Are Airborne Forces Obsolete? (Paratroopers)

Discussion in 'Land' started by Pathfinder, Mar 4, 2016.

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  1. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

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    I read an article today that I unfortunately can not locate that talked about how Paratroopers outside of the Special Operations realm are essentially useless as they have not been used on a large scale since WW2 where their performance was not necessarily amazing considering how many casualties they took. In those times air defense systems were not as advanced as today so using paratroopers was a viable option but with todays air defense systems I see little use for Airborne forces against a credible conventional foe. This is coming from me a guy who's family has an Airborne history. However future technologies may help bring the paratrooper back on the scene.

    Where we are now:

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    Successful air drops require air superiority if one wants to drop troops close to or in a combat zone or else you risk losing air planes full of paratroopers to enemy Fighter Jets. Sure paratroopers can be used to reinforce frontline troops duking it out with the bad guys but do airborne forces today have the ability to be dropped close enough to the frontline while staying safe from enemy Fighter's and air defenses?

    Let's dive into a scenario where our guys are fighting in an area where we do not have air superiority and where the enemy has advanced air defense systems such as the S-400. The S-400 can shoot down air craft hundreds of kilometers away from where it is deployed so logically the only safe place to drop paratroopers would be a few hundred kilometers outside of the S-400's range. Guess what we just dropped light infantry hundreds of kilometers away from where they are needed and they have no form of transportation to get where they need to go. This raises the question as to whether or not we even need large amounts of paratroopers if their effectiveness is greatly mitigated or completely non existent with modern air defense technologies.

    The Future:

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    With current parachuting technology the future looks grim for paratroopers but new technologies could brighten their future. "The Special Parachute and Logistics Consortium, is a German venture between two companies with expertise in this area. SPELCO produces a variety of parachute systems, helmets, oxygen supplies and other gear and services. But their most eye-catching project is the Gryphon Next Generation Parachute System (PDF, pictured).

    This is described as a modular upgrade for parachute systems for use in “high-altitude, high-opening” jump missions, typically carried out by Special Forces. This 6-foot wing gives a glide ratio of 5:1, which means that a drop from 30,000 feet will allow you to glide about 30 miles. The makers estimate that this would take around 15 minutes, giving an average speed of about 60 miles an hour."
    http://www.wired.com/2009/12/look-out-below-wingsuits-pushed-for-airbone-assaults/

    Technologies such as glide wings and jet packs could very well help paratroopers reach the frontline while avoiding enemy air defenses however this technology still needs to mature for it to be used on a large scale.
     
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  2. Technofox

    Technofox That Norwegian girl Staff Member Ret. Military Developer

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    Not obsolete, but very situational. Air defenses and air dominance must be established prior to a drop, or else even the best trained soldiers, like 75th Ranger, would be toast before hitting the ground. I'd never expect the US to drop into downtown Beijing, it's too risky.

    Same with assaulting the US mainland. You'll be blown out of the sky by a NASAMS battery or interceptors long before your transports got in range to drop troops. A naval assault is more applicable, but still very risky.

    *Yes, there are NASAMS battery protecting critical assets in the US.
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    But this doesn't mean the airborne assault is useless either, much the same way that airdropping cargo isn't. It's just situational. Paratroops and airborne forces are useful when you need to quickly assault a hard to reach area, such as mountains in Afghanistan or say, Arctic ice, which is something the Russian Paratroops have trained for. In the Arctic, with shifting ice clogging water ways, ice breakers too slow, and land routes non-existent in some stretches, what better way to get around?



    Same with Norwegian mountains:

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    Land routes are too cumbersome to assault such an area, which could be needed as Norwegian bases are spread throughout the nation.

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    Look at the forces the US deployed in Afghanistan, it's a healthy mix of mountain divisions, special operations and paratroops like these soldiers from the 101st:

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    But given the situation, we don't see US armor in Afghanistan (Danish and Canadian, yes. But they have to modify their armor to allow it to operation in Afghanistan), it's too unwieldy in mountainous terrain. This makes the armored assault tactic functionally obsolete in Afghanistan's specific scenario, but in Iraq an armored assault is wholly applicable.

    As with every military op, there are situations it's applicable and ones it's not.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
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  3. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

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    I agree its highly situational with that in mind the amount of Airborne troops could be cut to save costs as they are not used very often. I think for airborne forces to be more relevant they also need to be equipped with proper platforms. Effective light tanks and vehicles should be procured to give airborne forces more mobility once they hit the ground.

    As UGV's get more and more advanced they can play a larger role in airborne operations. I can see dropping autonomous vehicles armed with ATGM's and even stingers close to the front lines so that they can penetrate enemy lines and wreak havoc in the rear.

    Imagine dropping small autonomous vehicles that have ground surveillance radars and radars that detect enemy aircraft. I think innovative ideas like this can be very effective.
     
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  4. Vergennes

    Vergennes Captain Staff Member Ret. Military International Mod

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    The recent French military interventions in Africa proved that airborne forces weren't useless. (We also tought it was useless.)
    Just to put in perspectives,the terrorists were equipped with a lot of air defence artillery guns and manpads. (That they looted from Libyan's army stocks.)
    The last airborne operation conducted by the French forces was in.... Kolwezi.
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    January 28, 2013, French soldiers of the 2e REP (2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment) were parachuted into strategic points overnight to recapture Timbuktu from Islamist rebels.


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    On February 8,2013,the airport of Tessalit was seized during an airborne operation by the French special forces.
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    On February 9,2013,a new airborne operation was conducted in which soldiers from the 17éme Régiment du génie parachutiste (17th engineer airborne regiment) were parachuted with vehicles and equipments and quickly repaired the Tessalit airport trackway.


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    Some months ago,a new airborne operation was conducted by the soldiers of the 2e REP during the Operation Barkhane.

     
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  5. Technofox

    Technofox That Norwegian girl Staff Member Ret. Military Developer

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    I love the idea of armed UGVs, even something heavier like this Russian UGV:

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    Or light UGVs armed with ATGMs, as you suggested. Once again, Russia, however unwieldy they may be, and they seem to lack maneuverability, is taking a lead:

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    Another interesting concept for light infantry is the concept of armed light UAVs:, and I mean really light UAVs. Think DJI Phantom rather than RQ-7 Shadow.

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    Russia has suggested it has armed such with a "Flamethrower." It's worth mentioning that in Russia's military nomenclature, flamethrower also references thermobaric weapons and thus is more likely to be a MRO-A (or the newer Varna) then an actual thrower of flames:

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    Or maybe a GM-94 light infantry flamethrower:

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    But I'll agree that airborne troops need to have increase firepower, especially in the category of light tanks and anti-tank weapons.

    ...

    But are we discussing paratroops only? If so, then you and I are mostly on the same page. But Airborne assault also included helicopters, and if this is included I may diverge a bit. I think helo assaults, with aircraft like Osprey are the future of Airborne forces. Moreso if the Marines decided to arm the Osprey:

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    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
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