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The commander finalizes the landing plan after completing the ground tactical plan. The landing plan phases forces into the objective area at the correct time and place to execute the ground tactical plan. The execution of the landing plan is vital to the swift massing of combat power, protection of the force, and subsequent mission accomplishment. This was demonstrated by the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team in the airborne assault in support of the invasion of Corrigedor, Philippines on 16 February 1945.

February 16, 1945 was the beginning of one of the most unusual airborne operations in the Southwest Pacific area during World War II. Because of Corrigedor's fortifications, the joint commander was determined that more than just an amphibious assault was necessary. The plan called for an intense air and naval bombardment of the island, followed by an airborne assault to neutralize the fortifications and facilitate the amphibious landing.

The planning for the operation was extensive. The regimental and battalion commanders along with selected staff officers observed the island while riding as passengers in planes making preparatory air strikes. After the aerial reconnaissance, the Regimental Combat Team commander and his battalion commanders studied aerial photographs of the island. Because the island was 1 square mile in area, only two areas were suitable for a drop zone. The largest was only 150 by 275 yards and sloped down to an abrupt 500-foot drop to the sea. Because the RCT commander had confidence in the capabilities of his soldiers and a thorough knowledge of airborne techniques, he felt that the mission could be accomplished successfully.

Because sufficient aircraft were not available to lift the RCT at one time, the commander task-organized the regiment into battalion landing teams. There was a total of 51 aircraft available for the drop and about 3,000 men to be transported. This meant that the RCT had to be transported in three lifts. One battalion landing team would be dropped on the morning of D plus 1, one in the afternoon, and the third on the morning of D plus 2.

Because of the small DZs, the planes had to fly in trail formation (one behind the other), divided into two columns, one over each DZ. The planes in the left column would fly over DZ A, drop eight paratroopers and an equipment bundle, circle to the left, join the tail of the column and, in a round-robin fashion, continue until all personnel and equipment had been dropped. The planes on the right would do the same thing over DZ B, except they would turn to the right. An airborne command ship was used to control the drop and make corrections.

It took a little over an hour for the first battalion to be dropped. The operation was a success --the Japanese were totally surprised. The airborne force suppressed the defending Japanese and destroyed many gun and mortar emplacements, allowing the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry to make the amphibious landings with few casualties. Later events revealed that the Japanese commander had been informed that he should devise a defensive plan to repulse an airborne assault of the island. After he made a reconnaissance he decided that such an attack was virtually impossible and did nothing.

The ability to rapidly assemble and conduct small-unit operations enabled the 503d RCT to accomplish its assigned mission. Extensive training, detailed planning, and thorough rehearsals contributed to the success of this combat operation. The regimental commander task-organized his force to accomplish the ground tactical plan while devising the simplest landing plan possible under the circumstances. He anticipated the development many years later of the ABCCC by using an aerial command ship to observe and control the drop.


The landing plan is the airborne commander's plan that links air movement into the ground tactical plan. The landing plan is published at the brigade level and below, but is informal and not published at the joint level. The landing plan is a tabulation of the sequence, method, and destination of paratroopers and materiel into the objective area. The landing plan has five elements:

  • Sequence of delivery.
  • Method of delivery.
  • Place of delivery.
  • Time of delivery.
  • The assembly plan.


To develop the landing plan, commanders at each level need to know their commander's priorities the airlift tactics, the landing area study, the parent and subunit task organization and ground tactical plans, and the subunit landing plan. During the briefback of the ground tactical plan, the commander establishes airlift/delivery priorities and airlift tactics. He provides as much of this information as possible to subunits at the end of the ground tactical plan briefback.

a. Commander's Priorities. The commander must set the priorities for each assault objective to determine the delivery sequence for units that are to secure these objectives. This dots not necessarily match the sequence in which the units secure objectives. The commander must also know:

(1) The priorities for deliveries on each DZ (personnel drop, CDS, heavy drops, and LAPES).

(2) The DZ sequence.

(3) The priorities for delivering the remainder of the forces.

(4) The method of delivery for each unit and its equipment.

(5) The priorities for use of EZs.

(6) The location of the HEPI and the PPI.

b. Airlift Tactics. The Air Force element responsible for selecting airlift tactics develops them with the Army element to best support the ground tactical plan. These tactics include aircraft formations and the sequence of personnel drops, heavy drops, and LAPES. The Army element chooses this sequence and the time intervals between serials, which are groups of like aircraft (C-130s, C-141s) with the same delivery method (personnel drops, heavy drops, LAPES) going to the same DZ.

c. Landing Area Study. Division or corps staff, working with US Army Topographic Engineers and the Air Force, develops the landing area study and provides it to subunits. This study enables subunits to select the location, size, and orientation of DZs to best support their scheme of maneuver.

d. Subunit Landing Plans. Subordinate commanders should develop landing plans to support their own respective schemes of maneuver. Subunits then briefback their landing plans so that higher headquarters can finalize their plans. Units must also know the initial locations of CS and CSS elements. This information should become available as subunits briefback their ground tactical plan.


Commanders should examine the following considerations when developing the landing plan.

a. Basic Methods of Attacking an Objective. There are three basic methods of attacking an objective.

(1) Jumping or landing on top of the objective. This method works best for attacking a small objective that is specially fortified against ground attack. However, an airborne landing into an area strongly defended against air attack requires surprise to succeed.

(2) Jumping or landing near the objective. This method works best for the capture of a lightly defended objective that must be seized intact such as a bridge. If the enemy has strong defenses against air attack, only surprise can enable the unit to achieve success with few casualties.

(3) Jumping or landing at a distance from the objective. This technique is the least often used of the techniques available. Airborne forces use this method for large complex objectives that must be seized by deliberate attack. The DZ is selected to emphasize security and preservation of the force. The plan is based on METT-T considerations and should capitalize on the principle of surprise.

b. Basic Methods of Landing. There are two basic landing methods.

(1) Multiple drop zones. The use of multiple DZs creates a number of small airheads in the objective area. This technique supports the principle of mass by placing the maximum number of paratroopers in the objective area in the minimum amount of time. Additionally, the commander can capitalize on the principle of surprise because the main effort is not easily determined by the enemy. This technique is normally used by division-size elements and larger.

(2) Single drop zone. Brigade and smaller-size airborne forces often establish an airhead by conducting the airborne assault onto a single drop zone. This technique allows the assaulting unit to assemble quickly and mass combat power against the enemy.

c. Time-Space Factors. Commanders schedule the delivery sequence and the time between serials to provide the least time and distance separation between each aircraft and serial. The airborne force assembles maximum combat power on the DZ as quickly as possible, using either of the following options:

(1) Land all elements in the same area. Aircraft approach the DZ in a deep, narrow formation and all soldiers jump into a small area.

(2) Land all elements at the same time. Aircraft in a wide formation approach various DZs situated close to each other and all soldiers jump at the same time or as near to it as possible.

d. Landing Priorities. Airborne units are cross loaded to land close to their assault objectives.

e. Organization. Airborne forces try to maintain tactical unity.

(1) Battalions or battalion TFs normally land intact on a single DZ. A brigade lands in mutually supporting DZs. Two or more battalions land successively on the same DZ or each can land on a separate DZ within a general brigade DZ area.

(2) The airborne force sends as many assault unit personnel and equipment as possible into the area in parachute serials. Commanders must consider the mobility of equipment after the landing. For example, the carriers or prime movers that are deliverable by parachute, but difficult to manhandle on the ground, can accompany the weapons in the assault element. Paratroopers accompany their units' principal items of equipment.


The commander's priorities within the ground tactical plan determine the sequence of delivery. Neither aircraft allocations nor the availability of aircraft should influence these decisions. The commander determines final aircraft allocations after the landing plan briefbacks. JAAP serials may precede the main airlift column to drop combat control teams and Army LRSU. The CCT places and operates navigation aids on the drop and landing zones; the LRSU provides surveillance on NAI and reports to the ground force commander.


This part of the landing plan addresses how the force with its needed supplies and equipment arrives in the objective area. The assault echelon comes in by parachute. The commander can use a number of other means to introduce additional personnel, equipment, and supplies into the objective area.

a. Personnel Airdrop. The airborne force delivers assault personnel by parachute drop. This method allows quick, nearly simultaneous delivery of the force. Planners choose any terrain free of obstacles that allows the assault force to land on or close to objectives. In some cases and with special equipment, it can deliver personnel into rough terrain. Special teams, such as the JAAP, can use HAHO or HALO techniques. These techniques allow for early delivery of the JAAP without compromising the objective's location.

b. Equipment/Supply/Airdrop. Airborne forces can airdrop supplies and equipment directly to units behind enemy lines or in other unreachable areas.

(1) Advantages.

(a) Prerigging and storing emergency items for contingencies considerably reduces shipping and handling time and increases responsiveness.

(b) Since the delivery aircraft does not land, there is no need for forward airfields/LZs or materiel handling equipment for offloading.

(c) This reduces flight time and exposure to hostile fire and increases aircraft survivability and availability.

(d) Ground forces can disperse more since they are not tied to an airfield or strip.

(2) Disadvantages.

(a) Airdrops require specially trained rigger personnel and appropriate aircraft.

(b) Bad weather or high winds can delay the airdrop or scatter the dropped cargo.

(c) Ground fire threatens vulnerable aircraft making their final approach, especially if mountains or high hills canalize the aircraft.

(d) Since the aircraft do not land, no opportunity for ground refueling exists. Planned aerial refueling can extend aircraft range and should be considered on long flight legs to increase objective area loiter time and mission flexibility.

(e) Bulky airdrop rigs for equipment prevent the aircraft from carrying as much cargo as when configured for airland.

(f) The possibility of loss or damage to equipment during the airdrop always exists.

(g) Ground forces must secure the DZ to prevent items from falling into enemy hands.

(h) Recovery of airdropped equipment is slow and manpower intensive.

(3) Types of equipment delivery. Free drop, high-velocity drop, low-velocity drop, HALO, and LAPES are different types of air deliveries. (See FM 100-27.)

(a) Free drop (less than 600 feet AGL). Free drop requires no parachute or retarding device. The airdrop crew can use energy-dissipating materiel around the load to lessen the shock when it hits the ground at a rate of 130 to 150 feet a second. Fortification or barrier material, clothing in bales, and other such items can be free dropped.

(b) High-velocity airdrop (400 to 600 feet AGL). Parachutes, which have enough drag to hold the load upright during the descent at 70 to 90 feet a second, stabilize loads for high-velocity airdrops. Army parachute riggers place airdrop cargo on energy-dissipating material and rig it in an airdrop container. This method works well for subsistence, packaged POL products, ammunition, and other such items. The ground commander may use the standard high-velocity delivery system, which is the container delivery system, to deliver accompanying and follow-on supplies; they can be delivered within an area 400 by 100 meters. A CDS is the most favored means of resupply; it is also the most accurate of all airdrop methods. Each pallet holds up to 2,200 pounds. A C-130 holds up to 16 of these containers, while a C-141B holds up to 40. Planners should calculate the CARP near AAs or resupply points. The ALO or Army DZ support team controls receipt of CDS. (Figure 4-l.)

(c) Low-velocity airdrop (1,100 feet or less AGL, depending on DZ size). Low-velocity airdrop requires cargo parachutes. Crews rig items on an airdrop platform or in an airdrop container. They put energy-dissipating material beneath the load to lessen the shock when it hits the ground. Cargo parachutes attached to the load reduce the rate of descent to no more than 28 feet a second. Fragile materiel, vehicles, and artillery can be low-velocity airdropped.

  • Heavy drop. Airborne forces use this method most often to deliver vehicles, bulk cargo, and equipment. Airdrop aircraft deliver heavy-drop equipment just ahead of the main body or, if following personnel drops, at least 30 minutes after the last paratrooper exits. For night drops, the heavy drop precedes personnel drops.
  • Door bundles and wedges. This procedure requires the use of either the A7A cargo sling or the A21 cargo bag. With these, aircraft personnel can drop unit loads of up to 500 pounds just before the first soldier's exit. Local SOPs dictate the number and type of door bundles that specific aircraft can drop.

(d) HALO. Airborne forces use HALO to airdrop supplies and equipment at high altitudes when aircraft must fly above the threat air defense umbrella. (Figure 4-2.) The rigged load is pulled from the aircraft by a stabilizing parachute and free falls to a low altitude where a cargo parachute opens to allow a low-velocity landing.

(e) Low-altitude parachute extraction system. The LAPES uses extraction parachutes to airdrop palletized loads and equipment from airlift aircraft flying about 5 to 10 feet above the ground. (Figure 4-3.) The extraction parachute that pulls the rigged load from the aircraft also helps to slow the platform and load as it slides across the EZ. Some airfields and EZs require special preparation for a LAPES delivery. (See Appendix A for detailed information on LAPES extraction zone requirements.)

  • Airborne forces can use the LAPES to deliver vehicles, artillery, ammunition, supplies, equipment, and water. It is a reliable way to rapidly introduce outsized or heavy loads (such as the M551 Sheridan) and bulk supplies (such as ammunition and fuel). It allows accurate delivery into small perimeters.
  • Adverse weather conditions, such as excessive surface or altitude winds or low ceilings, inhibit airdrop, but they do not preclude the use of the LAPES. Airdrops by the LAPES can be accurately delivered on plateaus, mountains, cratered airfields, or assault LZs, and among other obstacles.
  • The LAPES reduces aircraft radar signature; it allows the aircraft to avoid enemy air defense systems by flying low, and it negates having to defend against ground fire. once ground forces have cleared the EZ. aircraft can deliver LAPES airdrops in any sequence. Units must arrange the time, personnel, and equipment to derig and remove the delivered LAPES load from the EZ before that EZ can be used for another load. They can facilitate this by preparing multiple/parallel EZs.

c. Airland. Airborne forces can accomplish certain phases of airborne operations, or even the entire operation, by using airland to deliver personnel and equipment to the objective area. (See FMs 7-20, 7-30, and 100-27.)

(1) Advantages. In some cases, airlanding rather than airdropping personnel and equipment may be advantageous because airlanding --

(a) Provides the most economical means of airlift.

(b) Delivers Army aviation elements, engineering equipment, artillery pieces, and other mission-essential items in one operation.

(c) Provides a readily available means of casualty evacuation.

(d) Allows units to maintain tactical integrity and to deploy rapidly after landing.

(e) Allows the use of units with little special training and equipment.

(f) Does not require extensive preparation and rigging of equipment.

(g) Offers a relatively reliable means of personnel and equipment delivery regardless of weather.

(h) Precludes equipment damage and personnel injuries units may experience in parachute operations.

(2) Disadvantages. In other cases, airlanding is not advantageous because it --

(a) Cannot be used for forced entry.

(b) Requires moderately level, unobstructed LZs with adequate soil trafficability.

(c) Requires more time for delivery of a given size force than airdrop, especially for small, restricted LZs.

(d) Generally requires improvement or new construction of airland facilities, which adds to the engineer workload.

(c) Requires some form of airlift control element support at offloading airfields. Mission intervals depend on airlift control element size, offloaded equipment availability, and airfield support capability.

(3) Organization for movement. The tactical integrity of participating units is a major consideration in an airland operation. Small units that are expected to engage in combat on landing, airland organizationally intact with weapons, ammunition, and personnel in the same aircraft, whenever possible. Joint planning stresses placing units as close as possible to objectives, consistent with the availability of LZs and the operational capability of the tactical aircraft employed. Because of aircraft vulnerability on the ground, units unload as quickly as possible.

(a) The airborne commander determines the makeup of each aircraft load and the sequence of delivery. The mission, the tactical situation, and the assigned forces influence this decision.

(b) Units should use existing facilities, such as roads and open areas, to reduce the time and effort required for new construction. They should consider layouts that facilitate future expansion and provide maximum deployment and flexibility. As the size and efficiency of an air facility improve, its value to the enemy as a target increases. To reduce this vulnerability, the facilities should be dispersed and simple.


The selection of DZs/LZs/EZs is a joint responsibility. The airlift commander is responsible for the precise delivery of personnel and cargo to the DZ/LZ and for the selection of approaches to the DZ. Both joint and component commanders must base their decisions on knowledge of their respective problems and on the needs of the overall operation. The nature and location of landing areas are important considerations when preparing the scheme of maneuver. The general area in which they are to be established is necessarily governed by the mission. At higher echelons, commanders can assign landing areas in broad general terms. In lower units, leaders must describe their locations more specifically. Drop zones are selected only after a detailed analysis. Commanders should consider the following factors when making their selections.

a. Ease of Identification. The DZ should be easy to spot from the air. Airlift pilots and navigators prefer to rely on visual recognition of terrain features to accurately deliver personnel and equipment.

b. Straight-Line Approach. To ensure an accurate airdrop, the aircraft should make a straight-line approach to each DZ for at least 10 miles, or about four minutes at drop airspeed, before the start of the drop.

c. Out of Range. The commander should choose a DZ that allows the units to avoid enemy air defenses and strong ground defenses and puts them outside the range of enemy suppressive fires. To get to the DZ, aircraft should not have to fly over or near enemy antiaircraft installations, which can detect aircraft at drop altitudes. They should fly over hostile territory or positions for the least possible time.

d. Close To or On Top of Assault Objectives. If the enemy situation permits, the commander should choose a DZ directly on top of assault objectives.

e. Suitable Weather and Terrain. The commander must consider the weather and terrain because these conditions affect the usability of a DZ.

(1) Weather. Commanders should consider seasonal weather conditions when selecting DZs. Adverse weather effects can be devastating. Ground fog, mist, haze, smoke, and low-hanging cloud conditions can interfere with the aircrew's observation of DZ visual signals and markings. However, they do offer excellent cover for blind or area DZs. Excessive winds also hamper operations.

(2) Terrain. Flat or rolling terrain is desirable; it should be relatively free, but not necessarily clear, of obstacles. Obstacles on a DZ will not prevent paratroopers from landing but will increase jump casualties. Sites in mountainous or hilly country with large valleys or level plateaus can be used for security reasons. Small valleys or pockets completely surrounded by hills are difficult to locate and should be used only in rare cases. Commanders must avoid man-made obstacles more than 150 feet (46 meters) above the level of the DZ within a radius of 3 nautical miles. High ground or hills need not be considered a hazard unless the hills pose an escape problem that is beyond the aircraft's capability. High ground or hills more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) above the surface of the site should not be closer than 3 nautical miles to the DZ for night operations. The perimeter of the DZ should have one or more open approach sectors free of any obstacles that would prevent the aircrew's sighting of the DZ markings.

(a) Cover and concealment. Cover and concealment near the DZs/LZs area distinct advantage when the airborne forces assemble and when airland forces land.

(b) Road net. Having a DZ near a good road net expedites moving personnel, supplies, and equipment from that zone. If the landing area contains terrain that is to be developed into an airlanding facility, a road net is of particular value -- not only for moving items from the facility but also for evacuating personnel and equipment.

(c) Key terrain. The DZ site selected should aid in the success of the mission by taking advantage of dominating terrain, covered routes of approach to the objective, and terrain favorable for defense against armored attack.

f. Minimum Construction for DZs/LZs. Because of limited engineer support in the airborne force, selected landing zones should have a minimum requirement for construction and maintenance. Unless more engineer support is requested and received, construction and maintenance restraints can limit the number of areas that can be used or developed.

g. Mutual Support. Commanders should select mutually supporting DZs/LZs that provide initial positions favorable to the attack.

h. Configuration. The division/brigade commander gives guidance on DZ size in OPLANs or OPORDs. Then each unit commander determines the exact shape, size, and capacity they need.

(1) Shape. The most desirable shapes for DZs are rectangular or round; these permit a wider choice of aircraft approach directions. However, they also require precise navigation and timing to avoid collisions or drop interference.

(2) Size. The DZ should be large enough to accommodate the airborne force employed; one DZ that allows the aircraft to drop all of its load in one pass is desirable. Repeated passes are dangerous because the initial pass can alert enemy antiaircraft and other emplacements, and they will be waiting for subsequent drops.

(a) There are certain situations, however, when multiple passes can be used. This occurs mainly when there is no significant air defense threat and orbits can be made over areas where enemy antiaircraft systems are not positioned. This applies especially to the seizure of islands where small DZs are the rule. If there are enough aircraft available to deliver the force with less personnel on each aircraft, there is no real problem. However, if there are only enough aircraft to deliver the assault echelon in one lift with each aircraft carrying the maximum number of personnel, then the aircraft will have to make multiple passes over the DZ.

(b) A large DZ can permit several points of impact to be designated and used. Although it is desirable to saturate the objective area in the shortest possible time, there is a reasonable limit to the amount of personnel and heavy drop that can be stacked on a single drop zone. Therefore, it can be desirable to use multiple points of impact on a single DZ -- provided the drop zone is large enough to permit this.

(3) Capacity. The DZ capacity is based on the expected number of units to be dropped and their dispersion pattern. (See Appendix A for criteria for determining DZ capacity.)

i. Orientation. Thoughtful orientation allows the quickest possible delivery of the airborne force into the objective area.

(1) Ideal DZs offset and parallel each serial. (Figures 4-4 and 4-5.) This allows aircraft to share a flight route until they approach the objective area; then they can split at an IP (RP) for simultaneous delivery on several DZs.

(2) Another technique that can be employed is to make two drops on two DZs in line (thus eliminating a change of flight direction between the two drops). The DZs must be far enough apart to permit the navigators to compute the location of the second release point.

(3) Paratroopers are more likely to overshoot the DZ than to undershoot it. Therefore, selection of the trailing edge of the DZ should be at the objective to place personnel responsible for the primary assault objective at the front of the aircraft so that they exit last.

(4) If a fighter aircraft escort or rendezvous is required for the drop, they must be kept advised of the drop pattern, the direction of all turns to be flown around the DZ, and the areas to look for possible enemy activity.

(5) Drop zones that require intersecting air traffic patterns should be avoided whenever possible. They delay simultaneous delivery of the force because of the safety requirements to stagger delivery times and clear the air by at least a 5- or 10-minute formation separation time. They also require that JSEAD be accomplished for multiple routes instead of one. This may result in piecemeal delivery and an unnecessarily complicated plan, violating the principles of mass and simplicity.

j. Alternate Drop Zones or Landing Zones. Commanders must select alternate DZs/LZs to compensate for changes that may occur.

k. Number of Drop Zones or Landing Zones. The number of DZs to be used by the assault parachute element of an airborne infantry brigade depends on the number, size, and relative position of suitable sites; the brigade plan of maneuver; and the expected enemy situation. The battalions of a brigade can land successively on the same DZ, on separate battalion DZs, or on adjacent areas within a single large brigade DZ.

(1) Single brigade drop zone. The use of a single brigade DZ on which battalions land successively has these advantages:

(a) It permits greater flexibility in the plan of maneuver and the plan of supporting fires.

(b) It facilitates coordinating and controlling assault battalions.

(c) It applies the principle of mass.

(d) It makes logistical support easier.

(e) It decreases the area of vulnerability.

The use of a single DZ also has disadvantages.

(a) It slows the buildup of combat power.

(b) It causes later airlift sorties to be vulnerable to enemy air as a result of the loss of surprise.

(c) It allows the enemy to focus his efforts.

(2) Separate battalion drop zones. The use of separate battalion DZs has these advantages:

(a) It increases readiness for action by deploying the brigade as it lands.

(b) It reduces confusion on the DZs during the landing and reorganizing.

(c) It tends to deceive the enemy as to the intention and strength of the landing force.

(d) It makes capture of the brigade objective easier when there is strong opposition on one drop zone.

(e) It increases the freedom of maneuver of the assault battalions.

The use of separate battalion DZs also has disadvantages.

(a) It makes C2 more difficult.

(b) It reduces flexibility because units are dispersed.

(3) Adjacent drop areas. Landing battalions on adjacent areas within a single large brigade DZ has, although to a lesser degree, the same advantages and disadvantages of dropping on separate DZs.


No set rule can be prescribed for the timing of an airborne operation. It varies with each situation; however, the airborne force will try to conduct airborne assaults during limited visibility to protect the force and to surprise the enemy. The commander sets the specific time of delivery. However, for the landing plan, times are stated in terms of P-hour (when the first paratrooper exits the aircraft). The following considerations affect the timing of the operation.

a. Support of the Main Effort. The airborne assault can be a supporting attack. If so, the time of commitment of the airborne forces in relation to the main effort is usually directed by orders from higher headquarters. It is determined in advance IAW the mission, the situation, and the terrain. For example, the airborne force can be committed in advance of the main effort to give the airborne attack an increased element of surprise. It can be committed during the main effort to neutralize specific areas or to block the movement of enemy reserves. It can also be committed after the main effort to assist a breakthrough or to block an enemy withdrawal.

b. Visibility. The decision as to whether the airborne force is committed by night or day depends on the estimated degree of air superiority, the need for security from enemy ground observation, the relative advantage to be gained by surprise, and the experience of both airlift and airborne personnel.

(1) Night airborne operations offer the following advantages. They greatly increase the chance of surprise and survivability, and reduce the chance of attack by enemy aircraft during the air movement. They also reduce vulnerability to antiaircraft fire, conceal preparations for takeoff from the enemy, and reduce the effectiveness of the defender's fires.

(2) Night airborne operations offer the following disadvantages. In zero visibility, they require well-trained soldiers and aircrews to locate the DZ and assemble rapidly. They provide more air and land navigation problems and offer slower rates of assembly than daylight operations. Night operations also reduce the effectiveness of CAS.

(3) Daylight operations provide better visibility both from the air and ground, more accurate delivery, quicker assembly, and more effective friendly fires than night operations.

(4) However, daylight operations increase vulnerability to enemy air defense, ground fires, and air attack, and they result in loss of surprise.

c. Intervals. The time interval between delivery of the assault echelon (P-hour) and the follow-on echelon depends on the availability of aircraft, the capacity of departure airfields, the number of aircraft sorties that can be flown on D-day, the availability of DZs/LZs within the objective area, and the enemy situation. For example, if there are unlimited aircraft, ample departure airfields, numerous DZs/LZs within the objective area, and little or no enemy air defense, the commander could deliver the follow-on echelon immediately after the assault echelon. Thus, the time interval could be so brief that it would be hard to determine which was the last aircraft of the assault echelon and which was the first aircraft of the follow-on echelon. Regardless of the timing selected, avoid setting a pattern.


Success or failure of the mission can depend on how fast the airborne force can regain tactical integrity. The first goal of any airborne assault must be to deliver and assemble all available combat power as quickly as possible. The sooner soldiers assemble and reorganize as squads, platoons, and companies, the sooner they can derig their equipment and start fighting as cohesive units. How efficiently and rapidly this happens is a direct result of detailed planning, cross loading on the assault aircraft, and assembly on the DZ.


Cross loading of key personnel and equipment is an important factor in rapid assembly. It must be given careful attention in training and on combat jumps.

a. Personnel. Separate key personnel in case any aircraft aborts or fails to reach the DZ. This prevents the loss of more than one key officer/NCO of any one unit.

b. Heavy-Drop Loads. Always plan for the possibility that one or more heavy-drop aircraft will abort before it gets to the DZ, or the equipment will streamer in and become unserviceable.

c. Individual Equipment/Weapons. Separate radios, mortars, AT weapons, ammunition bundles, and other critical equipment or supplies as much as possible. No like items of combat-essential equipment from the same unit should be on the same aircraft.

(1) The CWIE and the DMJP can and should be jumped at any position in the stick to support cross loading and assembly plans. The commander must make a risk assessment when he determines the location of paratroopers in the stick carrying this equipment.

(2) Risks to both the paratrooper and mission accomplishment are present. If the paratrooper falls inside the aircraft, the remainder of the soldiers may not be able to exit on that pass. Also, this equipment increases the risks of the paratrooper being towed outside the aircraft.




Based on METT-T considerations, the ground force commander may elect to use one of the following techniques:

a. Assembly on the Objective: This technique may be used when speed is essential, the objective is lightly defended, or the enemy can be suppressed.

b. Assembly on the DZ: This technique may be used when the DZ will not be used by follow-on forces, speed is not essential, and dismounted avenues of approach from the DZ to the objective are available.

c. Assembly Adjacent to the DZ: This technique may be employed when the DZ is to be used by follow-on forces or if the DZ is compromised during the airborne assault.


To speed up assembly after landing, airborne units use assembly aids to orient themselves on the ground and to locate their unit's AA. Assembly aids help identify personnel, equipment, and points or areas on the ground. Units can use visual, audible, electronic, natural, or individual aids; for reliability and ease of recognition, units combine these. Operators of assembly aids land as close as possible to their AA so they can mark the area. An Air Force CCT or LRSU places assembly aids if the situation permits. Partisans, special forces personnel, or high-performance aircraft can deliver assembly aids. Whenever possible, regardless of the method chosen to emplace the aids, commanders should provide backup operators, backup aids, and backup delivery means.

a. Control Posts. An assembly control post is established by a small party equipped with assembly aids, which moves after landing to a predesignated location to help assemble soldiers. (Figures 4-6 and 4-7.) Each DZ/LZ has a control post in or near the unit AA to coordinate and regulate assembly. No standard organization exists for control posts; their composition varies with the size of the parent unit, the number and type of assembly aids carried, the terrain, and the assigned mission.

b. Joint Airborne Advance Party. The JAAP has a variety of navigational and assembly aids. They usually land on the DZ/LZ from 15 minutes to 1 hour before the main elements arrive. The senior commander prescribes how the JAAP helps units assemble after landing.

c. Line-of-Flight or Clock System. Airborne soldiers observe the airdrop formation's line of flight. The line of flight parallels the parachute landing pattern; this helps each paratrooper establish his own landing position relative to those of the other members of their plane load. Leaders use the clock system to brief soldiers, calling the direction of flight 12 o'clock. (Figure 4-8.) After landing, soldiers assemble to the right of the DZ at 3 o'clock or to the left of the DZ at 9 o'clock. In AWADS conditions, commanders should avoid choosing this method of aid.

d. Natural Assembly Aids. These aids include landmarks or easily recognizable terrain features that units can use as AAs or that personnel can orient their movement on. These features include hills; stream junctions; clumps of woods; or man-made objects like radio towers, bridges, buildings, crossroads, or railroads. Units cannot rely on natural features as the primary assembly aid. The assembly plan must be usable regardless of the DZ. Execution of contingency plans en route may require assembly on an alternate DZ; an emergency exit from the aircraft can place paratroopers on an unfamiliar DZ.

e. Assembly Equipment. Airborne units carry visual, audible, or electronic aids into combat to help them assemble. Planners assign different colors, sounds, and coded signals to each unit. The unit SOP standardizes assembly aids; however, units can adapt them to fit specific situations or environments. Terrain restrictions and battlefield noise do not restrict the use of the best assembly aids, which are also simple to use. Units usually use visual assembly aids.

(1) Visual aids. Visual aids include visible light sources, such as beacons, flashlights, strobe lights, or signal mirrors; panels; flags; balloons; infrared lights, such as metascopes, flashlights with filters, infrared weapons sights, or starlight scopes; pyrotechnics; and chemical lights. These aids are simple to use and afford positive identification of AAs. However, the enemy can see them as well as friendly personnel can. The Stiner aid has a cloth panel with a colored letter; that is, HHC = White "H". They are the same color for night use. (Figure 4-9.) It has pockets for 15-inch chemical lights; the letter and pockets are on both sides. It is mounted on a sectional aluminum pole that fits into an M1950 weapons case.

(2) Audible aids. Audible aids especially help small units assemble at night. They include tin crickets, sirens, cowbells, air horns, triangles, dinner bells, ratchets, drums, gongs, whistles, bugles, and voice signals; they can be used to identify individuals or AAs. Strong winds, gunfire, aircraft sounds, an elevation high above sea level, and other factors can limit their effectiveness. The normal sounds of the battlefield easily mask or confuse the sounds of audible assembly aids.

(3) Electronic aids. Units can use organic radios to effectively direct small units to AAs, using landmarks as references. They can also use radio homing devices. A homing device is a lightweight attachment to a standard field radio; it is an excellent aid for day or night assembly. With it, a RATELO can pick up a coded signal beam from a transmitter at the AA. By following the beam, the RATELO homes in on the transmitter and leads the unit to the AA. The unit uses the AT-784/PRC antenna with the AN/PRC-77 to home in on the transmissions of another AN/PRC-77 or another FM radio on the same frequency. Signal crews can make an equipment homing assembly aid from a standard portable field radio or transmitter. The unit attaches the radio to the equipment and turns it to a designated frequency. They encase it in shock-absorbing material just before its extraction from the aircraft. This technique is especially useful for assembling crews on heavy-drop loads.

(4) Field-expedient aids. The unit uses any of numerous field-expedient assembly aids; only the unit members' imaginations limit the choices. For example, they can burn gasoline-soaked sand in cans or other containers; fashion a light gun or a one-direction light source by placing a flashlight in the receiver of an M203 grenade launcher; or lift a deployed main or reserve parachute so other unit members can see it.

f. Identification Markings. Positive, rapid identification of soldiers and equipment speed up a unit's assembly. The airborne unit standardizes personnel and equipment markings for all subunits.

(1) Personnel markings. Soldiers use individual assembly aids to help recognize individuals and assemble units. Individual aids include colored armbands or helmet bands, distinctive patches or designs on uniforms, or helmet bands of luminous tape. Sortie commanders and key leaders, jumpmasters, safeties, other jumpmaster personnel, medics, and bump personnel also use distinctive markings. Larger unit SOPs prescribe unit designations to prevent duplication and to allow unit-wide understanding.

(2) Equipment markings. Aerial equipment containers are identified by simple, distinctive markings. Distinctive unit markings are prescribed by larger unit (brigade or division) SOPs to prevent duplication and to assist in recognition by other units. Unit codes are placed on the bottom and all sides of each container; they should be visible for at least 50 meters. Various color parachute canopies, container colors, luminous tape and paints, smoke grenades, homing devices and lights can be used with the containers to facilitate identification on the ground and in the air. Lights, homing devices, and grenades attached to equipment can either be activated manually aboard the aircraft just before extraction, by improvised timer, or on the ground by the first individual to reach the equipment.

(3) Assault aircraft markings. A simple code symbol (using various designs, colors, and combinations of letters and numbers) can be painted on both sides of the fuselage of assault aircraft to identify the contents. This symbol is large enough to be readily seen, and it indicates not only the type of equipment contained in the aircraft but also the unit to which the equipment belongs.


Because the assembly plan is a key to success, it must be as foolproof as possible. Assembly is more than accounting for personnel; the commander must also ensure the unit has regained tactical integrity, has organized tactically, and is prepared to fight as a combined arms team. The slower the force assembles, the more they risk failure. An airborne unit's assembly plan consists mainly of the following techniques:

a. Secure assault objectives.

b. Place all organic and attached weapon systems into action as quickly as possible.

c. Reestablish C2 such as radio nets or reporting to higher headquarters.

d. Assemble the force and account for casualties and stragglers.


Commanders base the assembly of airborne units on a simple, flexible plan that adapts to any likely situation. They assemble the units speedily, silently, and without confusion.

a. Drop Zone Assembly. To speed assembly on the DZ, units should --

(1) Establish an assembly control point located near the DZ centerline. The assembly control point OIC or NCOIC accounts for all paratroopers as they report to the control point. He then gives them an azimuth and distance and sends them to the assembly area/assault objective. If the soldiers do not have a compass, they wait until someone with a compass reports in and they move out together.

(2) Locate the unit AA in a covered and concealed position off the DZ. The first group to arrive in the unit AA should erect an assembly aid ASAP to assist in directing the rest of the unit to the AA.

(3) Move out rapidly on the assigned mission once most of the unit has gone through the assembly control point and arrived in the AA. Leave a small element in the AA to handle stragglers.

b. Troop Briefings. Another key element of a good assembly is the thoroughness of unit briefings and individual soldier briefbacks.

(1) BRIEF soldiers -- and rebrief them -- on the assembly plan of his unit and on those of other units scheduled to share the same DZ.

(2) USE visual aids such as maps, aerial photos, terrain models, and sand tables.

(3) WARN soldiers to resist guiding on what appears to be a prominent terrain feature on a map. Once they are on the ground, the terrain feature probably cannot be seen. This is especially true if soldiers land on the wrong DZ or on the wrong part of a DZ.

(4) AVOID instructing soldiers to move out on a particular azimuth or to go in a precise direction unless they each have a compass.

(5) USE the clock directional system. Instruct soldiers to orient themselves and the general location of the AA by the direction of flight.

NOTE: Regardless of the actual azimuth, the direction of flight is always 12 o'clock.

c. Factors Affecting Assembly. When the assembly plan is prepared, the speed, altitude, and flight formation of airlift aircraft and their effect (along with wind) on dispersion of personnel and equipment in landing must be considered. The resultant landing pattern significantly affects assembly, as does the DZ length and width, the training level of the airborne soldiers and pilots, the enemy, and cross loading.

d. Dispersion. The extent of dispersion is the result of the airlift formation; type, speed, and altitude of the aircraft; number of serials; sequence of delivery weather conditions; and aircrew proficiency.

(1) The speed at which airplanes carrying paratroopers cross the DZ affects the length of the landing pattern. The greater the speed, the greater the distance that is covered between the exit of each paratrooper, thus increasing the length of the landing pattern. Planes cross the DZ as slowly as is safely possible, and paratroopers exit rapidly to reduce dispersion.

(2) As paratroopers descend, they drift with the prevailing wind, but usually not at a uniform rate for each soldier. They can pass through strata of varying wind direction and velocity that causes some dispersion within the unit. The higher the altitude, the greater the possibility of dispersion due to wind. Therefore the aircraft cross the DZ at minimum altitudes that are consistent with the safety of aircraft and paratroopers.

(3) In parachute landings, the width of the landing pattern of soldiers and equipment is the approximate width of the aircraft formation at the time of the drop. Therefore, the formation is kept as tight as possible to keep the soldiers and equipment together. If possible, a company or battalion is placed in the flight formation so that all plane loads of the unit land in a small pattern as close as practicable to the AA. (See FM 100-27 for basic patterns of aircraft formations.)

e. Drop Zone Visibility. Darkness, fog, haze, rain, brush, trees, and terrain affect DZ visibility on the ground, and hence impact on assembly. Assembly during darkness is complicated by poor visibility and difficulty in identifying or recognizing AAs, control posts, personnel, and equipment. The darkness contributes to confusion, to stragglers, and to the loss of equipment. An assembly during darkness takes longer and requires more elaborate assembly aids and larger control posts than a daylight assembly.

f. State of Training. One of the most important factors that affect rapid assembly is training. The degree of proficiency of the individuals in a unit has a much greater influence than the techniques they employ. Units must continuously practice parachute assaults and assemble as they would in combat. For specific missions, previous training is built on and tailored through detailed briefings, including maps, photos, and terrain models. When possible, rehearsals using assembly techniques planned for the assault are used. Thorough orientation, rigorous training, aggressive leadership, and individual initiative have the single greatest impact on assembly.

g. Enemy. Enemy action can have both a direct and indirect effect on assembly. Enemy action indirectly affects en route airlift capability to deliver the force to the correct DZ. It directly affects friendly assembly once on the ground.

(1) Every available device must be used to neutralize enemy air activity and antiaircraft fire.

(2) Enemy opposition during or immediately after landing is a critical consideration affecting assembly due to the unusual vulnerability of the airborne force between landing and completion of assembly. Every possible precaution is taken to ensure that the landing is unopposed or that provisions are made to deal with expected enemy resistance. This requires accurate intelligence, responsive (air alert) CAS, and effective OPSEC and deception.


A slightly more complicated but more efficient method to facilitate rapid assembly of soldiers, CDS, and heavy-drop loads is the use of multiple-lateral impact points.

a. The theory and techniques of cross loading apply as much to this method of delivery as to any other. The Air Force drops the Army along a single track (line of flight) down the center of the DZ and uses just one soldier and one heavy-drop impact point. On special request, they fly multiple tracks across the DZ and use multiple impact points on the DZ. By efficient cross loading, selection of AAs, and careful selection of personnel and equipment impact points, soldiers, units, and equipment can be delivered closer to the AA than the single-track, single-impact point method. (Figure 4-10.)

b. The DZ selected for multiple-lateral impact points must be wider than 700 meters. (Figure 4-11.) This is due to the requirement for all impact points to be at least 350 meters in from the surveyed edge of the DZ. Multiple, lateral impact points apply to all types of loads.


Certain simple guidelines can be followed to ensure rapid and relatively easy assembly. Rapid assembly results from well-thought-out and rehearsed cross loading, including heavy-drop loads, and a thorough, but simple plan that applies for any DZ. Use the clock system (not magnetic azimuth system nor north, south, east, west) for direction/route to the AA. Use AAs that are easy to find without complicated assembly aids, even if dropped on the wrong part of the DZ or on an unplanned DZ. Be prepared with both day and night assembly aids, especially for drops scheduled at dawn or dusk. Locate AAs as close as possible to where the soldier lands. To permit rapid assembly, never locate AAs at either end of the DZ (soldiers should not have to walk from one end to the other). Use special soldier/unit/equipment markings to speed assembly. Brief/briefback to all units what marking the same serial will use. Sand tables are used extensively to brief/briefback each soldier. Rehearse the procedures as often as possible


Not only do units assemble as quickly as they can, but they also get out of the AA as quickly as possible. They remain in the AA only long enough to establish CPs and communication, to organize into combat groupings, and to determine the status of assembly. They modify plans as needed to meet changes in the situation and issue orders to lower units.


Assault battalions proceed on their assigned mission when assembly is complete or on order of the brigade commander. Reorganization of a battalion is complete when all lower units are assembled and command and fire control communications channels are established. As a result of inaccurate landings, enemy action or excessive straggling, assault battalions may have to attack before assembly is complete. The brigade commander usually makes this decision. In the absence of other orders, the battalion commander decides when enough of his battalion has assembled to accomplish the mission. The time or conditions for assault units to move out on their assigned missions are ordinarily established in the plans of higher units.


Because of the dispersion of personnel and equipment in landing, the possibility of inaccurate landings, and the potential loss of aircraft during the air movement, commanders at all levels must learn the status of personnel and equipment in their units as soon as possible after landing. They need this information to determine the combat potential of the units before executing the ground tactical plan.

a. All units report their personnel and equipment status to the next higher unit at predetermined times or intervals until reorganization is complete. These status reports usually indicate the location of the unit; the number of soldiers assembled and the number of known casualties; the number and type of crew-served weapons, vehicles, radios, and other recovered key equipment; and any information available on missing soldiers and equipment. Units make abbreviated status reports on the DZ as soon they establish radio communications.

b. As soldiers arrive in company AAs, units make status reports by squad, platoon, and company. As commanders establish CPs in the AAs, they receive status reports from within the battalion by radio, messenger, or direct contact between commanders.


Security during assembly includes protection of unit AAs and DZ/LZs. All units are responsible for their own security regardless of the security provisions of higher headquarters. Airborne units are vulnerable to enemy ground attack from all directions during assembly. For this reason, and because of the size of DZs/LZs, the security requirements are great in comparison with the size of the airborne force.

a. In small-unit drops, jumpmasters or chalk leaders provide local protection as their plane loads assemble and recover equipment dropped in aerial delivery containers. Commanders of airlanded soldiers provide local protection while the equipment is unloaded. Soldiers move to company AAs in tactical formations suitable for security as well as speed and control.

b. The assault element, after seizing assault objectives, has the mission of gaining and maintaining the security of the DZ. The assault element protects the assembly of soldiers on the DZ; they accompany supplies and equipment not recovered by assault units and, in some cases, the later landing of other soldiers or unit air supply. The size of the security force for a DZ/LZ depends on the expected enemy. The security force can use a series of small OPs or roadblocks and patrols. These security provisions are usually quite simple because of the short time the AA is to be occupied. However, the planning is in minute detail, including mission, size, composition, and organization of each security element; location of OPs or roadblocks; routes of patrols; communication; supporting fires; and boundaries. Security groups move out on their assigned missions promptly on arrival in the assembly area.


The initial effort of all commanders and staff officers is the seizure of assault objectives followed by reassembling and regaining command and control. Smaller units with specific missions proceed without waiting for the parent units to assemble. Reorganization is faster and more precise in the daytime than at night.

a. Planning. Reorganization details are included in the landing plan. Reorganization occurs after initial assault objectives are secured. Factors to consider when planning reorganization include:

  • Designation of unit AAs.
  • Use of assembly aids.
  • The assembly plan.
  • Reports.
  • Security measures.
  • Establishment of command and fire control communications.
  • Reconnaissance.
  • Coordination and final preparations before the attack.
  • Time or conditions for assault units to move out on their missions.
  • Recovery of accompanying supplies.
  • Assembly of stragglers.

b. Considerations. Planning considerations for reorganization of units following an assault landing include:

(1) Brigade commanders coordinate the reorganization plan of lower units. However, the actual reorganization takes place at battalion and separate unit levels.

(2) Battalions and separate units reorganize in a prearranged manner, making use of predesignated AAs, control posts, and assembly aids. The AAs are established on or just off the DZ. For reference, they are identified by prominent landmarks and marked by assembly aids carried by the soldiers. The first parachute units to land are charged with gaining and maintaining the security of the DZ. Other units move directly to their AAs. They carry all equipment needed for the assault.

(3) Units seize assault objectives and assemble as quickly as possible in the existing conditions.

(4) Designated personnel remain on the DZs/LZs to protect the area, assemble stragglers, care for casualties, and complete the removal of supplies.

(5) The reorganization is complete when units are assembled and communication is established.


As with the ground tactical plan, each echelon (fire team through brigade) must briefback his landing plan. The landing plan remains tentative until commanders complete briefbacks and coordinate changes.

a. Landing Plan. In the case of the landing plan, briefbacks ensure coordination of who is using what DZ/LZ/EZ and when, the preferred orientation of DZs, and who is landing in which sectors and when. The landing plans follow the commander's priorities, use the best airlift tactics, and support ground tactical plans. Assembly plans of one unit do not interfere with the assembly plans of other units.

b. Assembly Plan. One of the most critical parts of the landing plan is the assembly plan. Each leader must brief his soldiers, require a briefback, rebrief his soldiers, and require another briefback. Each soldier should know exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it to assemble quickly.

c. Aircraft Requirements. The briefback of the landing plan identifies aircraft requirements for each subunit. If there are not enough aircraft available to lift the entire assault force at one time, commanders must decide the units that should be lifted first, and then allocate aircraft accordingly. In making this decision, they analyze the priorities dictated by the mission and the higher commander.

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