Morale: No Way To Jump


June 29, 2009: Three years ago it was revealed that the British Army had to decide between supplying its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and providing aircraft for its paratroopers to complete their training. As a result of this shortage, in 2005, only about 25 percent of paratroop trainees were able to make the required jumps, to become qualified parachutists. Back in 2003, 93 percent were able to successfully make their jumps.

Britain's fifty C-130 transports, which are used for the parachute qualification jumps, have been too busy carrying personnel and supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since paratroopers rarely make combat jumps anymore, and the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan need the air cargo support the C-130s provide, the parachute training lost out. Troops are still going through jump school training, they just don't get the practice and qualification jumps, or the winged insignia that indicates they are now paratroopers.

Since then, the Royal Air Force has tried to make C-130s available for parachute training, as often as possible. But it wasn't enough, and currently about half the paratroopers have been unable to make the jumps required to graduate from jump school, or to maintain their jump status. In desperation, the Ministry of Defense has arranged to rent civilian aircraft (Skyvans), that are used for civilian sky divers. This is criticized as only a partial solution, because part of the paratrooper training is getting used to jumping from the same aircraft they would use in combat.

In practice, paratroopers rarely make combat jumps anymore. Their last really large scale jump (4,000 troops) was in 1950, during the Korean war. The last major combat jump was in 1967, when the 845 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted in. There were some smaller (less than 400 troops) jumps during the Vietnam war. In 1983, 500 U.S. Army Rangers jumped over Grenada.

Most of the combat jumps these days are of small units, or teams of a dozen or fewer troops. These are usually made by commando type troops. But being a paratrooper is also good for morale, and produces a superior combat soldier. So sending someone through parachute training, and then not letting them make the jumps to qualify their success, is not good for morale.



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