there in the first place. If this was really a solution to anything someone would have tried it in the last 10 years of operations in Afghanistan. That is why your conclusion that they are really well suited to COIN is a bit baffling. They are useful for certain limited operations against insurgents but the real bread and butter of such operations is the helicopter because it offers mobility and persistence. Airborne does not.

Don’t get me wrong, Airborne has a role. There are certain missions that they are great for (though these are quite limited) but to me their main value is a place where you can cycle infantry troopers through to help create special forces troops and teach useful skills that through troop re-assignments make their way to the rest of the infantry in the army. They make great light infantry attachments when pair with more mobile forces.

The majority of your opinion here seems to be based on the suggestion that helicopter based assaults are more vulnerable to ground fire than paratroopers. I would suggest that this premise is very flawed and invalidates a lot of what you did here. What you are seeing is more a result of planners being very careful with airborne insertions due to the high value of the inserting units (and the horrific casualties that would accompany a C-17 getting downed full up with soldiers) and the vulnerability of free falling soldiers. In short, helicopters are drawing the more difficult missions because they are far more survivable since they can shoot back and look after themselves while using terrain to mask their movements.

Helicopter assaults don’t just involve getting out of the helicopter and mucking about on foot. Once you take that into consideration the balance of capability is really uneven. Excepting the tangential benefits that training a solider to operate with an airborne mindset I would trade the 82nd Airborne for another 101st Airborne today. The US Army clearly agrees as they went ahead and bolted on a Combat Aviation Brigade on to the 82nd, essentially giving it half the lift of the 101st.

Phil has it pretty much right. Dropping a company or two for a very specific objective will work out. Want to seize an undefended airport (seizing a properly defended airfield is suicide in my view)? Sure. Overwhelm some locals with AK-47’s who are used to shooting from their hip at civilians? Sounds great. Want me to exert major influence on a major battle? Give me helicopter brigades. Want me to conduct persistent COIN operations? Give me helicopters. Want to operate in an urban environment? Give me helicopters.

April 28, 2013 6:33 am

Jeremy has it mostly right, helos have a much higher utility than paradrop troops though they are not without their uses. One use is actually HAHO operations, where troops jump offset to the target area and glide there using their chutes. Avoids having expensive aircraft get too close to the nasty stuff.

Most people imagine a paradrop as right on top of the enemy. Frankly, that is suicide. SOP is to find a nice LZ without nasty peeping toms with guns, land there, form up, and actually do the final assault as foot infantry. Or more rationally, dig in as fortifications to block enemy breakouts as part of an encirclement plan.

Still, give me a helo.

April 28, 2013 6:46 am

Sorry Observer, no budget. RE “Still, give me a helo”

Well, some countries have, but in most European countries AB clearly outnumber Air Mob formations, and I would put it down to budget rather than upholding tradition

April 28, 2013 6:50 am

There is a clear reason for not going whole hog with this ” Excepting the tangential benefits that training a solider to operate with an airborne mindset I would trade the 82nd Airborne for another 101st Airborne today. The US Army clearly agrees as they went ahead and bolted on a Combat Aviation Brigade on to the 82nd, essentially giving it half the lift of the 101st.”
– global deployment times

How long was it in Kuwait that there was only a thin line (82nd alone) as a trip wire

April 28, 2013 7:00 am

, great article. The importance of airborne troops is very clear, having the flexibility of insertion is a key skill the UK must retain. I think though that parachuting significant numbers of troops is likely to be a niche with limited application and definitely not something done in isolation from a land or marine insertion.

April 28, 2013 7:31 am

ACC, no one in the world has the budget for what they really want. :)

Biggest problem I see with heli-mobile and airborne forces is that once you drop them into the area, it’s hard to get them out again. Inserting by helo, you can heli-rappel down and get equipment there by underslung, but to move again, you need to find a good LZ for your helos to pick you up. Worse in airborne, you need a C-130 capable airfield.

We’ve been experimenting with high mobility heli-borne forces, dropping things like LSVs and bikes with the troops, so if things go pear shaped, they can still drive out at least. Don’t think they tried a Warthog yet though, but adding those to the heli-borne force does give it more protection and mobility that might counter some of their traditional weaknesses.

April 28, 2013 7:59 am

Hi Observer,

(Have to apologise to everyone else for putting on a boring recruitment video); In this one there is a nice collection of mobility options, similar to what you listed

The Viking-like vehicle actually has kevlar armour, so it can be lifted to where needed. Has sold rather well to mountain troops on various continents (France, Mexico…) The Big Boss 6×6 ATVs from Polaris can drive straight out of the back of NH90s (which isn’t such a big copter, after all).

paul g
April 28, 2013 8:06 am

just to add to the above points made, and continue my theme of smaller aircraft for troops, bigger aircraft for all the sh*t they need!
A company called HDT (canadian i believe) make a series of cargo, gps guided ram chutes. These can drop anything from 2000 pounds to 10,000 pounds from a height of 15,000 to 20,000 ft and smack it into a designated area “x” km away with a 250m accuracy for the 10k delivery. This would aid the big beasts from being an obvious target if they were following behind the first wave of low level flying paratroop carrying aircraft. website linked below, they even did a test with a chute called the “gigafly” which dropped a 33,000lb load but they reckon could do 42,000lb!

gigafly article, although I’m sure a read somewhere they’ve done a bigger payload since, enough to drop your tactical withdrawl vehicles!

April 28, 2013 8:18 am

A good find, paul g

This is quite handy, as well “HDT Airborne Systems Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery Systems (MCADS) are the only airdrop systems in the world capable of delivering large Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) into the water, ready for immediate use. MCADS have been serving the needs of the U.S. SOCOM, UK, Australian and Scandinavian Special Forces”
– 250m accuracy is good enough, as you jump in a wet suit anyway

April 28, 2013 12:48 pm


They call it the PADS (Precision Aerial Delivery System). We use Airborne Systems as well but only the smaller ones. Nothing up to the gigafly standard. Think you guys (British) use it too, just not widely known.


Sorry couldn’t resist.

Some of our so-so ideas.

April 28, 2013 2:19 pm
western forces have never really gone for armoured support vehicles with airborne forces.
I now they are only of limited use. something with more armour the a land rover is shorly needed for fire support and anti tank.

April 28, 2013 2:50 pm

Why do you need armour for anti-tank or support? That runs counter to your heli/air-borne concept as the added weight cuts into how feasible air lifting the vehicle is.

As I mentioned earlier, we have some units of heli-borne for bypassing defence lines, and their equipment is drastically different from line infantry or armour.

Heliborne Howitzer

Heliborne 120mm Mortar LSV

Heliborne Spike Anti-armour LSV

Expensive equipment specially earmarked for the heli-mobile battalions, not much choice, strategic doctrine requires it. Line infantry gets the 8×8 APCs, armour gets the armoured artillery, IFVs and heavy tanks. Right tool for the right job.

April 28, 2013 4:37 pm

Observer, That LSV mortar is an amazing piece of kit as I understand it does not need lowering to the ground, to fire.

Unlike this one
– they still claim 2 minute 2 round shoot-and-scoot

April 28, 2013 4:46 pm

Actually that is not strictly true ACC, there is a hydraulic jack under the mortar plate which they lower before firing, but its not really a big deal, takes about 3-5 sec to get it in place.

Weaknesses are limited firing arc (forward arc only), and ammo train. A single one of these might need a pair of LSVs as ammo bearers to carry sufficient ammo, 120mm isn’t really a small round. Silver lining though is that the ammo bearers can also act as perimeter security. Call it about one piece (firing unit + 2 LSV ammo bearers) per Chinook per trip.

April 28, 2013 4:53 pm

“In regards to what we should learn historically I think all the wrong conclusions are drawn from Crete and Market Garden in this piece”

I agree with you here Jeremy – BUT…

“the 1st Airborne at Arnhem performed atrociously poorly, in an admittedly bad situation. Only one battalion of the whole division came even remotely close to accomplishing its mission. Much of that division was held up by scratch teams of German’s on the critical first day and while the story is a desperate battle for a bridge the reality is that the vast majority of the 1st Airborne spent the whole of the battle fighting for its own existence and accomplishing nothing at all.”

I think you’re being harsh here. I should say I agree with your overall conclusion that 1st Airborne didn’t achieve what it was meant to by any stretch of the imagination. But I don’t think it was due to poor performance, rather a result of an airborne forces enormous structural limitations. They are meant to be dropped into a permissive or at worst semi-permissive environment almost on top of their objectives – there they can dig in and make their ammo and supplies go much further. What light infantry, cut off from any meaningful artillery, can’t do is make steady progress against even scratch resistance at any reasonable speed. Light infantry is next to useless unsupported having to move across dense terrain for any distance.

The division was simply dropped too far from their objectives. Even small units were going to be able to hold up light infantry had they been 1st Airborne or 6th Airborne. We wouldn’t have pitted a single armoured division against even a worn down SS Panzer Corps let alone send a light infantry division with a days worth of ammo up against one unsupported, cut off and surrounded.

They never stood a chance the poor sods. It was game over for the mission in the first few hours. Light infantry just cannot carry enough ammo for sustained, unsupported operations. They must be dropped on their objective and then backed up sharpish whilst they defend. Offensive operations just take up far, far too much ammo and your progress is far, far slower. That the lads got as far as they did with the ammo they had and the lack of support shows they were good fighters. The failures were at the leadership levels at Divisional level and above. Division should never have agreed to being dropped where they were – which is of course easy for me to say when I am not commanding a division with several layers of hierarchy breathing down my neck wanting to get in on the war before it is all over.

Intelligence couldn’t keep up with the situation and the leadership made the wrong decisions before the first chalk was ever emplaned.

April 28, 2013 5:07 pm

Re: Market Garden, fast reinforcement was the plan, think it was XXX Corp(?) that was meant to break through to support, but the Germans for some reason or other, thought that dropping bridges would delay the armoured advance. How silly. They planned on taking 6 days to reach Arnheim, which is why they told the airborne guys 1 day. “Yes, we planned to do that.”

Not to say the troops were ill-trained or led, but there were serious underestimations of what the enemy could do to frustrate the battle plan. They did as well as could be expected, it was just unfortunate that they were asked to do too much.

April 28, 2013 5:25 pm

Observer, yes, I thought the vehicle was far too light to withstand the recoil.

RG(31?) was praised for its extraordinary stiffness when the UAE chose it to carry the mortars bought from Singapore; in this case without the need for lowering the plate
-“Singapore • Arms transfers 120mm SRAMS mortars (2010) ”
– can’t now recall what name they gave to the combo

April 28, 2013 5:43 pm

ACC, whatever works. :)

Heavier vehicles like ATTCs can do without the hydraulic shock absorber.
Think they called it the Agrab (Scorpion). An interestingly fitting name when you consider the arching, over the front nature of the mortar attack.

Possible upgrade path for the 81mm mortar Vikings of the RM. More bang for the buck with a 120mm.

April 28, 2013 8:33 pm

@ monty “Is there an off-the-shelf CVR(T) replacement that we should consider? (Tracked, Resistant against mines, IEDs, RGPs and MG fire up to 14.7 mm, armed with a cannon( 20-40 mm) and Javelin, all-up weight less than 15 tonnes.)” – don’t know but with our current strategic direction, I think that’s where FRES SV should have been going rather than a ‘warrior like’ vehicle. Scout for armoured brigades and some firepower for paras and marines

April 28, 2013 8:36 pm


You cannot put wing suits on the pallets of supplies needed for troops to be good for anything more than one fire fight.

And respectfully, I think your optimism in this regard is from having zero experience of the practicalities of inserting a parachute force – even a clean fatigue, peacetime jump with small sticks is a tricky business and results more often than not in injuries. I would bet the farm that releasing a 100 para’s in wing suits would result in 100 dead or seriously injured paratroops streaking through the air like meteorites. The idea people can even think about manoeuvring with a cannister and a rifle strapped to them, or a Javelin missile is absurd. Not to mention there is simply no need. If you use wing suits a high speed insertion is needed, presumably because the bad guys are around – you simply do not drop parachutists into those sorts of situations. Ever. They nearly all die.

April 28, 2013 9:06 pm

Hi Observer, yes ” Possible upgrade path for the 81mm mortar Vikings of the RM. More bang for the buck with a 120mm.” and I would go with the 120 if artillery can’t be “in tow”.

Also, more range and the option of guided rounds.

However, if the target set is predominantly infantry, you will get only half of the fragments from a tonne of 120 mm rounds, compared to the same “quantity” of 81 mm rounds transported

John Hartley
John Hartley
April 28, 2013 9:36 pm

When BAE were talking about a military transport 146, I did fantasise about a 4 Pegasus powered version. The basic power/weight maths work, just. Most likely STOVL rather than VSTOL. Better lie down now.

April 28, 2013 9:46 pm

Monty, you don’t land on a pure wingsuit, you’ll go splat. Wingsuits you still have to pop a chute to land safely. And have you considered what a combat load would do to your flight profile? “Shaped like a brick” is a charitable way of describing it.

And did you read my point about how combat jumpers jump with loads tied to their feet? This makes them take a feet down profile. Wingsuits need a horizontal profile to work, so your soldier is in the wrong orientation. And the solution is not as simple as “lie down”, the path of least resistance in this case is feet down, you’ll automatically flip feet first.

And I repeat, parasail/ram-air type chutes have a lower weight limit than canopy ones. They trade the load bearing capacity for maneuverability. And one thing soldiers are not accused of in recent times is carrying a light load. Another point I did not bring up is that ram-air type chutes have a lower “no jump” wind speed, strong wind in the direction of the chute or against has a higher chance of tilting a jumper past the point where the chute can “catch” the air because of the gaps in front and behind the chute.

Have to side with Phil on this, it only looks good on paper, insanely suicidal or impractical in practice.

ACC, interesting point on the fragments. I can see a bigger blast radii compensating somewhat for this with a larger kill/wound zone, just not sure if it will compensate for what you brought up.

JH, I had the same response on the Puma replacement thread.

April 28, 2013 9:50 pm

RE “Tracked, Resistant against mines, IEDs, RGPs and MG fire up to 14.7 mm, armed with a cannon( 20-40 mm) and Javelin, all-up weight less than 15 tonnes.)”

The closest you will probably get (a couple of tonnes over) by marrying a CVRT(2) to a Russian Kliver turret 30mm+ Kornet times 4
– the turret is available for export (Israel has tried it out), and putting in the compact CT gun + Javelins should not be that big a deal
– the Canadian Lynx would be equally good, but must have been out of production for yonks

April 28, 2013 9:53 pm

googling “us army parachute injuries accidents” is sobering.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
April 29, 2013 4:59 am

Don’t parachutists only make sense if you mass-drop about 6,000 of them and have an entire Air Force, long range artillery, a land force going to reach them in 3 days, and a Corps logistics train to back them up? Or 4 of them as an SF insertion, and don’t worry about the logistics?

Not to say that the ethos and spirit of the Parachute Regiment is in doubt, but it’s a pretty silly way to go to war in 2013. The formation wing suit proximity flying of 100 men from a C17 that pops up to 10,000 feet above enemy territory strikes me as being slightly higher than normal risk as well. Is the company commander map reading on the way down, and don’t they all crash into the back of each other when the man at the front opens his parachute?

April 29, 2013 5:49 am

If you want a C-47 replacement, then it has to be the C-23 Sherpa. Plenty of room for 26 or so madmen, I mean paratroopers.

There still seems like there would be plenty of use for regular parachute infantry as we know them now. Find a nice quiet spot, not too close to the enemy to drop them off. You can use A400M, C-17 or C-130. You can even dump about 16 or so out the back of a Chinook if you don’t want to land it.

Set up a perimeter, call in the air assault to support. Air drop some of their supplies perhaps. Depends on the objective.

Wingsuits? Erm, no.

Injuries; US rangers record something like 2.2% average for day drops and 4.2% for night drops. That’s ineffectives, so people that are useless to the operation from that point out. The primary factor in varying rates of injury (day/night difference excluded) is the nature of the ground they drop on. Wet field, casualty rates go down. Concrete air strip, casualty rates almost double. Into water, almost zero casualties.

Think Defence
April 29, 2013 7:17 am
Reply to  Chris.B

Chaps, pop over to Svens place, this will definitely raise a smile

Jeremy M H
April 29, 2013 2:28 pm

It is fairly weak sauce to fall back on the “I am a mis-understood visionary” line of reasoning here. People very well understand what you are proposing. You seem to fail to understand the practical limits you are running into. You really need to think through the load carrying issues several have raised in relation to ram-air parachutes. Your post approaches it as if the military does not use such things when in fact the US Navy had a huge role in inventing the damn things. I would wager that the military groups have forgotten more about that type of parachutes than your average parachute enthusiast even knows.

More than that you still can’t describe the exact problem you are solving here. You say that “once you’re on the ground with with a secure LZ, helicopter resupply is easy”. What sort of LZ are we talking about exactly? I mean let’s really think this through.

1. What defense exactly make an LZ inaccessible to helicopters but not airborne troops? I can think of really two things.

MANPADS weapons are an equal threat to both types of operation in my opinion because you need to drop with weapons and supplies and can’t use a ram-air chute to do that but for the sake of argument lets assume that you can do that and thus stay out of MANPADS range with your paratroopers but not with a helo based assault. This might be one justification for such tactics.

RPG type threats are something you pointed out as a threat to helos and not really fixed wing aircraft. While this is true I think it is far more complicated than that. The reality of the situation is that RPG’s are primarily a threat to helos in environments that paratroops are useless in (urban, mountain, dense jungles).

When we get down to operational realities I like my chances much better with helos. I can operate in far more environments and I get to bring gunships along with me for the ride which lets me overcome much stronger resistance than any airborne force could hope to deal with.

2. The vast majority of combat right now for infantry seems to be of an urban nature, where again paratroopers basically can’t operate. A lot of the rest of combat seems to be in mountain terrain, where again paratroopers can’t operate. In open terrain such troops are lunch meat for any force with armored capabilities. Other than airfield seizure what exactly do we want these troopers to do? They can’t do urban deployments. They can’t carry enough equipment to operate on their own over much distance. You are basically looking at forces that can seize a small area in reasonably permissive terrain against reasonably permissive opposition.

I like paratroopers, but we must be cognizant of their inherent limitations. The Allied Airborne Army in WWII was viewed by a lot of commanders and now by many historians as a solution looking for a problem. The troops were fantastic but once they got past Normandy they really never had too much of a role and the times they were used it was as much because they were there as because the situation demanded it. Their biggest value post Normandy was as quality infantry forces often brought in by trucks.

There is a reason the US military is looking at the T-11 rather than wingsuits and ram-air chutes. Those facilitate the things that actually matter for such a force which is load-bearing and landing safety. I think the US has wised up to exactly what it wants out of a unit like the 82nd. Sure, they train them to jump into combat. But for the most part it is starting to look a lot more like the 101st for a reason.

Jeremy M H
April 29, 2013 2:35 pm

I agree I could be seen as being harsh. But I don’t think it is unfair. The unit jumped into battle with radios that didn’t work and by all reports was commanded poorly (many think the commander was unjustly decorated for the debacle and that his urge to get into battle let him accept a poor plan). You are right though. The biggest failures were at the division level and above really. I would still compare the subunit performance unfavorably with the 6th British and 101st and 82nd US divisions, but then again they all had better division commanders and were veteran formations who probably would have fought the selected drop zones more loudly than an unblooded division and commander.

April 29, 2013 4:27 pm

Jeremy, agreed on higher level muckups, but I’m not so sure on the subunit because of one reason. As XXX Corp pushed up, all the German forces ended up falling back and concentrating on the last obstacle blocking their path. In short, the 1st Airborne actually faced both fresh reinforcements from Germany and retreating German forces from Holland and got pincered. Won’t be too far off to say they had the majority of the German forces stomping on their backs.

Phil was right, it was pretty much game over for them since the word go. Hard to talk about “objectives” and “mission goals” when even your basic survival is in doubt.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 29, 2013 5:04 pm

The parachute capability is still relevant. A parachute capability gives one strategic and operational options that are hard to match by other capabilities. However although highly mobile at the strategic and operational levels, airborne (parachute) forces lack integral tactical mobility and lack any sort of sustainability for high tempo or high intensity operations without either a benign air picture or a link-up operation to enable resupply by land/maritime assets. Airborne formations are excellent for demonstrations, feints, shows of force and national commitment, exploitation, flank protection and for turning flanks. They can also be used for bulking out what would otherwise be SOF missions (I would envisage airborne forces being relied upon heavily for any CONPLAN to secure a failed/failing state WMD arsenal). Once committed however their lack of tactical mobility and integral firepower and protection makes them vulnerable to any except light troops, a factor exacerbated by the problems inherent in resupplying them.

Less for a small non-combatant evacuation operation or CT task in support of SOF it is hard to see what can be achieved with any less then a brigade sized formation. So it makes sense that if the UK wishes to retain a viable airborne capability that it is retained at brigade level. A brigade is a significant demonstration of national intent and large enough to be viable in low through to high intensity environments. A brigade sized capability also allows one the mass to retain a viable unit sized capability at very high readiness such as the UK’s ABTF.

With regards to the use of helicopters to provide tactical mobility to troops I would simply caution that helicopters come with the same strategic mobility characteristics as heavy armour, and only slightly better operational mobility characteristics; this is simply due to the significant logistical tail that comes with aviation assets. Aviation assets also do not operate in anything approaching a high threat environment, air dominance or air supremacy being preferred, even if localized.

Lastly the true worth of airborne forces lies in their manpower and is inherent in their selection system. Unlike the remainder of the army (less SF) airborne troops pass a rigorous selection process and by and large are a higher quality soldier. It is this ability to ‘select in’ as opposed to ‘train up’ that must not be lost.

April 29, 2013 5:43 pm

Not to rain on someone’s parade, but an unsupported infantry brigade is at rather serious risk if they were facing an armoured division, so instead of calling it viable in low to high threat environments, I’d rate it more as low to medium threat, somewhere around the range of being able to stand off anything up to mechanised infantry or small armour patrols. Anything higher, they’ll need heavy engineering, indirect fire and air support to hold their ground.

That being said, a brigade(+) is probably a good level to maintain your airborne forces at.

The Aussie planespotters near the Gold Coast get a kick out of this every year.

April 30, 2013 2:55 pm

For the first link, they cheat, read the first line and see what their anticipated LZ is.

For the 2nd link to the picture, there are also pictures of the Enterprise from Star Trek, does that mean Earth is going to get warp drive soon? And frankly, if you are carrying your combat ruck on your back… where is your chute?

Monty, I already mentioned that ram-air chutes have both a weight penalty and stability penalty in trade for maneuverability, that is basic physics. This translates into a lower “no jump” wind speed, and greater angles where it can.. forgot the term for it where air leaks out the side of the chute and you lose lift. In ram-airs, this also causes an uncontrollable spin.

BTW you don’t want to carry your load on your back when you land. Spinal fractures, which is why they hang their stuff off a pod. Just a question for Phil, do they still use equipment pods for personal equipment? The one that I said is usually tied to the feet? I don’t see many instances of jumpers with the pod any more.

All in all Monty, I think you are optimistic to the point of being suicidal with these new ideas. Ram-airs ARE being used militarily with GPS guided equipment drops, but that is because if you splatter equipment all over the landscape, no one really cares other than the guy who has to write the report. Losing expensive, trained soldiers is a different thing.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
April 30, 2013 5:42 pm

There’s another angle where parachuting may provide a realistic option, but it’s not warfighting. The good old Canucks have at least one infantry parachute company trained to parachute into their arctic north, to then do something. Jumping into an otherwise inaccessible location, in other words.

I suppose that concept could also work well for humanitarian / disaster relief in the middle of the desert (eg Darfur). If there’s a way for the force to then hack out a temporary austere strip, you can bring in vehicles and other supplies by C130 thereafter.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
April 30, 2013 7:56 pm

@ Observer An unsupported infantry brigade is at risk if facing an armoured division (unless in complex and close terrain which nullifies an armoured division’s advantages in terms of firepower and mobility), but that is not entirely the point. One would not aim to place an unsupported infantry brigade so that it was up against an armoured division. That is not to say that an airborne brigade is not viable in a high intensity scenario. It gives the commander more options (through the ability to exploit the air flank) and just by being an extant threat it forces the opposition to make plans and often devote resources to countering the threat.

April 30, 2013 8:36 pm

RT, the old Pathfinder concept? IIRC the original idea was to drop a team in not for “warfighting” but more of an engineering team to clear the area and use steel matting to create a runway. Think the idea died out slowly as air transport weights went on the up and up, and the runway needed got longer and longer. And aircraft costs went up too, which made them too expensive to risk in unsecured areas.

Callum, I understand the concept, basically similar to the “fleet in being” concept and I do agree it is useful, just throwing an anchor windward to make sure people don’t ask the poor airborne guys to do too much.

“One would not aim to place an unsupported infantry brigade so that it was up against an armoured division”

Hmm… wasn’t that what happened in Market Garden? :) I know, shit happens.

Informed Paratrooper and former heavy cav
Informed Paratrooper and former heavy cav
June 23, 2013 2:37 am

There seems to be allot of assumptions by allot of people who do not jump.

I too made many of the same assumptions, until I actually operated in an Airborne unit.
Consider this:
You can jump in countries with mountains and jungle.
Size is not always what matters in an Airborne Operation.
You can not drive every where because of diplomatic or terrain and beach landings can be far more dangerous.
82nd looks nothing like 101st, although the 82nd does more helicopter operations than 101st. Helicopter ops usually come well after an airborne insertion where only a short move is needed.
In history, jumps took place during WWII in Europe and Pacific and many wars to follow.
Anti-air capability is a threat to everything that flies and coastal defenses are threat to everything that floats.

There are arguments to eliminate tanks and at one point it was discussed as part of transformation and again recently. Utility of dismounted infantry, air defense, snipers, helicopters, air-to-air, ship-to-ship have all been consider at one point obsolete. I have been heavy and I have been light/airborne and caution anyone not to eliminate options.

I would say more but this is not the forum. As far as strategic experts, what makes anyone the expert?

June 23, 2013 9:31 am

Informed, do you guys still use the equipment drogue pod? The one that you carry your equipment in and hang from your leg? It’s been a while and no one seems to know if it is still in use.

June 23, 2013 12:40 pm

Dont know about the yanks but we do. We call them containers though. Somewhat confusingly.

Informed Paratrooper
Informed Paratrooper
June 24, 2013 4:21 am

Answering the question as the “Yank” in th regular forces no…but why I title myself “informed”, is because I am not the total expert. As a Jumpmaster I have not trained to rig such a system for convetional jumps. However, my firends in the airborne test unit have used everything under the sun. My brothers on the other side of the fence venture beyond the across the boundry of convention. Conflicts may require adaptation for which others hold those cards close to the chest. Hence why my first answer is no but only as far as I know. How I know mountain jumps are possible, is experience and dicussion with vets. How I know jungle jumps are possible is, some instructor get exchanged to foriegn elements for cross training with their host’s airborne school.

Informed Paratrooper
Informed Paratrooper
June 24, 2013 3:15 pm

For research, if you want to fly across the pond here is an organization that performs WWII style jumps and will train anyone to do it.

Their next jump school is in late July.

I have jumped with them and they pack their own chutes and have modified chutes to increase safety. They have the highest record for safety in the jumping community.