US special operators have mastered a tricky infiltration method, but there's still a chance they could come crashing through your roof
Sailors jump from an SC-7 Skyvan during military free fall training in Eloy, Ariz., May 4, 2017. US Navy / PO2 Charles Oki
A British commando crashed through the roof of a house in California in July after a parachute malfunctioned.
The paratrooper survived, but it shows one of the dangers of the trickiest deployment methods of the special forces.
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A recent special exercise in California in early July demonstrated one of the dangers of military free-fall operations.
During the exercise, a British commandos primary parachute failed to deploy properly. The operator deployed his reserve parachute but did not have enough time to properly inflate, so he fell 15,000 feet.
The malfunction resulted in him falling straight through the roof of a civil house and ending up in the kitchen. Surprisingly, the British command was not seriously injured and only sustained minor injuries, according to local law enforcement agencies.
For reasons of personal safety, the UK Department of Defense did not disclose the name or unit of the lucky skydiver.
However, only a select few British special forces receive military free fall training. It can therefore be assumed that the command is a member of the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) or the Pathfinders.
Many other U.S. military units receive free fall training, including the Army's Delta Force and Ranger Reconnaissance Company and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (formerly known as SEAL Team 6), as well as select Army Green Beret teams and Air Commandos .
Free fall is a great deployment method for special forces. When it is done by well-trained commands and everything is going well, it is clandestine and accurate.
Skydiving is not just skydiving
A U.S. Army paratrooper prepares to disembark an aircraft during an airborne operation in Aviano, Italy, Feb. 12, 2020. US Army / Spc. Ryan Lucas
Static line and free fall are the military's two parachute methods.
Static line parachute training is an integral part of any U.S. military special operations pipeline that also includes many support forces. Free fall training is usually reserved for selected individuals or teams.
However, some units, such as the Navy SEAL teams and Army Green Berets, have included free fall in their pipelines to be more competitive and relevant in future emergencies.
The more common static line method is what you imagine when you hear about paratroopers. It's what the 82nd Airborne Division uses and has historically been the preferred method for large-scale drops. In 1944, American and British paratroopers jumped into France on D-Day and the Rangers in Grenada in 1983.
U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers jump over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Sept. 27, 2015. U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Jason Hull
In the case of static line jumps, the parachute's rip cord is connected to the aircraft. As soon as a paratrooper leaves the aircraft, the cord is pulled and the parachute unfolds. If there is a malfunction or the parachute gets tangled, the paratrooper has a reserve parachute.
Static line jumps occur at low altitudes between 150 and 1500 feet, leaving paratroopers little time to troubleshoot.
There were jumps from ever lower heights.
The Rhodesian Light Infantry, a now deactivated special unit similar to the 75th Ranger Regiment of the US Army, used to jump from a height of around 60 meters - so deep that the soldiers did not pack a reserve parachute because there was no time for the deployment. (One soldier in the unit also holds the world record for the most static combat jumps with an astonishing 73.)
Static line is certainly the easier method as it requires almost no skills. The hardest part is the landing which, if not done properly, can lead to broken ankles, dislocated knees, or worse.
Free fall: master of the skies
A U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School military freefall instructor jumps over the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on December 4, 2019. US Army / K. Cash registers
Free fall skydiving is the military equivalent of skydiving, but with a major twist. It takes hundreds of hours of training in the classroom, on the ground, and in the air.
While skydiving requires little skill and only a parachute, a freefall commando carries dozens, if not hundreds, of pounds of equipment, a load that can be fatal to an inexperienced person. Commandos also often jump at night and in adverse weather conditions.
“MFF operations are difficult to master. It takes a lot of training to fly you and your equipment effectively and safely, ”John Black, a retired Special Forces warrant officer, told Insider.
"Now you add a team of individuals and it gets a lot harder. There is a lot of training going on to make a team efficient, not only to jump together but also to land safely in the same place," added Schwarz, who Qualified for free - falls jumps.
Army Special Forces "spent tons of hours in the wind tunnel, dozens of jumps, and endless rehearsals go into every workout. The smallest mistake can cause a much bigger problem," Black said.
There are two categories of free fall - High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) - each tailored to different operational requirements.
Special Warfare Combatant-Craft crewmen join forces during a free fall jump over Florida, March 3, 2008. US Navy
During a HAHO jump, a special operator would deploy his parachute shortly after exiting the aircraft at an altitude of 30,000 to 25,000 feet and then slide to the target. Training and special equipment would enable him to fly between 20 and 40 miles in the air, which makes HAHO ideal for clandestine operations, even across borders, as the aircraft can stay away from the target area and thus not alert the enemy.
With a HALO jump, things are a little different. A command would leave the aircraft in free fall and then deploy their parachute close to the ground. Although HALO jumps do not allow long distances, they are ideal for large teams as it is easier for operators to group in mid-air and then land close together.
Delta Force, DEVGRU and the Ranger Reconnaissance Company are recognized in the US special operations community for their excellent free fall skills. Some of their operators have thousands of jumps.
The majority of special operators attend the military freefall school at the U.S. Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in Yuma, Arizona to train in free fall.
But as the recent incident with the British command has shown, free-fall operations are fraught with danger. In the past 15 years, there have been about 20 U.S. military deaths from static line training jumps and free fall.
"Jumping out of a good airplane is an inherently dangerous operation. It sometimes becomes more dangerous with the addition of newer jumpers who are less familiar with the equipment and other jumpers," said Black.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a special operations defense journalist, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service at 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.
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