Friday, January 08, 2016


Over at his joint Defence and Freedom Sven links to a paper discussing a topic I've mentioned here (but more often over at the MilPub) before; the actual military value of airborne troops in modern times.

I had a fun time playing paratrooper back in the day, but even in the 1980s I had a hard time imagining surviving the run-in to a truly well-defended drop zone. The combination of better target acquisition devices (i.e. radar) and a profusion of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles seemed to present an impossible thicket to force compared to the big drops of the 1940s.

That and the fact that a defending force with even a small group of relatively light armored vehicles (like Paraguay's old Shermans!) could do some pretty serious damage to paratroops if they were on hand before the units could assemble and scrounge up their light antitank weapons. The linked paper's author, one Marc Devore, points out all of this and that, based on their unwillingness to hazard airborne operations in real wars, the planners and operational commanders of the major airborne powers know this.
The other fun thing about the Devore paper (which is called, delightfully, When Failure Thrives) is that it notes that the people whose paratroops have actually done the best work militarily - the British - have shrunk their airborne force to next to nothing. The holders of the House Cup for Airborne Disasters, the Soviets, hung on to a pantsload of blue-beret wearing heroes, while my Army, intermediate in action was also middling in its affection for us devils in baggy pants. But...that the realities of budgets, tactics, and priorities suggest that my old division really needs to be rolled up and put away in the toy closet of military treasures alongside the old horse cavalry divisions...

1 comment:

Brian Train said...

Interesting paper, I intend to read it.
"Airborne" these days tends to mean "heliborne" or "air-landed" troops.
You're right, of course, there's little point in jumping into battle.
I suspect a lot of the jump school, selection BS is there for bonding and morale purposes, like the USMC "crucible" exercise in their basic training.