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Airborne Operations - Tactics

Parachuting - leaping from "perfectly good aircraft"- is done worldwide as a recreational aviation activity for pleasure and for sporting competition by people of many ages. That exciting experience is commonly known as "skydiving". The terms jumper and parachutist are used interchangeably. Chalk Number is a number assigned to an aircraft for identification purposes. It is used primarily to designated the position of aircraft being loaded or unloaded. Stick is a number of paratroopers who jump from one aperture or door of an aircraft during one run over the Drop Zone [DZ], the specific area upon which airborne troops, equipment, or supplies are airdropped.

The 82d Airborne Division's mission is to "deploy worldwide within 18 hours of notification, execute a parachute assault, conduct combat operations, and win." Seizing an airfield is critical to the success of combat operations. Airfield seizures are executed to secure key terrain that can be used to create a lodgment that will enable the continuous flow of combat power and supplies into an area of operations. Normally, two infantry battalions under the command and control of a brigade task force headquarters execute airfield seizures.

Delivery sequence and the time/space between equipment and personnel serials is scheduled to provide the absolute minimum time and distance between each separate aircraft and between each aircraft serial. The goal is to assemble maximum combat power on the drop zone as rapidly as possible. An airborne force may be delivered using heavy equipment followed in 30 seconds to one minute by personnel. In this sequence, the heavy equipment and personnel aircraft fly in the same serial in normal trail formation. Aircraft separation is 2000 feet (7 seconds) during VMC conditions. Lateral dispersion between aircraft is about 130 feet to keep trailing aircraft out of the turbulence caused by lead aircraft. The minimum drop altitude for a G-11 parachute for heavy equipment is 800 feet AGL, but with a G-12E parachute the minimum drop altitude for CDS is 550 feet AGL. If personnel aircraft follow heavy equipment aircraft with less than one-minute separation, they must fly at the same altitude. The drop altitude for MC1-1C parachute airborne operations will be 1500 feet AGL. Approval to modify this requirement to maintain unit proficiency for contingency operations must be obtained through the G3 Air.

Delivery sequences involving C-17s require special considerations. C-17 Multiple Ship Formations will be flown in an Echelon Upwind Formation, with a minimum of 32,000 feet (5 minutes) between the lead aircraft of each echelon. The Echelon Upwind Formation is required to decrease separation time while minimizing the effect of wake vortices. C-17s require SKE to perform personnel formation airdrop. For personnel formations performing GPS drops below 1000 AGL, the minimum DZ width, using center PPI, is 1240 yards for 2-ship elements and 1800 yards for 3-ship elements. When using offset PPIs, minimum width is 1100 yards for 2-ship elements and 1300 yards for 3-ship elements. The Airborne Commander must consider the effects that the greater time separation and dispersion of paratroopers on the drop zone has on the ground tactical plan. Additionally, C-17 formations should fly in the lead when mixed aircraft types are used for personnel drops due to greater maintenance reliability and VFR/IFR flight capabilities.

A Pathfinder is highly motivated, specially trained warrior who is typically inserted by helicopter or parachute, behind enemy lines 48-72 hours before assault operations to select, improve, mark and control aircraft coming into landing, pick-up, and drop zones. The mission of a Pathfinder is providing navigational assistance and advisory services to military aircraft in areas designated by supported unit commanders.

Some Drop Zones [DZ] are selected to support highly mobile ground forces, but are not surveyed. Drop zone size is determined by mode of delivery, actual load dispersal statistics, and personal knowledge. Recovery of air items and air load are considered, For example, small trees covering the entire DZ might limit recovery of air items but allow 100 percent recovery of the air loads. Drop Zones are measured in yards when working with Air Force aircraft. They are measured in meters when working with Army aircraft. The minimum size DZ for one parachutist from a single aircraft is 600 yards wide and 600 yards long. For each added parachutist, 75 yards is added to the length. The minimum DZ is 600 yards by 1,000 yards for a drop of one heavy equipment platform from a single aircraft. For each other platform, 400 yards is added to the DZ length. For C-141 aircraft, 500 yards is added to the minimum length for each added platform.

Airborne operations have changed little since World War II.

  • The alpha echelon of infantrymen, artillerymen, and engineers execute a parachute assault to conduct and support airfield seizure. An airborne operation begins at parachute-hour (P-hour), which is when the first paratrooper exits the first aircraft. Once on the ground, airborne troops must get out of the parachute harness, ready weapons for operation, pick up equipment, and move to the planned assembly area.
  • The bravo echelon is made up of personnel who do not jump but arrive on fixed-wing aircraft. If the airfield has only minimal damage, the bravo echelon should begin arriving at P+6 (6 hours after the first jumper leaves the first aircraft). The rest of the infantry battalion arrive among these elements.

As the jumpers are loading the aircraft, the Primary Jumpmaster ensures that a member of the team ensures that the appropriate adjustable leg strap has been routed around each jumper's leg. Also at this time, the Jumpmaster Team conducts the jumpmaster/pilot crew brief IAW the 82d ABN DIV ASOP CH 13, ensure the aircraft has been loaded properly, and that the loadmaster conducts a safety brief, to include emergency procedures.

At take off the Primary Jumpmaster must ensure that all jumpers have their ballistic helmets secured, and they are awake and alert. As the Primary Jumpmaster during flight he remains awake and alert so he can stay orientated at all times. At the 20 minute time warning the jumpmaster team issues the warning and ensure that all jumpers are awake and they secure there ballistic helmets. The safeties at the 20-minute time warning attach all special items of equipment and conduct a technical inspection. At the ten minute time warning the Jumpmasters hook up to the appropriate anchor line cable and conduct all time warnings and jump commands and exit all paratroopers from the aircraft.

The Primary Jumpmaster is the last paratrooper to exit the aircraft. He ensures that the assistant jumpmaster exits the aircraft, checks jump caution lights, and exits. Upon exiting the aircraft the Primary Jumpmaster has completed his duty and responsibility as the primary jumpmaster. The Primary Jumpmaster can delegate authority but not responsibility.

In addition to personnel requirements for conducting airfield seizures, military equipment is required. Most of the equipment arrives on vehicles that are heavy-dropped before the paratroopers jump. A heavy drop is defined as any large piece of equipment that can be rigged to a G-11B heavy-cargo parachute. The heavy-drop equipment is rigged before the plane is loaded, and, immediately before any paratroopers jump, Air Force personnel push the loads from the ramp of the aircraft for deployment on the battlefield.

Every airborne operation is adversely affected by winds. This is particularly true for ballistic operations such as cargo parachute deliveries where objects are released from an aircraft to fall to the ground without guidance controls. The problem is exaggerated as operations are driven to high altitudes because of ground threats. This was the case during the high altitude airdrop of humanitarian relief supplies to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993. If the wind field at the delivery area is known, the release point can be adjusted to compensate for the intervening winds.

Most airborne operations will be tactical and individual actions must reflect the conditions on the DZ. These conditions can vary greatly and are impossible to predict with complete certainty but will always follow basic guidelines: immediately upon landing, individual paratroopers will prepare their weapons and equipment to execute their combat mission while positioning themselves and recovering their equipment in a way to minimize their exposure to enemy observation and fire. Actions reflect conditions: in some cases, for example on an FLS under enemy observation, conditions will dictate the paratrooper remain in the prone until ready to crawl or IMT towards assembly. In other cases, troopers can use terrain or a lack of enemy action to recover equipment on a knee or in a crouch.

Speed is critical. The sooner troops secure the assault objectives, the better the odds for a successful mission. Units do not wait in assembly areas until 80, 90, or 100% of the unit is assembled. Commanders determine before the jump the minimum number of troops required to seize and secure the unit's assault objective, then when that number of men have assembled (to include any "lost' troopers from their units who happen to stumble into that particular assembly area), the senior man present takes charge of the group and strikes out for the assault objective. Paratroopers leave a two-man buddy team behind to inform leaders and other troops from the unit who reach the assembly area later "where everybody went." If an assembly plan won't work even if troopers are delivered to the wrong DZ, or even if they are delivered off the DZ then it is not an assembly plan. Leaders should never by-pass a trooper on the DZ. Leaders must police up every jumper wandering around the Drop Zone and either point him in the right direction, or take him with them. Troopers must understand that they cannot stop on the DZ to help their buddies who were hurt on the jump. Speed is critical, and every trooper is needed to seize and secure the assault objective.

After the demise of the best Airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. This effect is known as the rule of the LGOPs (Little Groups of Paratroopers). This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off 19 year old American paratroopers. They are well trained. They are armed to the teeth and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the Commander's intent as "March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you" - or something like that. Happily they go about the day's work...

The infantry battalions clear their assigned areas and expand the lodgment. The bravo echelon arrives once the field landing site is cleared and repaired. When the planes arriving with the bravo echelon land and the vehicles and equipment are offloaded, the arrival airfield control group receives the vehicles and places them into unit chalks (convoy groups).

Air Force Special Tactics (ST) operator forces consist of combat controllers (CCT), pararescuemen (PJs), and special operations weathermen (SOWT). ST personnel are designated as combat forces assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). ST personnel plan, prepare, and, when directed, integrate, synchronize, and control the elements of air and space power to execute air missions in support of the commander?s objectives. Core competencies (what we do) include assault zone assessment, establishment, and control; combat search and rescue/personnel recovery; battlefield trauma care; terminal attack control (controlling and sequencing fire support air assets for special operations); and tactical weather observations and forecasting. ST forces provide a unique capability and deploy with air, ground, and maritime forces in the execution of Direct Action, Combating Terrorism, Foreign Internal Defense, Humanitarian Assistance, Coalition Support, Counter-Drug, Combat Search and Rescue, and Special Reconnaissance missions.

Terminal guidance aids and control measures are used on the ground in the objective area to assist and guide incoming airlift aircraft to the designated DZs/LZs. Combat Control Teams [CCT] comprised of Air Force personnel are organized, trained, and equipped to provide aircraft terminal guidance. Army teams from the Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU), a divisional asset, are organized, trained, and equipped to deploy into the objective area and conduct R&S operations before the deployment of the airborne force. The combination of the CCT and LRS teams is known as the Joint Airborne Advance Party [JAAP].

The CCT's mission is to locate, identify, and mark the DZ/LZ and to establish and operate navigational aids and ATC communications. This assists and guides airlift aircraft to the appropriate DZ/LZ. Long-range surveillance teams place under surveillance one or two NAI in the objective area. They observe and report to the ground force commander. One of the assigned NAI are usually the main body DZ/FLS.

The ground force commander develops plans to deploy the CCT and LRS teams during the planning stage of an airborne operation. Because of the risk of compromise in deploying teams into the objective area before the assault phase, the timing for employment and method of delivery is determined jointly by the airborne and airlift commanders. They consider the requirement for CCTs to be fully operational in minimum time after reaching the DZ/LZ.

The CCT's mission is to quickly establish assault zones (DZs/LZs) in austere and nonpermissive environments. The mission includes initially placing en route and terminal navigational aids; controlling air traffic; providing communications; and removing obstacles and unexploded ordnance with demolitions. Each team consists of Air Force parachutists trained and equipped for mobile operations. A standard team is composed of 2 officers and 24 enlisted men; however, a commander may tailor manning authorizations as required.

The Army LRS team in the airborne assault conducts R&S operations on one or two NAI in the objective area. The team also observes and reports on the status of the DZ/FLS. The LRSU in the airborne division consists of six teams of six men each. The team leader is a SSG; his assistant is a SGT. There are three SP4 scout/observers and one PFC RATELO. All members of the team carry the basic infantry MOS and are required to be parachute qualified. The team leader is coded as an airborne ranger.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:20:20 Zulu