Air Mobile Infantry
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Air Mobile Infantry:

Primary role & function:


Airmobile infantry is basically light infantry units transported by - and deployed from, the air - in various types of aircrafts. When the insertion area is reached they are normally deployed either by jumping out of the aircraft with parachutes, or by the "touch and go" method (the airplane/helicopter lands, the troops embark, then the aircraft quickly takes of again). Another method used during the Second World War was by a troop-carrying glider airplane that was towed by a bomber or a regular transporter. The glider was realized close to the LZ and then landed as close to the intended LZ as possible.

The transport by air enables a quick deployment of many troops and their equipment. The aircraft can reach behind the enemy lines and hereby the troops can perform surprise assaults at the depths of the battlefield. Usually they are deployed behind enemy lines which enable an attack against the enemy’s rear or flanks. Their primary role is of tactical nature, such as: secure vital areas (airfields, harbours, bridges, etc.) for the other military units (regular army, naval forces, air force, etc.). Carry out reconnaissance, perform raids and sabotage at the depth of a hostile territory. Disturb or disrupt the enemies’ logistics, supply lines and activity. Cut of smaller units and create a feeling of entrapment within the enemy forces. Decept enemy units and lead them astray.

Organisation, armament & equipment:

The supplies for the airmobile infantry are limited, especially for low level operations. They are depending of ammunition, food, etc. to be brought by air (in canister drops from airplanes [with or without parachute], by helicopters, etc.) or by using the enemies resources. Depending on the given mission the modern airmobile infantry could gain access to basically the same recourses as a regular force. At bigger operations the have their own fire support (Close Air Support, light artillery & mortars, air defence missiles, etc.), means of ground transportations, and light armoured vehicles (often specially designed for this type of operation - such as the Russian BMD-3), which follows them in the drop. Heavy equipment can be deployed either by big parachutes or by the "touch and go" method. These bigger drops require big open areas and the forces are often scattered over several fields/drop zones (DZ).

The different types of air mobile infantry:

Paratrooper drop

DELIVERED BY PARACHUTE (Paratrooper, Airborne, Fallschirmjäger):

Airmobile infantry delivered by parachute has long range capabilities, especially when since most cargo aircraft can be refuelled in the air. The greater amount of troops and equipment that are used, the bigger open areas are required. Smaller units with more specialized tasks are expected to fight and survive isolated for along time behind enemy lines. At bigger operations they have access to small light armoured vehicles, and light artillery. Most jumps - at least of smaller scale - are carried out at night, under the cover of darkness. To the jumpers aid they have GPS navigation devices that helps them finding the LZ.

There are three basic types of jumps from an aircraft: HAHO (High Altitude High Opening), HALO (High Altitude Low opening) and LALO (Low Altitude Low Opening). HAHO & HALO are more common for smaller units assigned to perform sabotage and reconnaissance missions within the enemies territory, The high altitude - usually above 8200m - is well above the visual and auditory range of enemy ground troops and also at a safe distance from Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and shoulder launched Surface-to-Air missiles (SAM). An important thing to remember in the HAHO and HALO situation is the risks for hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and hypothermia (congelation). For HALO and HAHO operations, commercial aircrafts with civilian markings - flying on normal traffic routes are often used to hide an insertion. The commercial aircrafts sends out an IFF-signature and hence it's usually ignored by Air defence systems.

The disadvantage of HALO and HAHO jumps are that the high altitude requires special equipment due to the environmental pressure and temperatures. The jumpers have to bring oxygen, respirators and protective clothing in order to survive. The third alternative, LALO, is used to avoid enemy radar and minimize time in the air for the jumper.


The HAHO alternative allows the airplane to fly at a high altitude (8200-10 000m) outside a restricted airspace or coastline, etc. The jumpers are equipped with specialised wing-canopied parachutes that are fully steerable. This type of jump allows the paratrooper to have 120% more time in the air then if a Static-line or HALO jump were used. If the aircraft is flying at an altitude of 10 000m the jumper freefalls for about 10-15 seconds before activating their parachutes at 8500m.

A well trained HAHO jumper can hang glide for a very long time (up to 80 minutes) and hereby reach a far distance (up to 80km) in order to reach the landing zone. The jumper in the lowest position is usually the one who act as a guide for his team members and is responsible for navigation. He can navigate by using landmarks, easy spottable terrain features, compass and GPS. It also allows the airplane to fly outside a restricted aerospace and still being able to employ troops to the area within the restricted zone.

The HALO (also known as Military Free Fall [MFF]) alternative requires that the aircraft flies closer to the landing zone although at a high altitude (usually above 8200m). The jumpers uses a method called "freefall", where they fall freely for 2-3 minutes (about 95% of the drop distance) at a relatively high speed towards the landing zone. By pulling the cord and activate the parachute between 300-600m, this technique helps the jumpers to make a silent insertion - avoid radar systems etc. and provide them with minimum exposure until the very last minute.

LALO alternative is usually used at bigger airdrops or at small unit operations - where stealth is vital. The low altitude allows a very fast deployment of the troops - with a minimum time hanging in the air. It can also help the aircraft in avoiding radar systems but makes it VERY vournable to Anti-Aircraft defence systems. The jumpers deploys at 150-600m height using the static line. Modern parachutes specially designed for low altitude jumps can allow jumps at an altitude of 76m.

Static Line refers to a mechanism that activates the parachute when leaving the aircraft. The parachute ripcord is attached to a cable running along the inside of the aircraft. When the jump is initiated - the line unravels to full length (~30m) - before pulling taut and drawing the parachute from the pack - freefall time is about 2-3 seconds. These so called Static-line jumps are usually carried out at low altitude in order to reduce the time the jumper is exposed to enemy fire. Static-line jumps are also usually restricted to large unit deployments only.

During a LALO jump the individual paratrooper have to take the following 5 steps under consideration:

  • Proper exit - check body position and count. Proper body position is to ensure the jumper does not tumble out of the aircraft, making it less that the parachute will deploy and become entangled. A count to four ensures that the jumper gives their chute adequate time to deploy and if needed to deploy the reserve parachute.
  • Check canopy and gain canopy control. Ensures that when the parachute deploys there are no defects, which may force the jumper to deploy the reserve.
  • Keeping watch for all jumpers during the entire descent is intended to prevent collisions or "theft" of air. This is done by the rules of three: [1] Always look before you turn - [2] turn right to avoid collisions - [3] the lower jumper has the right of way...
  • Slip and turn into the wind and prepare for landing. Maximizes the control of the descent and decreases the speed of travel.
  • Landing - Execute a proper parachute landing fall by using motion to transfer the force of impact when hitting the ground.

Tree jumping is a method developed during the British operations in vast jungle areas during WW2. The idea was for the jumper to land in a treetop that would brake the fall. Since there were limited open areas and the squad might have to be inserted in an area where there were no open space large enough - this method was tested. It proved to be very dangerous and the method was soon to be abandoned.



Air mobile infantry delivered by helicopter carries very limited equipment and supply. The operations have the advantage of short preparation time and allows rapid deployment of troops to a specific area. Another advantage is that the helicopter can follow canyons, etc. and fly bellow radar level.

At bigger or medium level operations they have just as the paratroopers, access to small light armoured vehicles and light artillery. This type of forces can be deployed very quickly at small open areas but has limited range that can be extended if the helicopter can be refueld in the air.

The troops can jump from the helicopter with parachutes, use the "touch-n-go" method, by repelling down (descend to ground from a hovering helicopter with the aid of ropes - a.k.a. "fast rope") or climb up/down a rope ladder. The "touch-n-go" method requires open spaces and takes a longer time then the repel method. Hence the repel method is used when time is of essence or the "touch-n-go method isn't applicable due to the enemies activities or obstacles in the terrain (thick vegetation, treetops, swamps, water, buildings, etc.). The repel method is very common in urban environment where the troops are deployed on rooftops etc. or in Visit Board Search & Seize (VBSS) operations. One platoon can deploy in less then 20 seconds. The rope ladders are primary used when retrieval is carried out from water or an urban environment.

The advantage of a helicopter is its ability to hover and therefore doesn’t have to land. If necessary the troops can leave the helicopter by jumping out of it without any parachutes or ropes at all (provided that the helicopter has a low altitude). This method is sometimes used to deploy assault divers and long-range reconnaissance teams over water covered areas etc.

During the Vietnam War era, the "US. Air Cavalry" developed a tactic to get rid of the problem with landing in areas with thick vegetation. A 6800kg bomb consisting of jellied mixture of explosives and chemicals, the ["BLU82 - Daisy Cutter"], was dropped on the intended landing zone. The powerful explosion cleared an area big enough for helicopters to land. As soon as the bomb had detonated the helicopters entered from the safe distant zone, dropped of troops that continued with whatever mission assigned. The tactic was brought even further as in preparations of firebases, etc. If a firebase were to be established, the troops started to rid the improvised LZ from debris, dig foxholes, filling up sandbags, etc., as soon as they had landed. They further expanded the area by cutting down trees and clear away the vegetation. As the LZ expanded heavier materials (even tractors, and heavy machinery) and more troops was brought by helicopters.

Operation & tactics:

A high level operations drop with parachute delivered infantry is generally carried out in a similar fashion: Just as all types of warfare, a successful airdrop requires PLANNING. In order to do this you need INTELLIGENCE from the landing zone, its nearby areas and the flight path. You need to know the position, size and type of equipment, type of weaponry and defensive systems - of the enemy forces. You need to know which type of terrain there is, etc. The intelligence units gather information by using satellites, aircraft reconnaissance, and agents on the ground.

After gathering the necessary intelligence the commanders plans for the offensive. Agents and operators are sent to specific areas infiltrating the future LZ - setting up various equipment as radio beacons (that are remotely activated at the time of the drop), plant out explosive charges etc. These preparations can be done in peacetime, while working under cover.

A few days before the drop, sabotage units are deployed in order to destroy radio and radar equipment, disturb enemy forces and lure them to operate in the wrong areas. The primary objectives are to secure the flight path, secure the LZ as far as possible, hinder the enemies mobility by small and constant assaults, disturb/destroy defensive positions/installations (radar, AA-missile batteries, etc), etc. Preparations such as radio markers, GPS transmitters, infrared spotlights, etc., are deployed and activated either by specialised personnel such as [PATHFINDERS], agents on the ground or by air in order to help approaching aircrafts to navigate.

Just before the main units in their aircrafts are approaching, the LZ and its perimeters are laid down with heavy suppressive fire from attack aircraft & helicopters, long range missiles & artillery (this fire support is available all the time and supports the drop as well as give them cover after the drop is finished). The main objective is to fight enemy forces, destroy antiaircraft defence systems, and suppress the enemy forces, hindering them from taking any action against the approaching troops.

When the air strike is over the cargo aircrafts approaches the landing zone. This is the most vournable phase - when the troops are deployed and before they rejoin and gather their forces. The airplanes line up and the drop takes place. The first out of the plane are securing forces. They engage enemy troops immediately, and prepare for the drop of heavier equipment. The securing forces can also be deployed by helicopter in the LZ perimeters or infiltrate the area by foot.

The second drop is the heavier equipment such as light armoured vehicles and artillery. Depending on the enemies status - some of the troops from the first drop - starts to prepare the heavy equipment for usage.

In the third drop the main force jumps, as soon as they land they gather and put the heavier equipment into use.

The forth wave is a supply and extra equipment drop. Should the LZ be secured and cleared from enemy forces - and if the terrain allows it - more transport aircrafts are sent in to deploy troops and equipment by the "touch-n-go" method.

An average time required for an operation of this magnitude before the troops are ready for battle - is 10-30min for a battalion equipped with vehicles when dropped in a 2x5km open area. If helicopters are used a unit of company size can be deployed in 2-3 minutes at a 300x400m open area. A battalion requires 10-20 minutes in a 300x1000m area, and 12-22 helicopters depending on the helicopters size and the troopers’ equipment. At soldier level the infantry man is ready for combat as soon as he is free from the parachute or out of the helicopter. The individual soldier strives for joining the rest of his unit as soon as possible. The whole battalion is ready for a gathered fight in 15-30 minutes depending on the area for the jump and the scattering of troops.

Most states (above all smaller states) consider this type of operation to outdated and to expensive. Instead they use the paratroopers for small scale operations such as sabotage and reconnaissance behind the enemy lines. Instead of preparations such as planted radio beacons, suppressive fire, etc. - the units are deployed far away from the intended area of operations. The strive is for infiltration by stealth rather then brute force.

How to counter air mobile infantry:

The foremost two allies are wind and weather - which are two factors that can hinder an assault from airmobile infantry. The more it snows, rains, blows, etc. the harder it get for the troops to deploy. At winds greater then 8m/s for paratroopers and 20m/s for helicopters the assault is most likely impossible to perform.

Good air defence systems such as early warning radar systems, sensors, intercepting fighter aircrafts, "ground/surface-to-air-missiles" and fast shooting anti-aircraft artillery of various calibre (with prefragmented shells and airburst fusing), are vital for the defensive role. Prepare target areas for the artillery (foremost potential DZs), scout routes of movement, fire positions and dig foxholes/shelters - at and next to suspected approach vectors, on-and-of routes - nearby the landing- and drop zones. The areas should also be constantly monitored and secured by minefields.

Although trained for jumps in and next to water, water could provide great difficulties in a bigger operation, some states have a policy that water over 1.2m should be nearer then 1000m in a big scale operation. The DZ should be as free as possible from trees higher then 11m - and the ground itself should be firm enough to hold the troopers up and flat - free from depressions, ditches, gullies and rocks.

The potential DZs and LZs should be complemented with a developed version of the "Rommel Asparagus". The "Rommel Asparagus consisted of 1.5-3m wooden poles driven down into earth and was used on the fields in Normandy to prevent the Allied gliding crafts from landing. The "new" version of the same concept consists of a "wire-mesh" to hinder or make a drop difficult. The "wire-mesh" is basically a huge net made up of high tree trunks/masts/telephone poles etc - sticking up 2-5m above ground - with strong steel-/barbwires strapped between them. The more wires that are strapped between the poles, the more difficult it is to land. If the area is used by crops or own troops the lower layers should be avoided so that you can drive vehicles under the "net".

This type of defence is combined with mines. Mines with a shaped charge such as the "Claymore" and bigger versions are ideal for this type of defence, just turn the "towards the enemy" side up - pointing to the sky. The Claymore-type mines should be placed on top of the net and the "underground level mines" placed as far as possible from the poles, otherwise the mines explosive force will disrupt or destroy the net. If possible, camouflage the net - following the colour of the field - so that it cannot be identified from air. Smaller fields could also be covered to hide them and simulate a forest. Another obstacle for the paratroopers is water. During WW2 in the Normandy region, the Germans flooded low positioned possible landing zones (valley of the Deve) as a defensive measure. When the invasion finally came (D-day) many paratroopers perished as they drowned even if the water level was very low.

In order to protect yourself from being detected you have to camouflage yourself and your equipment. The same thing with any vehicle or equipment used by your unit. Avoid being detected by camouflage and make sure that you have sufficient shelters dug out - stay alive.

By preventing insertion/action of the small units that prepares for the bigger operation, you can actually hinder or make it very difficult for the main jump. Another way is to seek down the radio beacons/radio markers, etc. If you destroy, move, or hinder these from being deployed, you make it more difficult for the enemy to navigate and get to the drop zone. Keeping the paratroopers from gathering and separate them from one another will probably lead to that the operation fails.

The history of air mobile infantry:


The idea of parachutes for military personnel was first suggested by Col. William (Billy) Mitchell (commander of the U.S. Army Air Corps in France - WW1). In 1918 he proposed a parachute operation to break the deadlock of trench warfare. The idea was to drop a force from the 1st U.S. Division behind the German Lines to attack from the rear. Unfortunately (?) General Pershing, his commander-in-chief, vetoed the plan.

Between the wars, many nations experimented with parachute or air- landed troops. The earliest known "Airborne" missions involving uniformed regular troops took place in Iraq 1923. The United Kingdom Royal Air Force had been assigned responsibility for pacification of tribal areas and, in the main, discharged the duty by direct air power against dissidents. Sometimes, it was necessary for troops to intervene on the ground, and by using Vickers Vernon bomber/ troop carriers, the massive distances were covered by air. The British soldiers were landed on any convenient open space close to their objectives, when their search-and-destroy tasks were completed, they were flown out again. In a sense, these were early airmobile operations. They were economical and in the short term effective. But in the longer term, the political consequences of such tactics could prove counterproductive.

In 1931, Major General Preston Brown moved a field artillery battery by air transport from the Atlantic to the Pacific side of the Panama Canal Zone. In the manoeuvres at Fort du Pent, Delaware, an Air Corps Captain named George C. Kenney surprised the "enemy" and the observers, when he successfully air landed an infantry detachment on a tactical mission. Meanwhile, at Kelly and Brook Fields, Texas, small-scale experiments in parachuting men and weapons were going on.

The first use of Paratroops goes back to WWI when Italian officers landed behind Austrian lines for reconnaissance purposes. The initial collective drop was made at Cinisello Balsamo, near Milan, on 6 November 1927 from CA73 troop carriers of the Regia Aeronautica. In the late 1930s, the Italians raised complete parachute battalions, and these later expanded into the Folgore and Nembo Divisions, destined to fight with distinction but never to partake in full-scale airborne operations. Meanwhile, in the USSR, Marshal Tukhachevski and Commissar of Defence Voroshllov founded the base for a massive airborne force. Jump clubs were set up throughout the country to provide basic training for thousands of young men and women.

Regular military paratroops appeared first in the 1930 manoeuvres when a daring team captured the "enemy" Corps commander. By 1935, practice jumps at regimental strength were possible and effective methods of heavy drop were coming into use. All this was demonstrated to foreign military observers during an exercise near Moscow in 1936. The United Kingdom's attaché was Major General (later Field Marshal) Wavell. He was impressed by the demonstration and by the quality of the Paratroopers but expressed reservations as to the real tactical value of the drop. As a professional soldier concerned with the realities of full-scale conflict between modern armies, Wavell's doubts were valid. How were these lightly armed, sparsely supplied paratroops to hold out against a force brought to repel them, especially if that force contained tanks?

In 1935, Hitler had abrogated the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty which had limited the size of Germany's Armed Forces and forbidden the manufacture of military aircraft, The Junkers 52 civil airliner had been in mass production for some years, tailored for easy conversion to military use. In early 1936, the German General Staff ordered Major Immanns to set up a parachute school at Stendal, the Ju-52 became the ideal transporter as tested had proven it weak as a bomber. In June 1938 when Luftwaffe General Kurt Student was placed in overall command that the young German Airborne arm began to make military sense. Student insisted that all his Fallschirmjäger, should be in the Luftwaffe although the Army continued to supply troops to be used in the air-landing role. He threw sabotage tasks overboard and concentrated on organizing and training his men along conventional lines.

As the troops were formed into a division with light supporting arms and trained to fight as a team. The tactical employment Student had in mind was anything but conventional. It was to make landings in the enemy's rear, so concentrated in space and in time that objectives could be realized by the exploitation of the surprise factor and then held in sufficient strength to ward off counter-attacks. Like Wavell, Student had been an observer at the 1936 Soviet manoeuvres. But unlike Wavell, he believed that airborne troops with the right weapons could resist the force brought to repel them. According to one of his own subordinates, General Meindl, Student had "big ideas but not the faintest conception as to how they were to be carried out". Nevertheless Germans had long going ideas for its paratroopers and where amongst the first to use fighter bombers provided close support while the Paratroops threw grenades through pillbox embrasures.

Germany performed many successful paratrooper operations during the world war two in Belgium, The Netherlands, southern Norway & Denmark. The success of the German Paratroopers in Holland, Belgium and Crete caused the United States to form an own "Airborne" unit. The first thing the United States did was to design a parachute that could be used for military jumps since most chutes were only used by stunt jumpers. The "Air Corps Test Centre" was commission to design and develop a chute for mass military jumps. They designed what was then called the T-4 and was the first chute to have four risers so it could be steered. They also developed the reserve parachute, something only the U.S. Airborne had. No other nation, at that time, used reserves.

The allies also performed paratrooper drops at different occasions. Often at a greater scale and not always so successful (for instance during "Operation Overlord" (D-day) and "Operation Market Garden" (Arnhem). World War II also saw the birth of new elite units such as the SAS, 82:nd (All American) & 101:st Airborne (Screaming Eagles), etc. In the aftermath of war, the victors glorify their deeds and tend not to ask themselves how, In Its early stages the war was nearly lost. Hence, the Allied actions were lauded and magnified - often with insufficient critical analysis, while the German operations were neglected. The paratrooper arm tended to be seen solely as a battlefield weapon. Almost no attention focused on its use as an instrument of coercion in conditions short of full-scale war.


Gliders were used by both sides during the WWII. The gliders allowed insertion of platoon and squad sized units to land and deploy faster then the conventional way with parachutes. Another advantage of the gliders was that they could be loaded with jeeps and light artillery pieces. Although the original idea might seem sound, the gliders were very dangerous. They needed a flat and firm surface to land and often crashed when trying to land. Gliders were abandoned by almost all states during the 1950s. The French and the British used their Paratroops in various campaigns (ex: France - during the Algér and Indochina conflicts) and that punctuated their withdrawal from imperial commitments as well as the use of gliders.


In Korea, the U.S. Army undertook two brigade-sized operations, as helicopters became available; these were originally used for medical evacuations but became increasingly used for tactical missions. By the time of massive American involvement in Vietnam, it was clear that, for operations over relatively short distances, the helicopter provided a means of delivery superior to the parachute and units such as the US. 1: st Air cavalry was formed. Observing the events in Vietnam, many other nations draw the same conclusion.


The role of the airmobile infantry has been a much debated issue during the post-war period. Different tactics and strategic applications have been tested as new technologies have been introduced. Nevertheless the airmobile infantry has today a central role on the battlefield and are often used to employ troops quickly to distant areas at the depth of the battle field. Often acting as a Quick Reaction Force and at enemy territory.


Webmaster: Henric Lund
Updated: 07-03-07 at 21:48

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