Military Parachuting

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Military Parachuting: A Brief History

Military units that are trained for parachuting are called as paratroopers or airborne forces. The scope of airborne attack was first envisioned by Benjamin Franklin, shortly after the first manned flight in a hot air balloon. Though the use of parachuting in a military operation was first proposed by American General Billy Mitchell in 1917, it was the Italians who were the first to make a combat jump in 1918. During the 1920s, militaries around the world became aware of the benefits of military parachuting. The Soviets dropped 62 parachutists from 3 bombers to become the first nation to accomplish a mass military parachute drop in 1933. This feat was toppled by the Soviets themselves in 1936 when they dropped 1800 parachutists, after greatly expanding their airborne units. During the late 1930s, with the world at the brink of World War Two, the German and Italian military forces too developed their own parachute units.

Military Parachuting in World War Two

World War Two saw its first combat drop in the May of 1940 by the Germans in Holland. The British realizing the potential of the combat units established parachute units of their own to combat external threats. It was in 1944 when the largest airborne operation in history was carried out by American and British forces, dropping a whooping 35,000 troops in Holland ("History of Military Parachuting"). Though used extensively during World War Two, mass military parachuting has largely been scaled down and militaries have shifted their focus on inserting special forces teams into enemy territory. In the modern world, with technology playing a huge role in determining the strength of a military, military parachuting has come under the scanner. Most of the countries in the world have dedicated parachute units and the main purpose of these units is to deploy military personnel in areas where accessibility through land and water is arduous. But this idea has been challenged by many, as parachute troops can be detected and engaged by Helicopters. The biggest apprehension regarding military parachuting is whether it has been rendered obsolete due to the advent of Helicopters. But, militaries have justified the validity of their parachute units by claiming that military parachuting is still the best way of landing a large number of troops in one place, quickly and efficiently.

The Types of Military Parachuting

Military Parachuting can be broadly classified into three types, namely, Low Altitude Low Opening (LALO), High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO). Low Altitude Low Opening is the traditional method of military parachuting wherein airborne troops are inserted in large numbers by mass parachute drops at low level, usually between 500 – 2000 feet. Round canopy parachutes deployed by a static line are generally used for parachuting in LALO. Low Altitude Low Opening is preferred for mass deployment because it enables the troops to be dropped in an area quickly with very little time in the air. A large drop zone and a low flying aircraft which can avoid enemy radar are essential for LALO. Modern parachutes have enabled the troops to be dropped at very low altitudes, even below 300 feet. The biggest shortcoming of Low Altitude Low Opening is that the aircraft flying at low altitude is very vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. One of the key features of LALO is the Static line mechanism. During LALO, when the soldier jumps from the aircraft, the ripcord of the parachute is connected to a cable running inside the cabin of the aircraft. So, after the jump from the aircraft, at a distance of approximately 30 meters, the cable connected to the parachute ripcord becomes taut and draws the parachute from the pack. This way the free fall time is reduced to a meager 2 – 3 seconds. This provision is very critical in LALO, as the troops are not exposed to enemy fire for a long time. It must be noted that Static line mechanism is mostly limited to large unit deployments only.

Precautions and Procedures for Low Altitude Low Opening

During a LALO jump, there are certain precautions to be considered and procedures to be followed, as LALO is used mainly for mass parachuting. There are five steps which have been established to ensure a successful landing by LALO. The first step involves the proper exit from the aircraft. The jumper has to maintain a proper body position while exiting the aircraft and make sure not to tumble out of the aircraft as it will lead to entanglement of the parachute. A count is given for the jumpers beyond which the parachute should be deployed. In the second step, the jumper is required to check the canopy of the parachute and release the reserve parachute if any defect is noticed. The third step is very critical as it involves cooperation of the fellow jumpers. During the descent, the jumpers must keep a sharp lookout and avoid collisions with each other. The jumpers are expected to adhere to a rule of three which stipulates that one should always look before turning, always turn right to avoid collisions and the lower jumper possesses the right of way. The fourth step is to slip/turn in the direction of the wind and prepare to land. The last step and the ultimate goal of parachuting is the proper landing by using motion to transfer the impact of hitting the ground (Vane et al. 8-4).

High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO)

HALO and HAHO jumps are mostly used by special forces teams of militaries to conduct covert operations behind enemy lines. The high altitude of the drop ensures that the aircraft escapes the visual and auditory range of ground troops of the enemy. The altitude of HALO and HAHO jumps, which is usually more than 8000 meters, helps the aircraft to also avoid anti-aircraft fire. Another advantage of HALO and HAHO jumps is that a large drop zone is not required for landing. On the downside, HALO and HAHO jumps require advanced and specialized equipment to tackle the adverse conditions of high altitude. HALO and HAHO jumpers wear protective suit to withstand the unfavorable pressure and temperature while oxygen tanks are also provided to counter the oxygen deficiency in upper atmosphere.

High Altitude Low Opening (HALO)

High Altitude Low Opening is a parachuting technique at high altitude in which the aircraft flies closer to the landing zone. It is also called as Military Free Fall (MFF). In the HALO jump, the jumpers cover 95% of the distance through free fall, which lasts for about two minutes. During the free fall, the jumper travels at very high speed and deploys the parachute at a height of around 400m. The confounded effect of high downward speed and low forward airspeed helps jumpers to land undetected by radar.

High Altitude High Opening (HAHO)

High Altitude High Opening is used when the aircraft is unable to enter enemy skies owing to various reasons. While HALO drops are considered almost silent, HALO jumpers may be compromised by the noise made by the parachutes deployed at low altitude. HAHO eliminates this shortcoming as jumpers deploy their parachutes at high altitude and glide over to the enemy territory. HAHO jumpers use special square parachutes which have high steering capability. HAHO allows jumpers to travel long distances in parachutes, sometimes surpassing 40 miles, owing to the high altitude of the drop ("High Altitude Military Parachuting"). The down side to HAHO is that the long period of time spent after deployment of parachute, makes them vulnerable for visual detection. For this reason, HAHO jumps for military purposes are almost exclusively executed in night time.

The Risks and Modern Equipment

While all parachuting techniques are considered to be inherently dangerous, High altitude jumps carry special risks. The lack of partial pressure in the atmospheric oxygen in high altitude leads to hypoxia. Also, jumpers need to flush out nitrogen from the bloodstream to avoid depression sickness due to the rapid ascent of the aircraft. Smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, fatigue and anxiety are factors which make the jumpers more susceptible to hypoxia (Jha 53). Frost bite is another threat in high altitude as temperatures go as low as -45 °C.

The Types of Parachutes

The modern parachutes are of two types, round type and ram-air type or square type. The round or circular canopy parachutes provide a better downward descent and are mostly used for military operations using LALO and HALO techniques. Whereas, the air-ram type or square type parachutes, which are used in HAHO operations provide better navigation and helps the jumper to glide. A hole in provided in the apex of round parachutes to reduce the oscillations due to air flow. The square parachutes consist of two layers, a top and bottom layer, for venting the air appropriately for navigation in the air.

Works Cited

History of Military Parachuting. Pathfinder Parachute Group – Ireland


Vane, Michael A, et al. Static Line Parachuting Techniques and Training.

            Department of the Army, 2003.

High-altitude military parachuting. Wikipedia Accessed 10th Dec. 2018.

Jha, V. N. Supplemental Oxygen for Paratroopers and Sky Divers

            Defence Science Journal. 2012.

November 13, 2023

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