A British Parachuting Capability?

Referring to
The Journal of Military Operations
Col (Ret) David Benest  

He does refute some arguments against airborne troops, but he did not address the elephant in the room: Western air drop operations are no true combined arms efforts unless you count infantry + air support as such. (Their indirect fire capability is little more than a fig leaf.)

Combined arms can be defined differently. I consider a mix of infantry (including anti-tank defences), Armour, dependable support fires (arty or mortars) and combat engineers as combined arms, and strongly suspect electronic warfare should be added.

Well, what do Western paratroops forces have after an air drop?
(1) Infantry (with anti-tank defences depending on the shaped charge principle)
(2) Few mortars and/or howitzers (with precarious ammunition supply)
(3) Minimal combat engineer capabilities
(4) Minimal electronic warfare capabilities
(5) No armour (Wiesel is a weapons carrier and should NOT count as "armour".)

Western-style airborne troops may be overwhelming against some Third World thugs, but they're underwhelming against a capable opponent unless attached to better-equipped ground forces and employed as mere infantry reinforcements.

This inability is self-inflicted. We could equip Western airborne troops with armoured vehicles (mobility, protection, payload), better EW capabilities,  better indirect fire capabilities.

Russian airborne troops in a staged (stupid) combined arms attack attack
We don't.
Russian-style airborne AFVs are repelling to Western decisionmakers because they're merely protected against light HE munitions and 7.62 mm threats. Most of what would need to be given to airborne troops to make them more capable would be badly degraded by weight restraints. This includes indirect fire weapons, whose appetite for vast volumes and tonnages of ammunition is a supreme challenge for any logistically restrained force.

Furthermore, some countries (such as Germany) have redefined airborne troops into budget forces (a cheap 12th German army division during the Cold War) or into regular infantry (Germany has very little infantry forces other than mechanised infantry, airborne and mountain troops now).

Western airborne effectively is some kind of relatively cheap infantry force or a kind of motorised rifle division when deployed with surface transports. It is unlikely to come under unusual budgetary threat as long as it plays this role. 
The real question about Western airborne troops should thus not be whether we want them or not, but whether we want enable them into an airborne combined arms force that would actually pose an effective airborne threat to opponents better than Third World punching balls.

I guess this question depends a lot on whether we believe in being capable (and having big enough balls) to send a sizeable force on an airborne mission against capable opponents. Capable opponents might have some say regarding how much of said force arrives at all.



  1. Col. Benest's article fails to take into account modern air defences and their probable efficacy in the hands of an operator who does not scream for aid from Allah and abandon the control van at the sight of a contact on the radar screen, which was what happened in several cases in our primary metric in the Middle East - and this assumes air superiority in the sense that enemy fighter-interceptors are not a concern. I will link some articles of interest to this point from Air Power Australia.

    - http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-2009-02.html

    - http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Sov-SAM-Simulator.html

    - http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-2009-04.html

    I would argue that ALLIED FORCE constitutes our "absolute best case" against a remotely competent opponent, not DESERT STORM or the ridiculously straightforward IRAQI FREEDOM/ENDURING FREEDOM air campaigns.

    As shown in the following article, the current defence-industrial climate allows relatively cheap upgrades to existing SAM systems to proliferate rapidly and vastly complicate the SEAD/DEAD mission against what we might think are "pushover" targets - thanks to the Soviets and their export policies to prop up the Communist bloc, a great many of these exist in the Third World.

    - http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Legacy-SAM-Upgrades.html

    The greatest weakness of parachute infantry is its means of insertion. Their capabilities once on the ground become relevant only after they have been landed and have rallied and reorganized. Even in their current state as Light Infantry at the end of a pretty bad logistics tail, dropping them in numbers into favourable terrain (well, adjacent to, since favourable terrain constitutes a shit drop zone) would allow them to fight acceptably well. The only scenario coming to mind is to paralyze a LoC, for instance putting a Bn+ into the Pripyet Marshes to paralyze the roads leading out of it. To do so however requires the destruction or suppression of an enormous swath of modern air defences to considerable depth.

    1. You don't seem to take into account that airborne troops in inter-state warfare are also important as ultra-quick theatre reserves, to be dropped into friendly terrain to save the day during a local crisis.

      Huge drops are much more likely with this scenario than in a scenario including a drop into hostile terrain.
      SAMs - even area SAMs - are thus likely a lesser concern than CAPs.

    2. If S-300 or S-400 series weapons are pushed up, they can reach considerably into our tactical/operational depth and shit on mass air drops. They would then be vulnerable to artillery fires, but it is a risk nonetheless.

      I had not taken into account the role ABN units can play as "card in the sleeve" theater reserves, no. Since such a role is defensive, they need more organic antiaircraft and antitank firepower - that said, they need that anyways.

  2. Another objection raises itself:
    - If resupply is to be onto the gun line directly, how long does he intend to keep these weapons active? Firing and moving will be a absolutely mandatory task and not all gun positions will be amicable to resupply in this fashion. They will need to be resupplied in this fashion, because the units on the ground will not have sufficient motor capacity to move ammunition under their own power, unless we motorise or mechanize the airborne forces.

    An interesting question the author put forward: Why have gliders become extinct? They are not significantly more vulnerable than the transport aircraft, and are certainly not more vulnerable than the parachutists themselves once they jump. Drone technology allows for the potential of unmanned large cargo delivery in this fashion. If the air situation permits the deployment of parachutists at all, it would presumably also permit the deployment of gliders.

    1. "Why have gliders become extinct?"

      They already had their comeback in HAHO and steered cargo chutes.

      One example

    2. Most excellent, I had not heard of this.

  3. RE: Gliders - this might be of interest. http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/torrisi.html


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