PARATROOPERS LAND: WaPo/AP reports that U.S. Paratroopers Land in Northern Iraq and seized an airfield.

Very odd. Frankly, large-scale airborne operations have been widely considered outmoded since World War II. While it was always a great idea in theory–dropping in large numbers of soldiers suddenly behind the enemy’s lines–it never really worked out all that well. Unlike civilian box chutes, military rigs like the T10-Charlie and “Dash One Bravo” aren’t all that controllable and are designed to put people on the ground quickly, lest they be shot while floating down. The result was always broken bones, soldiers stuck in trees, smashed against buildings, and otherwise rendered useless as fighting troops. As far as I’m aware, there have been no significant division-sized airborne operations since World War II.

Airborne operations are still quite useful, however, at the small unit level, particularly for special operations forces, Rangers, and small intelligence collection missions. More recent developments, like High Altitude, Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude, High Opening (HAHO) parachute drops have been particularly revolutionary.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should divulge that I am, alas, a graduate of the Army’s Airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia. For no really good reason, I jumped five times from a perfectly good airplane “while in flight” in June of 1989.

Update: “But what about Panama? And Haiti” I am asked by curious readers.

Panama: “On December 20, 1989, the 82d Airborne Division conducted their first combat jump since World War II onto Torrijos International Airport, Panama. The 1st Brigade task force made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, parachuted into combat for the first time since World War II. In Panama, the paratroopers were joined on the ground by 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment which was already in Panama. After the night combat jump and seizure of the airport, the 82nd conducted follow-on combat air assault missions in Panama City and the surrounding areas.” (Source: Military Analysis Network–Operation Just Cause) So, two battalions jumped into Panama and were joined by forces already on the ground. The rationale for jumping into Panama always escaped me, however, since we controlled the ground before the war ever started by virtue of a then-large basing arrangement.

Haiti: Haiti?! There was a plan to drop in a handful of paratroopers in the event of a war but one never materialized. We bribed a bunch of dictators to leave and then strolled in casually. Longer version also at Military Analysis Network–Operation Uphold Democracy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.