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9 Chapter 2
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2.1 Airborne forces are flexible organisations that can be employed in a
variety of roles in shaping, decisive and stability operations. In considering
whether an airborne operation is feasible the factors of weather, availability of
aircraft and qualified crews, availability of airborne trained personnel,
availability of infrastructure to mount the operation, threats to the operation
and sustainment requirements are key aspects for planning staff.
2.2 Airborne forces should be assigned missions that take advantage of
their inherent speed, reach and flexibility. They are not suited to missions that
require deliberate operations over an extended period of time. Employment of
airborne forces against armoured or mechanised forces should only be
considered where the risk has been assessed, mitigated and accepted by the
commander. This section describes the factors to be considered before
employing airborne forces.
Executive summary
Airborne forces may be employed on either offensive or defensive
missions in the deep, close or rear. They contribute to shaping,
decisive or stability operations in support of strategic, operational
and/or tactical levels of conflict.
Airborne forces should be assigned missions that can exploit their
inherent speed, reach and flexibility.
Effective employment of airborne forces requires consideration of
factors such as weather, available aircraft, aircrew qualifications,
trained airborne personnel, infrastructure, threat and sustainment.
Rapidity is the essence of war. Take advantage of the adversarys
unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded
Sun Tzu, c 500BC
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2.3 Weather. Airborne operations are heavily reliant on favourable
weather conditions, particularly during the insertion phase. High wind and low
cloud, reduced visibility and any climatic condition that inhibits flying, are the
major factors to be considered during planning and execution. Technical
developments and equipment enhancements have helped overcome some of
the capability shortfalls when operating at night and in poor visibility, however,
if an airborne force is critical to success of an operation, flexibility within the
plan must allow for weather limitations.
2.4 Aircraft and crew. The availability of aircraft and crew impact on
airborne operations. Some of the particular issues to be considered include:
Aircraft. The number and type of aircraft to be employed, including
endurance, range and payload. Some aircraft may be fitted with
specific equipment and countermeasures that either limit or enhance
their capacity for particular missions; for example, defensive systems,
winching equipment and external load lift capability.
Aircrew. The effective management of air platforms and mission
requirements requires some specialisation in aircrew qualifications.
Low level night operations, ship-borne operations, combat search and
rescue and special recovery operations are some situations which
require specialised aircrew. The scarcity of these personnel may
restrict and impact upon airborne operations planning and execution.
Crew duty limitations. Command issues crew duty limitations orders
in order to preserve the safety of crew, passengers and assets. Crew
duty limitations can affect large-scale parachute insertions over long
distances, as the same crews would be unable to conduct immediate
follow on missions within their crew duty timeframes.
2.5 Airborne trained personnel. All elements of an airborne force must
be fully qualified, current in their individual, single-Service and joint
competencies. Safe airborne operations are enabled by high levels of
collective training and a range of technical equipment and certification
processes which ensure a high degree of safety and confidence.
2.6 Infrastructure. Mounting and insertion of an airborne force can be
limited by infrastructure such as a lack of airfields, or airfields with insufficient
space to accommodate large numbers of aircraft and additional personnel.
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2.7 Threats. Airborne operations are particularly vulnerable to air threat;
countermeasures employed against air threats are very specific. Threats
identified must be specific and quantifiable to enable the employment of the
correct countermeasure. Control of the air is a significant enabler for airborne
operations. In addition, the ground component of an airborne force is only
lightly equipped and requires joint fires and sustainment support. The
feasibility of using an airborne force must be considered prior to any detailed
planning and commitment of assets.
2.8 Airborne forces offer a significant contribution to operations. They can
dislocate an adversary force by threatening, feinting or striking from
unexpected directions. Deception may also be used to misdirect the
adversarys attention, allowing the airborne force to insert, conduct offensive
action and extract before the adversary has time to mount an effective
Levels of conflict 2.9
2.9 Airborne operations may be tasked with missions that provide support
at all three levels of conflict: strategic, operational and tactical.
2.10 Strategic level. Airborne forces can be used in pursuit of an early
resolution to a strategic issue. Simply alerting airborne forces for employment
is a show of force that is significant in the strategic context. Airborne forces
can be moved over strategic distances to seize objectives before an
adversary has time to either organise defences or to seize objectives for
follow on forces. The seizing of airfields at Kabul and Bagram during the
Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 is an example of the use of airborne
forces to achieve a strategic mission. Another example is Operation J UST
CAUSE conducted in 1989, in which the United States (US) employed
airborne forces to conduct a strategic mission in Panama. During this mission
paratroopers were deployed by strategic airlift to conduct assaults and rapid
follow-on missions, capturing 32 separate objectives and paralysing the
2.11 Operational level. The operational level links the strategic and
tactical levels of conflict. Actions conducted by airborne forces operating at
this level include: pre-emption, dislocation and disruption. Airborne
operations may be used pre-emptively, or by utilising the element of surprise
to provide a decisive result with minimal resources. Airborne forces may be
tasked with the seizure of objectives such as airfields, bridges, port areas and
other key terrain lying deep within the adversarys rear area as part of the
operational commanders manoeuvre plan. These tasks are examples of
operational missions that may be critical to the success of an overall
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campaign. They are usually of short duration, and require either link up with
follow on forces or extraction. The South African Army airborne operation to
destroy an adversary operational headquarters base in southern Angola in
1978 is an example of successful insertion and extraction of an airborne force
to achieve an operational mission.
2.12 Tactical level. At the tactical level, planning and the conduct of battles
and engagements occur in order to achieve operational level objectives.
Airborne forces generally operate at this tactical level within joint task forces.
Airborne operations are synchronised with broader force activities and can be
used to support the favourable positioning of own forces relative to the
adversary. An airborne force can be inserted: to conduct a raid or an assault
in order to seize and hold an objective, such as an airfield or landing ground;
to delay, deny or provide a firm base to insert follow on forces; or to link up
with other forces. The taking of Nadzab in New Guinea in 1943 by the US
503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and the operation by US Rangers to
liberate civilian internees and prisoners of war from the J apanese held Los
Banos internment camp in the Philippines in 1945 are examples of tactical
airborne operations.
Types of operations 2.13
2.13 Airborne forces provide a rapid projection of combat power. They
provide governments with the ability to deter aggression or stabilise
situations, enabling diplomatic resolution or the deployment of other, less
responsive military forces. They can undertake decisive missions that either
apply critical mass against the adversarys centre of gravity (COG) or support
entry from air and sea action. This section describes the support that airborne
forces provide to the three broad types of operation conducted by the
Australian Defence Force (ADF): shaping, decisive manoeuvre and transition.
2.14 Shaping operations. Shaping operations attempt to deter an
adversary and/or create an environment conducive to successful ADF
operations. Airborne operations contribute to shaping through deception,
dislocation and disruption. Likely shaping actions for an airborne force may
include show of force, deception tasks to draw adversary attention from
intended objectives, or advance force tasks that enable a specific operation.
2.15 Decisive operations. Decisive operations seek to defeat an
adversarys will and/or means to conduct operations. They exploit
opportunities provided by shaping to directly target an adversarys COG
through their critical factors (CF). Because of speed, mobility and agility,
airborne forces are ideally suited to decisive operations. They enable rapid
combat manoeuvre and the achievement of surprise. Airborne forces are
highly adaptable and capable of supporting offensive operations in the close
and the deep in the operating environment, noting their inherent limitations.
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2.16 Transition operations. Transition operations aim to restore or
maintain a functioning civil authority. In a crisis, transition operations aim to
neutralise an adversarys ability to dictate where and when to create disorder.
In transition operations, airborne forces can rapidly concentrate to conduct
security operations, provide a rapid response in support of other forces
engaged in protection tasks and extract or reinforce isolated communities.
They may also be tasked with the following:
insertions and extractions of ground forces in support of peace
support, counterinsurgency, special recovery operations or law
enforcement tasks;
noncombatant evacuation operations, where airborne forces can
secure an area (usually an airfield or port) for the safe extraction of
non-combatants from danger;
securing and protecting Australia s vital assets; and
show of force demonstrations.
2.17 Shaping, decisive and stability operations comprise a range of
subordinate activities which are either offensive or defensive in nature.
Shaping and stability operations are generally defensive, employing
non-lethal effects, while decisive operations often require sustained offensive
action using lethal effects.
Offensive operations 2.18
2.18 Offensive operations directly target an adversarys COG and CF.
Operations of this sort require a degree of freedom of action coupled with the
requirement to conduct simultaneous operations and activities across the
operating environment. This, in turn, needs coordination and synchronisation
of capabilities and tactical actions in time and space. Airborne forces are a
particularly useful capability in offensive operations.
2.19 Advance. Airborne forces are capable of rapidly closing adversary
forces to engage in close combat. They provide enhanced mobility and
manoeuvre over complex terrain. The speed and mobility of airborne forces
generates a high tempo during the advance. It is at this stage of advancing to
contact that airborne forces can be deployed forward or to bypass adversary
forces altogether.
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2.20 Attack. Airborne forces provide concentrated force, through aerial, air
land or airmobile insertion, to seize and hold assigned objectives. An airborne
force may also be tasked to conduct the following tasks:
seizing key or decisive terrain, such as a point of disembarkation,
forward operating bases, crossroads, railway junctions or bridges;
linking up with follow-on forces in a coup de main;
raiding of command posts, communication facilities, maintenance
areas and other targets;
reinforcing, relieving or extracting ground troops; and
diverting or blocking adversary reserves.
2.21 Pursuit. Airborne forces have the speed, flexibility, communications
and reconnaissance skills required for pursuit tasks. They can aggressively
track a withdrawing adversary. Airborne assaults, or the threat of an airborne
assault, can keep an adversary off-balance and ensure that they cannot
regain the initiative. The air insertion of cut-off forces may need
supplementation to ensure they have sufficient combat power to halt the
withdrawal of an adversary or render them combat ineffective.
Defensive operations 2.22
2.22 Defensive operations are primarily conducted to protect ones COG
and CF, whilst preserving combat power. They provide a commander with
time and a secure foundation to prepare for offensive operations. An effective
defence is rarely passive as the defender resists and contains the adversary
while seeking every opportunity to seize the initiative and move on the
2.23 Airborne forces may contribute to defensive activities through both
conventional and special forces (SF) activities and manoeuvre such as
delaying, deliberate and mobile defence, and counter attack. Airborne forces
may also be tasked with the following:
denial or destruction of forward operating bases;
insertion of blocking forces;
spoiling attacks;
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conducting raids; and
destruction of adversary force projection assets, including command
and control, logistic and the interdiction of adversary sea, air and land
lines of communication.
2.24 Offensive and defensive operations are conducted in a deep, close
and rear framework. This framework is used to coordinate own and friendly
force activities, resources and purpose in time and space, across the
operational area.
2.25 Deep. Operations in the deep are normally conducted against an
adversarys force or resources not currently engaged in the close battle. This
should limit the adversarys use of those resources. Operations in the deep
may employ airborne SF to conduct a range of activities including intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance. It is these activities that assist with
deception and can affect an adversarys will to fight, constrain their freedom
of action and enhance friendly force freedom of manoeuvre.
2.26 Close. Operations in the close occur when manoeuvre elements use
direct fire weapons against the adversarys COG and supporting CF to
achieve immediate desired effects. Airborne forces may be used to achieve
these effects, such as denial, limited destruction, disruption and
neutralisation, in order to prevent the adversary from conducting further
2.27 Rear. Operations in the rear facilitate deep and close operations by
providing freedom of action, continuity, sustainment and command. Rear
operations also posture forces for future operations. Operations in rear
friendly areas aim to maintain the security of friendly force COG, CF and the
generation of combat power. Typical activities are the following:
force protection;
force generation;
force sustainment;
command and control;
civil-military operations; and
information and communications support.
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The original war plan for the 2003 War in Iraq called for mechanised
units from the US 4th Infantry Division to enter northern Iraq from
Turkey and move towards Baghdad. However, Turkey did not give
permission for US forces to use its territory as a base for a ground
In 2003, 1000 paratroopers from the US 173rd Airborne Brigade,
based in Italy, parachuted into northern Iraq. These forces were
inserted by 62 sorties of fifteen C17 aircraft and took control of
Bashur Airfield in the Kurdish enclave to allow the air land insertion
of 408 vehicles, including Abrams and Bradley tanks, and additional
troops. The aim was to open a northern front in Iraq to fix the Iraqi
Republican Guard north of Baghdad and thus prevent the
reinforcement of Iraqi forces in southern Iraq, and to secure the
northern oil fields from sabotage by the Iraqi Army. The operation
was a success.
The airborne troops joined some 200 troops already on the ground,
including Green Berets and other special operations forces working
with the Kurds to identify Iraqi targets. The airborne operation was
completed in three days.