The US Army Special Operations Command is looking to upgrade its freefall parachute arsenal and allow operators to jump from higher altitudes.
Currently, Army commandos operate the RA-1 Advanced Ram Air Parachute System, which has an operational ceiling of 25,000 feet. Earlier in the year, the Army sent out a request for information about a parachute with higher operational ceiling that would enable freefall teams to jump from higher altitudes.
More specifically, the Army is interested in canopies that can hold a minimum of 360 pounds and with a ceiling of up to 35,000 feet.
Military freefall operations are divided into two categories. High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO).
During HAHO operations, commandos open their parachutes soon after exiting the aircraft (25,000 to 10,000 feet) and then glide to their target. For example, in HAHO jump a Delta Force team can glide from between 20 miles to 40 miles to their target. This technique is an excellent choice for cross-border operations for the aircraft doesn’t have to fly too close to the target.
Conversely, during HALO operations, special operators free fall for some time before deploying their parachute close to the ground in order to ensure a stealthy and orderly landing. HALO jumps make it easier for the whole team to land on the same spot. Although this might seem easy on a sunny day with clear blue skies, it’s a wholly different proposition in the dark with hundreds of pounds of gear and often adverse weather conditions.
A potential upgrade in the Army Special Operations Command’s freefall parachute arsenal will primarily benefit the Military Freefall teams at the different Army Special Forces Groups and the Rangers at the Regimental Reconnaissance Company (RRC).
The tactical arm of the Special Forces Regiment is the operational detachment. These 12-man teams specialize in different insertion methods, such as combat diving, vehicles, mountaineering, and freefall parachuting. Green Berets utilize these insertion methods to get to their target and start their mission, which is primarily unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense, that is, the training and advising of partner forces. In rare cases, Special Forces teams will use their insertion specialty as a way to build rapport and train with a foreign partner force. For example, a freefall team from the 7th Special Forces Group, which is responsible for Central and South America, training or even qualifying its Guatemalan special operations counterparts in military freefall operations.
The 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company is an elite outfit within the Rangers that specializes in special reconnaissance and operational preparation of the battlefield/environment. They have conducted a number of real-world freefall jumps in Iraq and Afghanistan.