Large-scale paratrooper operations are no longer relevant. History has shown the problem of logistical resupply can be disastrous. As aircraft become more expensive and anti-air defenses more lethal, the idea of paratrooper operations larger than the company level are unrealistic. The U.S. Army must stop wasting millions of dollars a year keeping large numbers of paratroopers "qualified" with monthly jumps, that are mostly done to snag extra pay. Even helicopter crews in airborne units are required to jump each month. Each brigade in the 82nd Airborne division should consist of one just paratroop battalion, with the rest organized for rapid deployment as "airmobile" battalions, since airmobile troops go airborne too.
The Army should also break its three battalions in the 75th Ranger regiment into company-size units, thus eliminating the battalion staff and saving manpower. They should be led by a Major with a large company headquarters to carry out the smaller-scale special operations a modern army truly needs. The value of deep commando raids are obvious. However, there are two other paratrooper roles that the Army has long ignored.
Counterinsurgency is best fought in small units, either four-man reconnaissance teams or reinforced squads. These are occasionally ambushed by a larger force and reinforcing ground units are too distant to react in time. A similar situation occurs when a transport helicopter is forced down, often by enemy fire. In both cases, the enemy closes in while the defenders run low on ammunition. The common solution is to send a rescue force via helicopter. However, the enemy knows that helicopters are likely to arrive, so they set up heavy machine guns at likely landing spots to ambush them. This was so common in Vietnam that the enemy often left downed aircrews alone, knowing they would scream for help on their radio and entice helicopter rescue pilots to take foolish risks.
This is also a problem in Afghanistan. The Washington Post ran an excellent series "Ambush in Takur Ghar" on May 23, 2002 that describes what happened when U.S. Army Rangers landed by helicopter to rescue a four-man Navy SEAL team pinned down by enemy fire:
"The Rangers were supposed to exit down a back ramp in an order they had practiced countless times. Those on the left would assemble outside on the left side of the chopper. Those on the right would assemble right. But the moment had turned into a mad scramble to get out in whatever order they could. One Ranger, Spc. Marc A. Anderson, was shot and killed while still in the helicopter. Two others -- Pfc. Matthew A. Commons and Sgt. Bradley S. Crose -- were gunned down on the ramp."
This exact same situation occurred in 2004 in Afghanistan, which resulted in a downed Chinook in which every soul onboard perished, while the SEAL team was killed after running out of ammo. The solution is to keep a platoon-size paratrooper rescue force on alert. They can fly in on a C-130 or smaller aircraft that are twice as fast as helicopters with three times their range. Moreover, the paratroopers can land almost anywhere while their aircraft makes a surprise low-level drop near the firefight, or perhaps a mile away. Ideally, attack aircraft will bomb while the paratroopers are dropped to hide the engine noise of the transport aircraft. Another option is a higher level drop at night while jets strafe the enemy to keep him down as paratroopers covertly land nearby.
This may seem dangerous, but far less than landing a big CH-47 near a firefight where the enemy is expecting its arrival and waiting at the likely LZs. The enemy has plenty of time or ready the ambush as the helicopter's distinctive whomp, whomp noise announces its arrival. In contrast, the surprise appearance of paratroopers is likely to confuse an enemy and cause him to flee. Moreover, the enemy is unlikely to get a shot off at fast flying fixed-wing transport, compared to a helo that must land in an open field for a minute while everyone files off. A paratrooper quick-reaction team is also useful for protecting downed pilots and helicopter crews until the "cavalry" arrives.
A second use for paratroopers is to land atop buildings during bloody urban warfare fighting while attack helos provide cover fire. If dropped at night in good weather with modern steerable parachutes, paratroopers can land safely, especially if they have GPS to help guide them. Another option is a high altitude drop in hopes of achieving a stealthy landing where their arrival is unknown by those inside a building. Ideally, paratroopers land on a vacant building a couple blocks behind enemy fighters, so they can secure the building with no fighting. Once defenders of a city learn their enemy has somehow secured a large building behind them, they are likely to withdraw to avoid entrapment.
This is dangerous, but much better than grinding street battles fighting door-to-door and up flights of stairs in large buildings. Paratroopers landing atop buildings can completely surprise defenders. This is how German paratroopers quickly seized fortified complexes in Belgium in 1940. This is also valuable for hostage rescue or to capture senior enemy leaders. Paratroopers should be equipped with rope so they can rappel down should their chute become hung on a rooftop object, or to rappel down to a window for covert entry. Precision landings are routinely performed by the U.S. Army's "Golden Knights" parachute demonstration team.
Large scale paratrooper tactics are impractical and dangerous. In the U.S. Army, it is just a game to pretend that a full division may be airdropped, ignoring the fact that the U.S. Air Force could never assemble enough airlift to support more than a brigade-size drop, and would never fly dozens of large expensive transports near major enemy forces. Company-size paratrooper operations and below remain valuable, although they deny Generals and even Colonels a chance at glorious assaults with thousands of paratroopers. Today's paratroopers are adrift, and need pathfinders to show them a meaningful role.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
G2mil editorials may be freely distributed without permission
Ed: I live mostly overseas now so editions have been difficult to publish in a timely manner. I will try using a laptop starting this winter, but if broken or stolen, G2mil editions may fall behind until I return to the USA. My writings appear weekly at www.sandersresearch.com. Most are not military related, but access is free if you register.
Fall 2007 Articles
Letters - comments from G2mil readers
Strategic Materials - a neglected element
Bait Ships - can save destroyers
Looting Kosovo - motives and consequences
Future Marine Aviation Plan (ppt) - far fewer aircraft (in powerpoint)
The General's Report - the unwanted messenger
Joint Failure - JCS games
Historian Reflects on War - and his son's death in Iraq
Are U.S. Soldiers Wearing the Best Body Armor? - experts like "Dragon Skin"
Russia Accused of Unleashing Cyberwar - to disable Estonia
The Secret Plot - to kill al-Sadr
Widening the War - in the southern Philippines
Why America Lost in Iraq - Rumsfeld suckered by RMA
Fighting Folly - The U.S. Army's FCS
GIs in Iraq - no longer true believers
China Biggest Asian Military Spender - yet far less than the USA
The Occupation of Iraq - deep insight
Wiped off the Map - Iran's leader never said that
U.S. Doubles Air Attacks - a kill'm all strategy
U.S. Army Sergeant Hanged - lynching an Arab?
Rewrite the Iraq War History - ignoring the truth
Previous G2mil - Summer 2007 issue
The Spectrum of Future Warfare - Carlton Meyer's book
Past Editorials - by Carlton Meyer
Library Tour - visit G2mil's library
Library Entrance - members only
All material in G2mil Copyright 2007 G2mil,
patents pending on some items. Links to www.G2mil.com are encouraged.
All material in G2mil Copyright 2007 G2mil, patents pending on some items. Links to www.G2mil.com are encouraged.