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Detailed planning and forceful, competent leadership are the keys to victory. Thorough, flexible planning gives direction to units and leaders, and allows them to concentrate combat power at the decisive point on the battlefield. This chapter summarizes the procedures essential to planning a successful airborne operation.


Airborne operations are characterized by their complexity and joint nature. A successful airborne operation requires--

  • Use of the commander's estimate and the military decision-making process.
  • Centralized, detailed planning and decentralized execution of mission-type orders.
  • Adherence to the principle of simplicity.
  • Use of the reverse-planning process.


The commander of a JTF initiates airborne operations with a planning directive to participating units. The directive is assimilated through normal command channels at corps and division-level, and pertinent information is issued to brigades. The directive must--

  • Specify missions.
  • Outline the command structure.
  • Identify participating ground and air forces.
  • List forces in support.
  • Provide a schedule of events.
  • State conditions under which the operation will begin, be delayed, be altered, or be terminated.


The responsibilities of key personnel include the following:

a. Airborne Commander. The airborne commander establishes mission-oriented command and control by ensuring that his concept is understood and by defining the responsibilities of key personnel. The airborne commander is responsible for--

(1) Accomplishing the ground mission.

(2) Loading aircraft with equipment and personnel.

(3) Assigning personnel to aircraft and preparing flight forms.

b. Airlift Commander. The airlift commander is responsible for--

(1) Allocating sufficient aircraft to support the ground tactical plan.

(2) Delivering assault elements to the correct DZ.

(3) Conducting resupply and evacuation missions.

c. Joint Responsibilities. The airborne and airlift commanders have joint responsibility for--

(1) Establishing control parties at departure air bases.

(2) Supervising the loading of equipment and soldiers.

(3) Conducting rehearsals.

(4) Coordinating and standardizing SOI and prearranged signals.

(5) Selecting DZs, LZs, and EZs.

(6) Establishing control parties at DZs, LZs, and EZs.

(7) Unloading of aircraft at the LZ.

(8) Preparing the aerial resupply and evacuation plan.

(9) Securing departure airfields.

(10) Preparing the air movement table.

(11) Supervising JAAP procedures.

(12) Coordinating the movement of soldiers and aircraft.


Commanders begin planning for airborne operations with a visualization of the ground tactical plan and work backwards through the landing plan, the air movement plan, and the marshaling plan. Planning is conducted in this order regardless of the type and duration of the mission or the size of the force. It continues until the operation is executed or cancelled.


This process helps the commander determine how best to accomplish a mission. Airborne commanders and staffs follow five steps to solve problems and plan tactical operations:

STEP 1. Analyze the mission.

STEP 2. Analyze the situation and develop courses of action.

STEP 3. Analyze courses of action.

STEP 4. Compare courses of action.

STEP 5. Make a decision.

a. Decision-Making Process. The airborne commander, his staff, and his chain of command use the related processes of troop-leading procedure and command and staff actions to develop and execute decisions. (FM 101-5 discusses the military decision-making process in detail.) (Figure 2-1.)

b. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield. The IPB process is that portion of the intelligence cycle that integrates enemy doctrine with the weather and terrain, and relates these factors to the mission and the specific battlefield situation. The formal IPB process is performed at division, corps, and higher levels. (See Appendix F.) (FM 34-130 contains a complete discussion of IPB.)


The airborne commander and his staff develop, in this order, the ground tactical plan, the landing plan, the air movement plan, and the marshaling plan. The ground tactical plan drives the development of all other plans. (See Appendix F.) (Figure 2-2.)

a. Ground Tactical Plan. The ground tactical plan is the basis for the development of all other plans. The airborne commander and his staff give special consideration to the reassembly and reorganization of the assault forces and to the decentralized nature of initial operations in the objective area. The subordinate commander requires the ground tactical plan of his higher headquarters before he can begin planning. He needs to know the type, location, and size of objectives; the mission and intent of higher headquarters two levels up; and his task and purpose. The ground tactical plan is generated down the chain of command as a mutual effort and includes the following:

  • Assault objectives and airhead line.
  • Reconnaissance and security forces to include OPs.
  • Boundaries.
  • Task organization.
  • Designation of reserve.
  • Supply (accompanying, follow-up, routine).

(Chapter 3 provides details on the ground tactical plan.)

b. Landing Plan. The landing plan is the airborne commander's plan that links the air movement plan to the ground tactical plan. It is published at brigade level and below. Before the airborne commander can prepare an overall landing plan, he must know where the subordinate commander wants to put his paratroopers. The landing plan is generated up the chain of command as a mutual effort. The landing plan includes the following:

  • DZ/LZ/EZ locations and descriptions.
  • Sequence of delivery.
  • Method of delivery.
  • Place of delivery.
  • Time of delivery.
  • Assembly plan.
  • Type landing plan worksheet.

(Chapter 4 provides details on the landing plan.)

c. Air Movement Plan. The air movement plan provides the information required to move the airborne force from the departure airfields to the objective area. This plan is the third step in the reverse planning process and covers the period from when units load to when they exit the aircraft. The airborne commander designates the subordinate units sequence of air flow and allocates aircraft. This allows the subordinate commanders to conduct air movement planning. The air movement plan is generated up the chain of command as a mutual effort and includes the following:

  • Departure airfields.
  • Aircraft by serial.
  • Parking diagram.
  • Aircraft mission (air movement tables and flight routes).
  • Unit providing the aircraft.

(Chapter 5 provides details on the air movement plan.)

d. Marshaling Plan. This plan is developed last in the reverse planning process and is based on the requirements of the other plans. It provides the needed information and procedures for units of the airborne force to prepare for combat, to move to departure airfields, and to load aircraft. The marshaling plan also provides detailed instructions for facilities and services needed during marshaling. It is generated down the chain of command and includes the following:

  • Movement to the marshaling area.
  • Passive defensive measures.
  • Dispersal procedures.
  • Departure airfields.
  • Marshaling camp operations.
  • Briefback schedule.
  • Preparation for combat (inspection, supervision, rehearsal, and rest).
  • Communications.

(Chapter 6 provides details on the marshaling plan.)

e. Planning Assets. The complexity of air-borne operations demands great attention to detail in the planning process. (Figure 2-3.) Planning is enhanced when subordinate commanders use--

(1) Small-scale air photos of the landing area.

(2) Large-scale photos of the landing area for selecting avenues of approach and planning ground operations.

(3) Air photo and interpretation reports covering enemy activities and ground and air installations within and adjacent to the projected airhead.

(4) Aerial reconnaissance reports.

(5) Overlays prepared with descriptions of obstacles and defensive works, navigational hindrances, and landing areas.

(6) Maps.

(7) Information concerning enemy capabilities, methods, and tactics.

(8) Special studies that apply to the airhead.

(9) Accurate, large-scale terrain models of the landing area.


The airborne commander considers the following additional factors in the development of his plans:

a. Echelonment. The airborne commander organizes Army combat elements within an airborne force into three echelons:

(1) Assault echelon. The assault echelon consists of those forces required to seize the assault objectives and the initial airhead, reserves, and supporting units.

(2) Follow-on echelon. The follow-on echelon consists of forces required for subsequent operations. It enters the objective area by air or surface movement when required.

(3) Rear Echelon. The rear echelon consists of administrative and service elements that remain in the departure area. These elements may be brought forward to support in the airhead, as required.

b. Concurrent Planning. Commanders plan for all phases of an airborne operation at the same time since all phases are interrelated. This reduces the total planning time. A subordinate unit must maintain plans in draft until the next higher headquarters has finalized its plans.

c. Coordination. Commanders normally provide plans and orders down the chain of command. For airborne operations, however, higher headquarters often cannot complete their plans until subordinate units have conducted a briefback of their plans.

d. Liaison. Parallel echelons of the airlift and airborne units coordinate continuously from the time of the joint planning conference until the operation is executed or cancelled. Before the operation, complete coordination is essential down to the smallest detail.

(1) Commanders of US Army and USAF units exchange LOs to act as advisors and coordinators immediately upon receipt of orders to participate in an airborne operation. Army LOs must be familiar with all aspects of the airborne operation. They must attend briefings and conferences, and must be provided with adequate transportation and communications assets.

(2) Liaison officers are normally exchanged between the airborne force and--

(a) Army units supporting the operation from outside the objective area.

(b) Airlift elements.

(c) Linkup forces.

(d) Special operations forces, especially AC-130 assets.

(3) The specific duties of liaison officers include the following:

(a) Represent their unit headquarters at the headquarters to which they are detailed.

(b) Act as advisors to the headquarters on matters pertaining to their own commands.

(c) Coordinate matters involving dual responsibility.

(d) Discuss the time, place, personnel required and material to be covered at joint staff meetings.

(e) Hold joint staff briefings.

(f) Examine parallel orders to ensure complete agreement of plans and arrangements.

(g) Assess and plan for the availability and procurement of equipment and facilities required from the higher headquarters

(h) Attend all joint conferences to become acquainted with the agreements reached by the commanders and with the operational plan.

(i) Prepare joint reports.

(j) Obtain copies of the marshaling plan and the parking diagram for their units.

(k) Know the location and capacity of all installations at the airfields and airlanding facilities that concern their units.

(1) Review the plans and arrangements for reserve aircraft if last-minute failures occur; prepare to assist the movement of paratroopers from aborting aircraft to reserve aircraft.

(m) Brief guides, who were furnished by the airborne unit, on airfield traffic procedures and locations of aircraft to be loaded. At dispersed locations, an airborne unit representative is located at the coordination facility to perform this function and to act as individual liaison.

(4) Commanders exchange Los on a continuous duty status at corps and division level. At brigade and lower echelons, the S3 LOs, the S3 air, or unit air movement officer can perform these duties. For operations of less than brigade size, commanders exchange LOs as needed at the discretion of the commanders concerned.

e. Briefbacks. Subordinate commanders must conduct brief backs on all aspects of their plan to the next higher commander. (Figure 2-4.) This ensures that unit plans are fully coordinated and in concert with the commander's intent. Commanders conduct briefbacks on a terrain model, a sand table, or a map. Planning for an airborne operation is a dynamic fast-changing process. A change in one plan has an impact on the other three. Plans remain in draft until every commander in the chain has conducted a briefback. All commanders must inform their subordinates of changes.

f. Rehearsals. Rehearsals are essential to the success of an airborne operation. They are conducted at every level and involve both air and ground components. They are performed on terrain similar to the objective and under the same conditions. Rehearsals may be conducted on a sand table, terrain model, mock-up, or map if time permits a full-scale rehearsal. Rehearsals are listed in order of priority as follows:

  • Ground tactical plan.
  • Landing plan with emphasis to assemble on the DZ.
  • Air movement plan with emphasis on aircraft loading.

g. Mission-Oriented Command and Control. The purpose of command and control is to allow the airborne commander to generate and apply combat power at the decisive point on the battlefield. MOC2 is a method of directing military operations in which subordinates are encouraged to act alone, consistent with the intent of senior commanders in executing assigned missions. (See FM 7-10, FM 7-20, and FM 7-30 for a detailed discussion of MOC2.)

h. Dissemination. Leaders must be able to make decisions to support the commander's intent. Plans and intelligence must be disseminated to the lowest level consistent with security requirements.

(1) Security. The staff follows security requirements in disseminating the intelligence required for subordinate units to develop their plans. Intelligence is provided on a need-to-know basis. As H-hour approaches, units are provided with more detailed intelligence.

(2) Precombat briefing. The commitment of an airborne unit is sudden and complete; there is no time for the commander to orient units immediately after landing. Plans and intelligence must be thoroughly briefed before the operation begins.

i. Linkup With Special Operations Forces. When the airborne force follows an SOF during a deployment, it requests a liaison before arrival in the operational area.

(1) During the planning phase, an SOF LO is assigned to the brigade along with all communications assets needed for immediate use with SOF assets at JSOF headquarters and at the objective area. The SOI and signal plan must standardize not only frequencies and call signs, but also address visual signals, and daylight and night operations.

(a) The SOCCE links up with the airborne commander through the SOF LO.

(b) The SOCCE coordinates with the S2/S3 sections and both elements provide the current situation, commander's intent, and future operations of their respective forces (within OPSEC limits).

(c) The SOCCE provides SOF locations through personal coordination, overlays, and other friendly order-of-battle data to the FSE and brigade operation section.

(d) The SOCCE requests appropriate restrictive fire support coordination measures and provides time windows when these measures are to be effective. The SOCCE must also ensure that FSE dissemination of these measures does not result in OPSEC violations.

(2) Rangers can be OPCON with terminating conditions. They normally conduct a relief in place with conventional forces.

(3) Communications capabilities are augmented to effect long-range communications and proper liaisons. Equipment compatibility, crypto use, information sharing, and security measures are considered when working with Army SOF, joint forces, and combined security forces.

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