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Pathfinders conduct many different missions, many of which are additional requirements of the ground units' operation.


Pathfinder missions must be planned in detail to ensure success of the ground units' mission. The amount of detail is dictated by the amount of time allotted to plan.


Upon notification of a pending operation, the senior pathfinder gives a mission alert as early as possible and follows it with a warning order. The warning order includes sufficient information to permit initial preparations for the operation. It should include:

  • A roll call.

  • A brief statement of the enemy and friendly situations.

  • The mission.

  • The chain of command and task organization.

  • The individual uniform and equipment (if not in the SOP).

  • The required equipment.

  • The time schedule to complete work priorities; includes place, time, and personnel required.

  • Specific instructions and personnel attached.

  • Time coordination.


Inspection of personnel and equipment begins upon receipt of the alert or the warning order. Personnel or equipment augmentation, if required, is also accomplished at this time.

a. Equipment is normally prepared in the following priority:

  • Radios.

  • Navigation aids, both electronic and visual.

  • Weapons and essential individual equipment.

  • Assembly aids.

  • Miscellaneous items.

b. The pathfinder element leader or his representative and the air mission commander initiate their liaison with the supported aviation and or ground unit(s).

c. As more information is received, personnel and equipment are reorganized to better accomplish the mission. Time permitting, rehearsals are conducted using available briefing aids and terrain that most nearly resembles the operational area.

d. Security is mandatory for thesuccess of an operation; therefore, personnel are given only the minimum essential information needed to complete each phase of an operation. Individuals who have received detailed information are isolated (for security). Operational situations dictate security requirements.


Ground and aviation commanders coordinate and plan the details of operations that require pathfinder assistance. The pathfinders may be required to recommend the exact location of DZS or LZs, the time schedule, the landing formations, and the techniques to be employed. These recommendations are likely for any type of operation (combat assault, reinforcement, artillery displacement, resupply, or evacuation). The DZ or LZ is selected by the supported unit commander after considering the factors of METT-T, and the advice of the pathfinder and aviation commanders or their representatives.

a. While preparing for an operation, aviation liaison officers and ground unit commanders coordinate factors used to formulate an air movement table with the pathfinders. Their responsibilities include:

    (1) Operational location (coordinates). (ALO & GUC)

    (2) Location of the communications checkpoint and alternate communication checkpoint (coordinates). (ALO)

    (3) Location of release point (coordinates and whether manned or unmanned). (ALO)

    (4) Time the site is to be operational. (ALO & GUC)

    (5) Aircraft information (formation, time interval, number of flights, drop speed, and drop altitude). (ALO)

    (6) Pathfinder transportation and time available for briefing. (ALO)

    (7) Pathfinder transportation station time. (ALO)

    (8) Routes into the objective area. (ALO & GUC)

    (9) Call signs (aircraft, pathfinders, supported units, other friendly units). (ALO & GUC)

    (10) Primary and alternate frequencies (aircraft, pathfinders, supported units, other friendly units, homing beacon). (ALO & GUC)

    (11) Fire support (artillery, tactical air support). (ALO & GUC)

    (12) Weather forecast (ceiling, visibility, temperatures [high, low]). (ALO)

    (13) Logistical support (locations of medical aid station, prisoner collection point, fuel, ammunition, rations). (ALO & GUC)

    (14) Alternate plan (evacuation plan, escape and evasion). (ALO & (ALO & GUC)

    (15) Friendly unit locations. (ALO & GUC)

    (16) Authority to implement mission change. (ALO & GUC)

    (17) Support personnel required. (GUC)

    (18) No-land or no-drop signals. (ALO)

    (19)Markings for obstacles. (Done only on request of flight commander.)

    (20) Marking objective site for identification from the air. (ALO

    (21) Time allowed for approval. (ALO & GUC)

b. The pathfinder needs this information because he participates in all planning coordination and uses the information to prepare final plan for the pathfinder phase of the operation. He must know the air movement phase of an operation to ensure that he can safely and efficiently control all aircraft in and around the DZs or LZs. Aviation and ground commanders keep pathfinders informed of all changes in plans and landing sites or any emergencies. The pathfinder ensures that all pathfinder activities are coordinated with all agencies or units involved and that information is disseminated to all pathfinders involved in the operation.

c. When the pathfinder gets to the objective site, he may decide that it is not suitable, as regards the coordinated landing formation, heading, drop altitude, or the ground site itself. He then coordinates with the ground and or aviation commander(s) if any of the original requirements are to be amended. Depending upon the situation (METT-T), the commander(s) determines what, if any, changes may be made to accomplish the mission. The pathfinder can also coordinate for authority to change requirements if contact with the GUC or aviation commander is not possible or practical.

d. Based upon coordinated plans for an operation, the pathfinder requests augmentation in personnel and equipment. He considers the following:

  • Mission.

  • Use of personnel and equipment for security.

  • Requirement to assist in the assembly of personnel, supplies, and equipment of supported units.

  • Need for assistance in removing obstacles.

  • NBC survey or monitoring requirements.

  • Assistance required for transporting and operating navigational aids under pathfinder direction.

e. Augmentation is kept to a minimum, in keeping with the transportation to be used in delivering the pathfinder team. When reinforced, the pathfinder team remains under the command of the pathfinder leader who is responsible for the functions of the team.


Pathfinders join the supported unit in sufficient time to allow final coordination between pathfinder, aviation, and lifted ground unit representatives. However, if pathfinders enter an LZ or DZ ahead of the assault echelon, and have been designated to accompany and provide continuous support to a ground unit, then the linkup with the supported unit normally occurs after the initial phase of the air movement.


The pathfinder leader issues his operation order. If he issued it prior to linkup with the supported unit, he should issue any changes as a fragmentary order. If the unit SOP does not describe each member's duties, the order must do so. Team members are given an opportunity to study maps, aerial photos, and terrain models of the area. The order must contain detailed information on the location and the operation of proposed air delivery facilities, flight routes, flight formations, time schedules, RPs, and CCPs.

a. A final, detailed check is made of the equipment to be used in the operation. A decision is made on the exact manner in which the equipment is to be transported into the objective area. All items of equipment are prepared for rapid displacement.

b. A final weather and operation briefing is held for the pathfinders just before departure. Final coordination between the pathfinders and supported units is accomplished at this time.


Pathfinders are organized to meet specific requirements of the mission. In most operations, three to six men makeup the average size pathfinder element at an LZ or DZ or when in continuous support of an infantry battalion. A pathfinder section is seldom employed as a unit at a single location. The pathfinder leader plans for widely separated and disconnected operations by his elements.


Pathfinders can be inserted into an area by a variety of air, sea, or land transportation.

a. Landing by Helicopter. More personnel and equipment can be delivered in a better state of operational readiness when landed by helicopter. This delivery is more precise and more flexible than parachute delivery and can be carried out in marginal weather. In some areas, terrain may preclude helicopter landings. Trained personnel can rappel from helicopters hovering over unsuitable landing areas. The use of troop ladders from hovering helicopters also allows personnel to be inserted or withdrawn from such areas. Helicopters can also--

    (1) Furnish a means of aerial radiological monitoring.

    (2) Rapidly shift or evacuate pathfinders.

    (3) Enable nonparachutists to accompany pathfinders in a supporting role.

    (4) Be a delivery means when rain or low ceilings prohibit parachuting.

b. Parachute Delivery. Parachute delivery by fixed-wing aircraft normally affords greater range and speed of movement than landing by helicopter. However, for short-distance operations, helicopters may be used as the jump aircraft.

    (1) Depending upon wind conditions, pathfinders should compute their desired parachute RPs before arrival over the DZ. For accuracy and security, parachute jumps are made at the lowest practical altitude. Jump altitudes and procedures for personnel are prescribed in SOPs for the types of aircraft involved and vary in accordance with peacetime and wartime restrictions (FM 57-230).

    (2) Pathfinders are highly trained parachutists who can be inserted into unimproved and marginal DZs. Their training in emergency landing procedures, canopy control of the maneuverable parachute, and expertise in rough terrain DZs provides flexibility when planning parachute delivery.

    (3) When parachuting, pathfinders carry essential operational items of equipment. This gives them immediate access to needed equipment upon landing. Special care is taken by padding and carefully arranging items into equipment containers during the preparation phase.

    (4) Parachute entry has its greatest application during nonilluminated, nonsupported night operations when secrecy is the primary consideration.

    (5) The need for comparatively large, secure, and obstacle-free landing areas, however, limits the landing of freed-wing airplanes for pathfinder delivery.

c. Water and Land Delivery. Delivery of pathfinders by watercraft is considered secure up to the point of debarkation from the craft. The pathfinders still have to move from the landing point (debarkation) to their final destination. This is done by land infiltration.


Infiltration by land is generally the least desirable means of pathfinder delivery. It is usually limited to short movements by small elements. Land infiltration is used when visibility is limited over difficult terrain, whenthe enemy's lines are overextended, when the combat zone is fluid, or when portions of enemy boundaries are not secured. Conversely, a well-organized, stable, and close-knit enemy defense in depth may prohibit land infiltration. When time is available, overland movement to an objective may be used in conjunction with parachute or airlanded infiltration to increase security of an operation.


This involves positioning pathfinder elements within an operational area while a friendly force withdraws from the area. Stay-behind operations may be considered when the enemy has the capability of overrunning friendly areas and an air assault attack has been planned to reoccupy the area, or as a deceptive measure to lure enemy forces into a vulnerable position.


In addition to providing air traffic advisories and navigation assistance for airplanes and helicopters, pathfinders can perform limited physical improvement and NBC monitoring and surveying within LZs or DZs. Their support is dictated by the availability of pathfinders, the tactical plan, the complexity of the operation, the terrain, and the air assault proficiency of the supported ground unit. In any air assault operation, however, positive aircraft control is essential. During an air-assault operation, pathfinders should be cross-loaded when accompanying the initial assault elements into an LZ.


During daylight air assaults, pathfinders should accompany designated pathfinder aircraft or the initial assault elements into an LZ. Air traffic control and other pathfinder assistance is then provided to all subsequent lifts of troops, supplies, and equipment. If pathfinders precede assault elements, the time may vary from a few minutes to several hours, depending upon the situation. The tactical plan, to include strikes in and around the LZ (by artillery, USAF aircraft, or armed helicopters), dictates this time, or precludes the early entry of pathfinders altogether.

In daylight operations, pathfinders are not inserted into an LZ before the initial assault echelon unless the LZ requires extensive improvement or unless unusual control problems are anticipated.


The method of delivering pathfinders at night is determined by security and operational requirements. Pathfinders may move cross-country on foot, airdrop onto or near objective areas, airland in total blackout, or airland with minimum natural illumination. During such operations, pathfinders may be delivered ahead of the main body to reconnoiter the LZ, install visual and electronic aids, and establish air traffic control. Personnel from the supported ground unit may accompany pathfinders to provide security and to assist in clearing obstacles. The on-site pathfinder element remains concealed and observes the objective. Pathfinder analysis of the situation includes the planned landing formation, heading, and assembly area. To avoid mission compromise, movement on the DZ/LZ is avoided until the incoming aircraft reach the CCP.


As the size of the ground force decreases at an LZ, vulnerability to attack increases. Therefore, employ pathfinders to expedite air assault extraction (withdrawal or pickup) operations.

a. Planned artillery fires/air strikes, as well as the maintenance of ground security to the last possible moment, make it essential that positive control of supporting aircraft be maintained throughout the extraction operation. Aircraft are carefully controlled to ensure they land at specific points within the extraction site (covered by ground security). This enhances the expedition and safe withdrawal of personnel, equipment, and aircraft from the area.

b. If not already on the ground with the lifted unit, pathfinders must arrive at the extraction site in time to reconnoiter the area thoroughly and coordinate with the lifted unit.

c. During the planning stage, near and far rally points are designated for use if the LZ or DZ becomes untenable. Pathfinders may have to fight their way to these rally points and reorganize. Far rally points, several kilometers from the LZ or DZ, are designated to facilitate survival, evasion, resistance, and escape operations.


Pathfinders can be employed in staging areas to provide air traffic advisories in the absence of ATC units. They may also act as liaison between the aviation and ground units and assist the ground unit commander in the preparation and positioning of troops, supplies, and equipment for air movement. When a temporary staging area is established to support an operation of short duration, pathfinders should be in the staging area before the operation begins to ensure adequate reconnaissance, marking, coordination, and establishment of positive ATC. Positive ATC in staging areas is essential to safe, efficient, and expeditious movement of helicopters or airplanes. The need for positive ATC increases when the weather deteriorates, when the number of aircraft increases, or when changes in the situation or plans require it.


Pathfinders should be employed to assist the rapid and safe displacement of artillery, day or night. Coordination with ground and aviation unit commanders and an understanding of their SOPs ensures accurate and efficient delivery of equipment, personnel, and ammunition.


Pathfinders may provide continuous assistance and control of aircraft during ground operations requiring sustained Army aviation support. Pathfinders attached to infantry battalions may be further attached to companies to provide support consistent with availability of personnel and equipment. Continuous support improves operational efficiency and aviation safety during all types of air assault operations; however, it cannot be continuously provided by aviation units that have only limited pathfinder resources. In such cases, pathfinders are normally employed on a short-term, priority basis wherever they can assist in the accomplishment of major unit missions. In the absence of pathfinders, selected personnel within ground units are trained and prepared to provide minimum assistance to supporting aircraft.


By joint US Army and USAF agreement, Army pathfinders may provide day or night control for USAF aircraft on airfields, DZs, and LZs in the absence of USAF CCTs. However, it may be necessary to provide pathfinders with UHF and VHF communications equipment compatible with that of USAF aircraft.


Situations may require the simultaneous control of mixed air traffic at the same location, such as resupply parachute drops into forward helicopter LZs. As a rule, helicopter traffic can be expected at all fried-wing airfields. Mixed air traffic often presents difficult control problems; strict control measures must be applied. Landing, parking, loading, unloading, refueling, and rearming areas are designated, coordinated, and clearly identified to ensure control.


An essential element of a successful pathfinder operation is communication by GTA voice radio. This is the first item placed in operation at an LZ or DZ, and it should be the last item taken out of operation.

a. Pathfinders must have a thorough understanding of radio procedures to include phraseology unique to ATC (Chapter 3). Communications must be clear, concise, applicable, accurate, and correctly timed. To achieve speed and clarity of transmission, radio discipline is practiced by pathfinders and aviators. Unnecessary messages are not transmitted. Pathfinder ATC frequencies (Figure 2-1) should only be used for ATC, except in emergencies.

b. Because of the amount of vital information exchanged, aircraft crews normally record the important portions of GTA messages to ensure that instructions are understood and followed.

c. Pathfinders use electronic homing beacons, visual aids, and arm-and-hand signals to complement voice communications. Pilots and transported troops must understand the purpose and meaning of the aids displayed and the techniques employed (STANAG 3570). (Arm-and-hand signals and visual aids are discussed in FM 21-60.)

d. Whenever possible, pathfinders monitor supported unit command radio nets to keep abreast of changing situations that could influence pathfinder operations.

e. Positive communications are established between pathfinder ATC facilities and collocated fire support elements. This ensures that timely and accurate information concerning friendly fires is available to aircraft.

f. The constant use of radios in pathfinder operations gives the enemy frequent opportunities for intercepting, analyzing, and exploiting friendly transmissions to gain intelligence and conduct electronic jamming and deception. Defeating enemy jamming or imitative deception lies largely with the radio operator. He must be proficient in recognizing and reporting this deliberate interference and combating it by employing electronic counter-countermeasures. Provisions for defense against electronic countermeasures, including transmission security and the use of alternate means of communication, are part of the planning and execution of tactical missions.


Terminal guidance is information and minimal guidance provided to pilots by other than qualified pathfinders within a ground unit. It is normally furnished by selected personnel within the supported unit using organic and improvised equipment.

a. Terminal guidance personnel should be familiar with the supporting aviation unit SOP and should be able--

    (1) To operate electronic and visual navigation aids to assist aircraft in locating LZs and DZs.

    (2) To provide essential information through GTA radio to guide and control Army aircraft.

    (3) To reconnoiter and recommend suitable LZs and DZs.

    (4) To determine, recommend, or accomplish ground-clearing pioneer work to prepare LZs and DZs.

b. When pathfinders accompany ground units, terminal guidance personnel may be used to augment pathfinder elements,(if directed by aviation unit SOP).


Threat comes in many forms, and all must be considered to ensure mission success. Anything that may disrupt, delay, or cause mission failure is considered a threat.


Voice control of aircraft by pathfinders is limited, thus close coordination between the ground unit commander and the air mission commander is important. Navigation presents special problems because of the low altitudes that aviators must maintain to avoid detection. Time, distance, routes, and tactical instruments are critical in a high-threat environment.

a. Two pathfinders with beacons, for example, could be placed along a route in advance of the initial flight to provide pilots with air control points. If the pilot needs the beacon turned on (because of error in navigation), a prearranged signal or code word could be transmitted.

b. Or, pathfinders might discover a threat along the primary route (such as an antiaircraft weapon); then pilots would be alerted by prearranged code word or signal to change to an alternate route.


Flights under instrument meteorological conditions pose special problems in a high-threat environment. This threat precludes controlled instrument flight rules (IAW with the aviation series manuals) by forcing aircraft to fly at altitudes well below the minimums established for normal instrument flight.

a. Weather variances may create a tactical emergency that requires the commander to use aviation assets under instrument conditions well below altitudes specified by standard instrument flight rules. Special considerations and factors enter into a commander's decision to send aircraft on a mission within a high-threat environment under these conditions. Tactical instrument flight is a combat situation that meets the following criteria:

    (1) The mission cannot be postponed until favorable weather.

    (2) The mission will be conducted in a high-threat environment.

    (3) Low visibility en route precludes nap-of-the-earth flight.

b. Since the aviation and ground commanders can expect tactical instrument flight to be a standard requirement for around-the-clock operations on the high-threat battlefield, it must be a standard, well-rehearsed technique in which aircrews and pathfinders are proficient. The commander employs this technique when weather or time and distance considerations preclude mission completion in other flight modes.

c. Aircraft flight altitudes are flown in two basic modes.

(1) Mode 1. When flight altitude is restricted by the air defense threat to altitudes below those established by AR 95-1 (for standard instrument flight), then a minimum clearance of 1,000 feet over mountainous terrain and 500 feet over flat terrain is possible.

(2) Mode 2. When flight altitude is restricted to absolute minimum clearances, altitudes varying from 50 to 500 feet above the ground, regardless of terrain, are possible.


The enemy situation plus the terrain and weather conditions determine what airways may be subject to rapid relocation if the enemy can intercept aircraft using them. Aircraft traffic management personnel (and pathfinders) can expect to move their equipment as often as every four hours, depending on the threat. Factors considered in establishing tactical instrument flight airways include:

a. Threat and Terrain.Straight-line flight between the takeoff (lift-off) point and the destination (in both modes 1 and 2) is precluded in many instances by the threat and terrain (Figure 2-2).

b. Flight Monitoring and LZ Approach. Enemy presence precludes pathfinder use of nondirectional beacons, and visibility must be such that pilots can proceed visually when approaching an LZ and when landing. Using radio homing signals for directional guidance is questionable. In any event, the electronic device should be oriented so that it emits its signal away from the forward edge of the battle area (if possible) to minimize detection.

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