The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

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The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Balrog »

Given how much helicopters and other VTOL aircraft have taken over in this role, is there still a point for maintaining paratroopers and conducting the types of large-scale airborne assaults we saw in the past esp. WWII? Both for the common brushfire wars of the last few decades and potential conflicts between major powers.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Purple »

Large scale assaults such as in WW2 no, no way. But there is still plenty of room for more limited deployments. The Russians even maintain armored airborne units (yes with actual IFV's and tanks) for that role. It's just that you'll be seeing 3-5 aircraft dropping people as opposed to 300.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Simon_Jester »

Balrog wrote:Given how much helicopters and other VTOL aircraft have taken over in this role, is there still a point for maintaining paratroopers and conducting the types of large-scale airborne assaults we saw in the past esp. WWII? Both for the common brushfire wars of the last few decades and potential conflicts between major powers.
Nobody really emphasizes the use of massed parachute assaults anymore. Many 'paratroopers' (more accurately 'airborne infantry') train and focus on helicopter tactics.

However, there are still situations where it's not practical to deliver the troops by helicopter, usually because of range limitations or the threat of man-portable anti-air missiles that a transport plane can fly out of range of but a helicopter can't. So sometimes you do still have significant forces (company or battalion sized, say) parachuting out of transport planes.

So basically, the world already figured out you were right decades ago, and no longer trains huge forces to do division-sized paradrops like the ones in World War Two.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Broomstick »

Dropping people out of an aircraft, especially at night, is still a great way to get a few people into an area without attracting a lot of attention, at least in some circumstances. So yes, they retain some utility.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by TimothyC »

Paratroops offer a useful capability to have, and one that would be expensive to regenerate if removed. While there have been only two large combat jumps post Vietnam (Panama in 1989 and Iraq in 2003), the five Brigades that are available offer a very useful secondary capability - that of light, air deployable infantry that can go in on C-130s.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Simon_Jester »

That's a relevant point- when counting the cost of a thing, you should also count the cost of having to re-purchase and re-create it if you get rid of it and turn out to need it again.

It's like, if I won't need a car for the next four months, selling my car may seem very economical up front... but the cost of having to buy another car all over again in six months is almost certainly going to swamp any benefits I derive from not having the costs associated with the car in the short term.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by U.P. Cinnabar »

TimothyC wrote:Paratroops offer a useful capability to have, and one that would be expensive to regenerate if removed. While there have been only two large combat jumps post Vietnam (Panama in 1989 and Iraq in 2003), the five Brigades that are available offer a very useful secondary capability - that of light, air deployable infantry that can go in on C-130s.
Also, Grenada in '83, when the 75th Rangers were inserted by parachute.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Sea Skimmer »

TimothyC wrote:Paratroops offer a useful capability to have, and one that would be expensive to regenerate if removed. While there have been only two large combat jumps post Vietnam (Panama in 1989 and Iraq in 2003), the five Brigades that are available offer a very useful secondary capability - that of light, air deployable infantry that can go in on C-130s.
Yeah that's really the big deal. They are equipped and trained to move rapidly by air, and while a large scale drop is unlikely to ever take place dropping one or two battalions to seize an airfield is still very plausible, followed by air landing the rest rapidly. Al Also airborne forces often drop with very customized units, the 101st also operates this way. For example for seizing an airfield in open terrine we might drop one battalion of infantry, but two of artillery and the two anti tank (TOW) companies of the other battalions of the infantry brigade. This can make a small air dropped force a lot more potent then it looks. All the more so now that troops can drop with 155mm artillery firing guided shells. HIMARS cannot be air dropped, but it can be air landed loaded and I believe the ammo can be air dropped. That kind of firepower was totally out of the hands of airborne units before.

The V-22 though, and frankly even the earliest inflight refueling helicopters, really undermined any remaining case for brigade+ drops. Large scale helicopter operations have limitations concerning the HUGE areas required both as LZs and the parking areas for the choppers on the ground, which easily rival airfields, but the fact that this need not be ONE single area is very big. In principle an air drop can get a lot more troops onto the ground quickly, but that will generally mean dropping them onto a very obvious and thus risky location too, like directly onto an airfield. The stomach for doing this was always low. The success record for airborne operations since 1940 in terms of actually accomplish a non diversionary objective is itself rather low, though Portugal used a shitload of paratroopers in company-battalion operations in its colonial wars of which little is readily documented.
Purple wrote:Large scale assaults such as in WW2 no, no way. But there is still plenty of room for more limited deployments. The Russians even maintain armored airborne units (yes with actual IFV's and tanks) for that role. It's just that you'll be seeing 3-5 aircraft dropping people as opposed to 300.
Keep in mind the Russians never intended those units as just airborne troops. They are also intended for operations in marshy ground that would never support medium-heavy armor, which between the swamps and the Tundra is a pretty large portion of Russian territory. They have 100% amphibious armored vehicles too of course. Back in WW2 the Russians gained an advantage many times by deploying light tank brigades (note the vast numbers they built) alongside infantry corps in swamps and dense forests, where even the ~24 ton Stug and Panzer III were too heavy to go. The Russian airborne units are also simply an elite core of the army that are mostly volunteers and chosen for extra political reliability, today as well as Soviet times.

The Chinese are now fielding a fair number of similar light mechanized units, driven by the same general requirements, with the wet hills of south west China being another consideration (see earlier Type 62 light tank too). The US doesn't opt for this because long deployment distances undermine the value of such specialist mechanized troops (keeping in mind BMD flank armor is weaker then some hummve doors). They still want a new light tank for the 82nd airborne but its a pretty low priority now that suddenly people remember RUSSIA still has an Army. Stryker is too heavy to be comparable in role, though with the new suspension and bigger wheels it always should have had its at least no longer so clumsy.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by LaCroix »

Germany also has a specialiced paratrooper armored unit , the Wiesel1/2.
Light (4 to a plane), fast (80-100kph) and very hard to hit due to size and agility. The TOW (and the 120mm mortar) variant add a significant firepower to any unit.

Their 'Ozelot' variant also allows a stinger-equipped AA unit including radar and command post to be dropped by a single airplane.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Zwinmar »

Large scale Helo ops would be easier in some ways, namely that they can embark/debark aboard ship. Another advantage being that the Helos can act in a gunship capacity providing close air support.

As for an LZ, they only really need a field, it does not need to be prepared like a fixed wing would need. I have been dropped off in many fields/meadows/and even a soccer stadium. Never set foot on the Osprey, at the time I was in they were falling out of the sky for no reason as it was the early days of testing.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Lord Revan »

I suspect that it'll take quite a while before Helos replace paratroopers for covert insertion since jumping fom high flying plane is still IIRC more silent then having a helicopter drop you off.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Sea Skimmer »

LaCroix wrote:Germany also has a specialiced paratrooper armored unit , the Wiesel1/2.
Light (4 to a plane), fast (80-100kph) and very hard to hit due to size and agility. The TOW (and the 120mm mortar) variant add a significant firepower to any unit.

Their 'Ozelot' variant also allows a stinger-equipped AA unit including radar and command post to be dropped by a single airplane.
That's not for paratroopers. The vehicle was designed for internal transport in the CH-53 helicopter and has never been air drop rated because the thing is physically too weak to survive the impact. They smashed several of them trying certainly. Its intended wartime role was as an air landed anti tank blocking force against Soviet breakthroughs within or near friendly lines, which is why for so long the only variants fielded were with 20mm cannon or TOW, and two thirds of them with the latter weapon.

Having heard first hand accounts of the Ontos in Vietnam, and considering that body armor is now stronger then its hull I cannot see such a vehicle has having any real utility in an offensive role. Or at least not much past what you could already get much more easily and cheaply out of something like the Mechanical Mule. Extremely lightweight vehicles being rampantly and utterly destroyed is a great way to have your troops moral implode.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by LaCroix »

I didn't know it failed airdrop tests.

In that case, it's a classic case of Maxime 11 - Everything is air-droppable at least once.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Sea Skimmer »

Supposedly the US Army did trials in the 1950s and 60s to try to find a way to air drop a medium tank, and splattered a couple of Sherman and M48 hulls in the process. Load simply too big for a parachute rig you can get to deploy and still stow on the plane (clearly external carriage on tank-pylons would improve the situation!). The Russians retro rocket approach to landing the BMDs is pretty neat but the USAF rightly rejects the idea of having a shitload of fused and primed rockets rigged up in the cargo bay like that. It doesn't scale up well either, you start to need active flight control.

Air drop is very hard on equipment because you need a high sink rate to get the load anywhere near the drop zone. So even if you can add a much bigger canopy and make the landing softer you don't want to do this. That's no doubt why the Wiesel trials failed. I don't think it was all that serious a requirement to the Germans anyway, a more elaborate solution might have worked but West Germany really didn't have much fixed wing air transport capability compared to its needs and only one airborne brigade.

If you start going into sci-fic - absurdo budget land though the GLIDER is still a relevant idea if you don't care about the up front cost. Imagine a JSOW like weapon...except it has a single person inside who parachutes out at 100 feet, or of course one the size of a house with a tank in it, I've seen a basic design for a glider for two M1 tanks and it looks buildable if nothing else. But the LZ would have to be huge.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Adam Reynolds »

Sea Skimmer wrote: If you start going into sci-fic - absurdo budget land though the GLIDER is still a relevant idea if you don't care about the up front cost. Imagine a JSOW like weapon...except it has a single person inside who parachutes out at 100 feet, or of course one the size of a house with a tank in it, I've seen a basic design for a glider for two M1 tanks and it looks buildable if nothing else. But the LZ would have to be huge.
How would you tow such a beast? It would have to weigh as much as a C-17. Not to mention the logistical nightmare of supporting an armored assault with air drops.

Amusingly, I recall one of the various idiot military reformist sites arguing for the same thing. Behold the glory of the M113 "Gavin" glider, which even had Sidewinders to shoot down enemy helicopters on the way down.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Sea Skimmer »

Adam Reynolds wrote: How would you tow such a beast? It would have to weigh as much as a C-17. Not to mention the logistical nightmare of supporting an armored assault with air drops.
Was to be towed by a C-5 and probably use some rocket assist at takeoff, 140ft span box wing (this type of wing is key to not having a HUGGGGE glider) and about 100 feet long. Since the C-5 cannot land on anything but a big well prepared runway, something like 11,000 feet in fact for worst case MTOW performance, and I forget either 5 or 6,000ft as an utter minimal, this would have advantages in some contexts. The logistical support issue wouldn't be too bad as long as we are talking ~1 company of tanks max, in fact since the C-5 would still be able to carry some cargo and thus say, air drop a couple of trucks to go with the tanks. Certainly not a highly serious proposal, but not impossible and remains the only idea I've seen to land a main battle tank without needing a major runway.

Amusingly, I recall one of the various idiot military reformist sites arguing for the same thing. Behold the glory of the M113 "Gavin" glider, which even had Sidewinders to shoot down enemy helicopters on the way down.
Sparky was still in the Army around the time said glider was proposed, so no doubt the same thing.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

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Ah I should have also included that the C-17 did ultimately prove able to do a rough field landing with an M1 tank, but only after many years of development, and poorly. The tank glider article is from 1993 when it was still not certain the C-17 would even be mass produced due to politics and test problems.

Basic problem is it just doesn't have enough tire area for a really weak runway, nor will any dirt runway short of dry hard baked earth really tolerate the touchdown zone for long. Just too much plane so after a couple of takeoff and landing runs the runway starts to rapidly need bulldozer and metal mat repairs. You can air drop that stuff, a 82nd engineer company exists to do it, but the matter is they can't work if the runway is in use. So it shuts down. A lot of concrete runways start to hit the same problems when they are old or weak. If you want a lot of equipment down on the ground quickly and operational a glider force makes sense for the same reason paratroopers make sense, the entire plane load comes down at once. You'll loose some but if its an unmanned glider whatever would be the idea, this is an exercise in spending money after all.

With air landing its almost certainly just going to be one plane at a time, and since you probably don't have much ramp space on the ground for C-17 sized aircraft the total operating rate just can't be that high. That was crippling to the Haiti airlift after the earthquake for a prime example. Building up any real force by air landing takes days. Particularly if you need to airlift in your helicopters, which is another cargo the giant glider would have been able to air drop, probably not something we'd risk with an Apache but the OH-58 sure. Even with inflight refueling helicopters need a long time to ferry anywhere, V-22 certainly has a big advantage on that but it better for the price!
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Elheru Aran »

So, should there be any occasion to deploy a heavy airborne force quickly, is the plan to either do it old-school and just drive tanks up to reinforce them, or are there any contingency plans to build a bunch of really big gliders really quickly?
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Starglider »

Gliders, pah. The V-12 could lift 44 tons to 8000ft back in 1969. Build one of those with modern engines, rotor system and composite hull, I'm sure it could manage 65 tons. Then all you need is seabasing and you can sling load your M1s into the combat zone. :)
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by jwl »

It makes me think: is there any use in training base jumping in normal soldiers? It might be useful if they need to move quickly across terrain they would otherwise have to go right around.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Elheru Aran »

jwl wrote:It makes me think: is there any use in training base jumping in normal soldiers? It might be useful if they need to move quickly across terrain they would otherwise have to go right around.
Base jumping? No. It's mostly a stunt. If soldiers have to change altitude quickly, they're going to use rope. You really expect Private Joe Smith to jump off perfectly good ground and throw out a parachute in time to not go splat? Waste of money. Rope's cheaper, too.

That said, I would be rather surprised if some Special Forces types don't do that. Standard infantry, even paratroops? Not really.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Lord Revan »

Elheru Aran wrote:
jwl wrote:It makes me think: is there any use in training base jumping in normal soldiers? It might be useful if they need to move quickly across terrain they would otherwise have to go right around.
Base jumping? No. It's mostly a stunt. If soldiers have to change altitude quickly, they're going to use rope. You really expect Private Joe Smith to jump off perfectly good ground and throw out a parachute in time to not go splat? Waste of money. Rope's cheaper, too.

That said, I would be rather surprised if some Special Forces types don't do that. Standard infantry, even paratroops? Not really.
I'm pretty sure rope is still cheaper,faster, stealthier and more relible, also useble in pretty much all terrains, remember that real Special Forces aren't about looking cool but getting the job done as efficiently as possible.

closest thing base jumping would probably be HALO jumps and those aren't used that much IIRC because their high risk.
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Sea Skimmer »

Starglider wrote:Gliders, pah. The V-12 could lift 44 tons to 8000ft back in 1969. Build one of those with modern engines, rotor system and composite hull, I'm sure it could manage 65 tons. Then all you need is seabasing and you can sling load your M1s into the combat zone. :)
No doubt on that but seabasing and giant helicopters are themselves very expensive, so the glider which is largely just simple composite structures can compete! Keep in mind tank glider is not 100% expendable, no glider ever was, recovery would be in pieces by truck or helicopter.

Sikorsky and Boeing both also put a lot of time into similar large helicopters in the 1960s and 70s paper and some mockup work, but they run into serious operational problems even if you make them work well. The landing zones become huge, hard to maintain them because they get so tall and the engines are on top ect...The V-12 never could solve its vibrational problems, nor is that solved now, many supercomputers work away at it.

Functionally your just not going to be able to operate past a 100nm radius with giant sling loads because the aircraft is so damn slow and burns so much fuel to fly no matter what, and you'll be vulnerable to rifle fire the whole way, helicopters really cant evade at all with big slung loads. They have to drop them. Meanwhile with the M1 tank glider we can approach at 450 knots and fire the retro rockets at around 200 knots. Clearly this is operationally superior for an assault mission. This is also the basic reason why paratroopers still exist on a serious scale.

We can solve these speed problems by building a giant tilting wing hexorotor aircraft for I dunno, 45 billion dollars. Then each one will probably cost another 450 million but it could be done given two or three decades.

Another solution would be to design a 60 ton tank that comes apart into two pieces, though it'd be hard to split the weight up evenly. If you could find a way to do that I'm sure a solution could be found to assembling it in the field....
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Zeropoint »

If I didn't know better, I'd say that this is how you end up at jet fighters that transform into giant robots. :D
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Re: The Utility of Paratroopers in Future Conflicts?

Post by Esquire »

Surely lifting one or more thirty-ton hunks of steel would be difficult to manage for light infantry? What kind of industrial apparati would we need to deploy with airborne units?

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