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Dynamic, effective leadership, more than any other element of combat power, decides victory. A reliable, durable, secure, quick, and flexible command and control system supports leaders. This system must communicate orders, coordinate support, and provide direction to the unit in spite of enemy actions, loss of command facilities, and loss of key leaders. The systems available to facilitate command and control of airborne operations have developed into detailed, universally understood operating procedures. These procedures are designed to enhance complex joint operations and to ensure that the airborne operation capitalizes on surprise. This is achieved through centralized detailed planning that supports decentralized operations, emphasizing mission-type orders. The actions of the 82d Airborne Division during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 demonstrate the need for a robust, flexible, command and control system and confirmed the key role mission-type orders play in airborne operations.

On 9 July 1943, the first of 226 planes loaded with 3,405 paratroopers and their equipment began taking off from departure airfields in northeastern Tunisia to take part in the invasion of Sicily. The force was composed of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 3d Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, along with other supporting units. The mission was to assist the 1st Infantry Division landing in Sicily, to capture the Parte Olivio airfield and to disrupt enemy communications and movement of reserves. This was the first time in military history that an airborne unit of this size had been given such a mission. It was also the largest night drop ever made.

During the flight across the Mediterranean, there was no interplane communication. A strong tail wind broke up the planned formations and blew some planes off course. As a result, many pilots missed their checkpoints and became lost. Some turned back but most continued on in the general direction of the island. Because the formations had been so badly broken up, planes approached Sicily from many directions. Once over land, the pilots found many of the planned DZs hidden by haze and dust from the preinvasion bombing. Many planes came under heavy antiaircraft fire and either turned away from their DZ or dropped their sticks of paratroopers early. Paratroopers and their equipment were spread over 60 miles of enemy-held territory--not dropped on the planned DZs.

Despite the scattered drop that forced drastic changes to the original plans, each soldier knew his mission. When paratroopers realized they were not on their correct DZs, they immediately organized into small groups led by whatever officers or NCOs were present. They began disrupting enemy communications, destroying enemy positions, halting enemy movement toward the landing beaches, and fighting their way to their original objectives. Later, Italian prisoners estimated the number of American paratroops to be between 20,000 and 30,000, a considerably larger number than the actual 3,405 paratroopers of the 82d Airborne Division.

During an interview after the war, General Kurt Student, commander of the German paratroops during the war, gave his assessment of the airborne operation in Sicily. He described it as effective even though the paratroopers were widely scattered. In his opinion, the amphibious landing could have been driven back to the sea if the soldiers of the 82d Airborne Division had not blocked the German reserves.

A comprehensive communications system has developed since the operation in Sicily. The system requires detailed planning and coordination to ensure effective control during airborne operations. This chapter outlines a communications system that allows the battalion or brigade commander to act within the operational concepts of AirLand Battle doctrine. (See FM 101-5, FM 7-20, and FM 7-30 for additional information and doctrine on C2 for all levels of command.)


Several guiding fundamentals exist for using signal facilities in airborne operations C2.

a. Airborne forces use all available means of communication with priority to command channels.

b. Airborne commanders have access to all signal facilities controlled by the USAF on a common-user basis.

c. Commanders exchange LOs with radios to maintain contact between headquarters and to ensure close real-time coordination.

d. Commanders coordinate with and thoroughly brief all personnel to include supporting combat aviation, airlift forces, higher headquarters, lateral units, and follow-on ground units. The briefings ensure proper use of a large number of channels in the integrated system.

e. Commanders ensure positive and continuous communication by establishing alternate or duplicate channels and routes of signal communication.

f. To ensure radio contact, commanders must make provisions for relaying or retransmitting messages.

g. Essential signal personnel must move in the first air serials; all subsequent signal units precede the echelon they serve.

h. Elements cross load communications personnel and identify them with their key leaders for relocation in the bump plan.

i. The joint commander establishes communications with the airborne and airlift commanders.


Airborne operations require communications between all elements, which is not always easy. Communications inherent in airborne operations are discussed herein.

a. The use of special navigational aids and horning devices to lead the aircraft to the correct DZ/LZ can cause communications problems. Highly specialized airborne force personnel (CCT/LRSU) equipped with navigational aids, homing devices, radar, and visual signals must be airdropped into the objective area in advance. Personnel can then set up their equipment to guide subsequent aircraft.

b. For proper control in the subsequent movement of personnel, supplies, and equipment into the objective area, units in the area must have long-range radio communication with the rear base. Units initially establish long-range radio communications from higher to lower headquarters. The higher headquarters can be on land, sea, or air many miles from the objective area. Often, they must maintain contact through a system of relays or retransmission sites.

c. Airlift forces bringing reserves or supplies require air-ground radio communications when--

  • The operation is aborted.
  • The weather prevents the planned resupply.
  • The enemy gains control of the DZs/LZs/EZs.
  • Undetected antiaircraft installations exist along the line of flight and preclude resupply.
  • Reserves are needed at any one of several points other than the primary DZ/LZ.

d. Close air support plays a more important role in airborne operations than in normal operations. The airborne commander needs direct and positive radio communication with supporting CAS until sufficient fire support assets can be delivered to the airhead.

e. Key leaders jump with their tactical radios or use small handheld radios to quickly establish control once on the ground. Also, small radios can be carried in by soldiers or parachuted into the area in separate containers. The method of delivery and the need for ground mobility impose limitations on the size, weight, and amount of communications equipment for RATELOs. Larger vehicular-mounted sets can be brought in by heavy-drop platforms or airland aircraft.

NOTE: Units plan for alternate means of communications to prevent loss of signal security. (See FM 24-1 for tactics and techniques.)

f. Commanders must resolve C2 relationships, nets, frequency management, codes, navigation aids, and a myriad of other details before mission execution. The operation's joint nature creates the greatest potential for communication problems. Contingency plans, rehearsals, and joint SOIs aid the commanders in resolving problems. Airspace control and air defense communications deserve special attention for three fundamental reasons:

(1) DZs or LZs have a high volume of air traffic.

(2) Close air support initially provides the main means of fire support.

(3) The enemy might respond first by air, so Army air defense systems must quickly distinguish friend from foe to prevent fratricide.


Commanders must prepare C3 plans. These ensure integration and coordination of the signal facilities of each of the following airborne force components:

  • Airlift units.
  • US Naval, US Air Force, and artillery units that provide fire support.
  • The command that retains control until it makes contact with advancing ground forces.
  • The commander of advancing ground forces.
  • Friendly advancing units with whom contact is expected in the airhead.

a. Communications Plan. Communications plans for airborne forces should include the following:

(1) Procurement of additional personnel for special communications facilities.

(2) Preparation of SOPs and SOIs.

(3) Headquarters communication to subordinate, adjacent, higher, and other concerned headquarters.

(4) Allocation of frequencies, channels, codes, and ciphers not included in the SOI.

(5) Instructions to subordinate signal officers concerning proposed signal responsibilities.

(6) Distribution of plans and orders for all units in the marshaling area.

(7) Signal intelligence and signal security.

(8) Use of joint and special cryptographic aids.

(9) Communications personnel and equipment to go into the airhead by teams with each serials.

(10) Communications equipment and supplies to be landed by aircraft and the sequence of their delivery. (This should include extra equipment to replace losses expected in the assault.)

(11) Signal unit elements that remain at the departure airfield to aid in the movement of communications supplies and equipment.

(12) Location of the rear echelon in the airhead or at the departure airfield/ISB and the communications personnel required.

(13) The installation and operation of communications channels used for air support requests.

(14) In addition to provisions for the standard ground communications system airborne communications plans must be provided for the following:

  • JAAP units.
  • Small-unit assembly in the forward area.
  • Contact nets.
  • Communication to and among base elements that remain in the departure area.

b. Communications During Marshaling. Communications during marshaling mainly concerns facilities provided by the MACG and the USAF. Airborne force communications personnel are mainly concerned with preparing for the operation.

(1) Facilities furnished by the MACG can include FM radio, HF radio, TACSAT, retransmission, wire, telephone, teletype, facsimile, and messenger service.

(2) Airborne and airlift unit communications centers maintain close liaison.

(3) For prompt relay of messages, signal personnel must maintain telephone, teletype, and auxiliary radio channels between the airborne headquarters in the rear area and the temporary headquarters in the departure area.

(4) Communications required to control the dispersed elements of the command in the several departure areas depend on--

(a) Length of time various elements are to be in the marshaling area.

(b) Communications facilities of the US Army and USAF units in the marshaling areas.

(c) Possibility of establishing a permanent rear echelon at the departure area.

(d) Requirements for communications with points of arrival and departure.

(e) Availability of personnel and equipment not destined for immediate transfer into the airhead.

(5) Higher headquarters has the responsibility to establish an internal wire net within the marshaling area.

(6) Units must use existing facilities.

c. Communications During Air Movement. En route to the objective area, the airborne commander can use SECOMP to pass changes in the plan to other aircraft loads. In the absence of SECOMP, aircrews can relay messages. Aircraft key personnel or jumpmasters use internal PA systems to pass changes to onboard personnel. To pass key intelligence updates or to initiate contingency plans, selected aircraft have hatch-mounted SATCOM radios. These radios can receive transmissions from reconnaissance or JAAP teams in the objective area or from the rear CP at the marshaling camp or REMAB.

d. Communications in the Objective Area. The airborne force communications officer plans communications for the objective area. These plans include the following:

(1) An assault net to operate early during the operation in the objective area.

(2) A transition from the assault net operations to the normal C2 nets.

(3) Communications from the objective area are to--

  • Airlift forces.
  • Follow-on forces.
  • Higher headquarters.
  • Supporting tactical air elements.
  • Departure airfield (if possible).
  • Linkup forces (if applicable).

e. Consolidation and Exploitation. Communications during consolidation and exploitation of an airhead are the same as for other ground operations.


Army C2 radio nets provide flexible communications for the initial assault phase of an airborne operation, for quick displacement of CPs, and for periods when commanders must maintain voice communication.

a. Predeployment TACSAT/IHF Net. Communications personnel from the deploying unit's higher headquarters install, operate, and maintain this net. Units use it for a variety of purposes, including intelligence updates and receipt of combat information from LRSUs or the JAAP. (Figure 10-1.) LRSUs or JAAPs operating in this net arrange predetermined contact times. They establish code words or procedures to indicate when the LRSU/JAAP net is operating under duress. The senior commander establishes contingency plans and procedures for when the LRSU/JAAP and headquarters miss their communications checks.

b. Outload Net. The deploying Army unit commander uses an outload net to monitor and control unit outload. (Figure 10-2.) The unit uses either small handheld radios or standard FM equipment, and should always use a secure net. FM equipment comes from a support unit employed until load time, so the deploying unit can load its own equipment. If the deploying unit uses handheld radios, it must coordinate frequencies to prevent interference with aviation operations.

c. En Route (LOS) VHF SECOMP Net. The airborne commander uses this net to relay instructions and updates to subordinates in other aircraft. (Figure 10-3.) Supporting communications personnel install, operate, and maintain it. Although it is a secure net, the enemy may still detect transmissions Therefore, either US Army or USAF commanders can impose listening silence restrictions, mainly during penetration. The airborne commander's aircraft acts as the net control station.

d. En Route TACSAT Net. Supporting communications units install, operate, and maintain this net; operators and equipment remain on the aircraft. (Figure 10-4.) The secure TACSAT net links the airborne force commander, airborne rear CP (which acts as NCS), ABCCC, and JAAP. This allows rapid adjustments and implementation of alternate plans that result from last-minute intelligence or combat information. Airborne elements can practice listening silence LRSU/JAAP and rear CP elements can employ blind transmissions to provide situation updates. To ensure that this net remains operational, at least two aircraft in the formation must have TACSAT capability. If ground aborts occur, the airborne commander can move to the second aircraft as part of the bump plan. If an air abort or communications malfunction occurs, the formation still has TACSAT communication with the objective area and the rear CP.

e. FM Nets. Brigade- and battalion-level TFs employ the following FM nets:

(1) Brigade command net. User stations install, operate, and maintain this FM-secure net. (Figure 10-5.) The brigade TOC serves as the NCS. This net can serve as the assault net for the initial phase of the airborne assault.

(2) Brigade operations and intelligence net. Units use this FM-secure net to pass routine and recurring intelligence reports. (Figure 10-6.)

(3) Brigade administrative and logistics FM net. The Brigade S4 in the BSA serves as the NCS for this secure FM net. The net is used to coordinate CSS during ground operations. (Figure 10-7.)

(4) Battalion task force command net. Users install, operate, and maintain this FM-secure net, which serves as the assault net for the battalion. (Figure 10-8.) The TF TOC serves as the NCS.

(5) Battalion task force operations and intelligence net. Scouts, combat and reconnaissance patrols, and attached MI assets can use this FM-secure net as a reporting net. (Figure 10-9.) Assets for this net may have to be allocated from other noncommitted units to provide communications equipment to units.

(6) Battalion task force administration and logistics net. The unit S4 in the combat trains serves as the NCS for this secure FM voice net. (Figure 10-10.) The S4 uses it to coordinate CSS during ground operations.

f. Special-Purpose Nets. Units employ the following nets for special purposes connected with the conduct of airborne operations.

(1) Airfield seizure net. This secure net requires standard FM voice equipment normally handheld. (Figure 10-11.) Units use this net to command and control the airfield seizure operations during the airborne assault.

(2) Airfield control net. The TOC uses this FM voice net to control and coordinate airfield activities and airland sortie arrivals. (Figure 10-12.) The A2C2 element includes at least the S3 air officer, FSO, ADA officer, and TACP. Optional elements include aviation liaison personnel, Army ATC personnel, and ANGLICO personnel. Need and communications availability determine who participates in this net. When feasible, wire communications should supplement radio communications.

(3) Air traffic control net. This net actually includes two nets (UHF and VHF) for control of fixed-and rotary-wing communications. (Figure 10-13.) Collocated CCT/ATC elements act as the NCS for this net.

(4) JTF TACSAT VHF voice net. This net interfaces TACSAT to FM. It allows the ground commander to talk to the JTF commander, the ISB, R&S forces, or other units via FM radio. (Figure 10-14.) This arrangement provides the advantages of TACSAT range and FM radio mobility. The JTF operations center serves as the NCS. Supporting communications units install, operate, and maintain this system. Planning for employment must include a TACSAT-to-FM interface frequency.

(5) JTF TACSAT VHF data net. This net provides facsimile support to elements of the JTF by rapidly transmitting plans, orders, and overlays. (Figure 10-15.) Supporting communications units install, operate, and maintain it. The JTF operations center functions as the NCS.

(6) Brigade radio teletypewriter net. Units employ this RATT net to send hard-copy messages for long distances without reliance on SATCOM assets. (Figure 10-16.) Along with IHF radios, it serves as a SATCOM backup system.


The C2 communications techniques depend on the communications equipment, which depends on the type, size, and mission of the unit.

a. Initial Radio Communications. Airborne units committed by parachute depend on lightweight, two-way radios; visual communications; and messengers. They can use TACSAT to send messages back to the rear echelon. The dispersion of landing forces and the quick action required for success on landing make communications difficult to establish and maintain.

b. Reinforced Radio Communications. Units can airdrop extra wire and radios and other communications equipment mounted on vehicles. The value of the vehicular-mounted radios in airborne operations lie in the unit's mobility-CPs and units are moving during the initial phase of an airborne operation. Units can also use longer-range vehicular-mounted radios to communicate with CAS and airlift aircraft; elements of the land, sea, or air LOC; and the rear support base. COMSEC is crucial, and units must train and rehearse regularly to maintain COMSEC.

c. Wire Communications. In the initial phases of the airborne operation, units seldom use wire communication because of the weight of materiel, the time needed for initial installation, distances involved, and the rapid initial movement off the DZ. As the situation stabilizes, units lay telephone wire between CPs and within units. Sometimes, units can use local communications systems that have been seized. To reduce the length of wire circuits, commanders locate CPs as near to subordinate units as conditions permit.

d. Messengers. Units use messengers often to carry documents, maps, photographs, and code books. Leaders must ensure messengers know their destinations and routes. Efficient messenger service requires intelligent, well-trained, resourceful personnel.

e. Miscellaneous Communications. Other forms of communications that can be used are panels, pyrotechnics, sound and visual signals, and code words.

(1) Units can use air-ground recognition panels extensively. Planned codes should always provide for--

  • Unit identification.
  • Location of friendly soldiers and installations.
  • Target designation.
  • A simple method of requesting supplies.

(2) Units can use pyrotechnics as a supplementary means for communicating with aircraft, adjusting artillery, designating targets, and marking bomb lines.

(3) Because airborne operations require precise timing and are normally executed in phases, units can develop code words for execution of tasks. When arranged in a desired sequence, this execution checklist performs two functions: units can use code words to report critical events or tasks when they occur or are executed; and they can schedule reporting (due to events) to occur during the operation (enemy contact, mission abort, and so on). Units can use this technique to preserve radio listening silence. Tailoring execution checklists to unit requirements by certain elements aids memorization and prevents compromising the information.


The joint force commander usually assigns overall responsibility for airspace control to the USAF component commander. The airspace control authority works through the Army Air Traffic Control Center and controls all aircraft operating in the designated airspace until completion of the airborne operation. This includes centralized control in the objective area as required by airlift/airborne concepts; it covers operations dispersed from air facilities over multiple routes with simultaneous operations at several DZs/LZs. USAF, Army aviation, and air defense units all participate in airborne operations by closely coordinating in their operations with the commander who controls the airspace. Brigade and battalion commanders must be prepared to manage this airspace with organic, assigned, and attached personnel and equipment until dedicated USAF personnel arrive and assume the responsibility. They may be reinforced with assets from corps and from the USAF to assist with this responsibility. (See FM 100-28, FM 100-42, and FM 100-103.)


The need for air superiority in an airborne operation requires disrupting or destroying the enemy air force and air defenses so they cannot interfere with the operation. US Army and USAF EW assets aid in this process. The JTF commander or a designated component commander, has other dedicated assets. Commanders within a joint force have many resources that can satisfy their EW requirements. The information derived from all EW assets within the JTF must be available to its elements as quickly as possible.

a. Staff Responsibilities. All staff elements must coordinate to ensure a well-organized command and a successful operation. Commanders structure staffs to ensure the integrated application of intelligence, firepower, deception, OPSEC, logistics, and other staff functions. Rapid improvements in warfare technology require commanders to stress the integration of protective countermeasures such as EW.

(1) The intelligence staff offers recommendations to the command. The operations staff is responsible for operations to include applying ECM, firepower, deception, and OPSEC.

(2) The brigade or battalion commander is responsible for EW support within his command. He can assign this job to an existing staff element (S2), the signal officer, or a component element of the division that supports the assault force.

(3) Tactical units, brigade and below, request information from, or forward information directly to, subordinate tactical commands at the same time they forward it to higher commands.

b. Support Requests. The S3 coordinates EW support for the land battle. For conventional ground operations, he does this through the division G3. The G3 sets the priority for requests and forwards them to the appropriate agency based on the urgency of the request (planned or immediate) and on the assets available.

(1) Predeployment. Requests for EW support while planning for the airborne operation usually follow conventional lines. Units send requests through operations channels to the G3.

(2) En Route. Requests for EW support en route are the responsibility of the AMC. Immediate requests usually relate to adjustments needed to aid penetration of enemy airspace. These measures include counterair and JSEAD. The AMC commands and controls EW assets through an EW weapons controller located on the ABCCC. (Figure 10-17.)

(3) Objective Area Support. Once the airborne force seizes the airhead, they can relay requests for preplanned Air Force EW support back to ARFOR for tasking. Air Force channels (TACP) handle immediate requests similar to immediate CAS requests. The ABCCC, however, is the processing and tasking agency for these requests in its role as airborne TACC/ASOC.

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