By Maj. James Branch, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne)October 4, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Oct. 4, 2012) -- In today's global environment, areas of conflict are becoming increasingly difficult for military forces to access. Through advances in technology, tactics and training, potential adversaries are prepared to prevent unwanted forces' physical presence, and the U.S. military must adapt to face these challenges.
A collective military free-fall, or MFF, capability throughout the Army's Special Forces regiment will ensure the U.S. Army's unconventional warfare force can effectively enter and perform within the operational areas of today and tomorrow.
Traditional forced-entry techniques such as low-altitude, static-line airborne operations have lost viability as a clandestine entry technique, especially in special-operations missions where silence and accuracy are crucial to mission success. Discreet, low-visibility free-fall infiltration complements the mission and structure of a Special Forces operational detachment-alpha, or ODA.
As a 12-man unit armed with the cultural and tactical expertise to work alongside a partner force, one ODA is small enough to maintain its MFF qualification, and use the capability to enter a remote area where a larger, conventional Army presence would not be feasible, necessary or cost-effective.
As written in the Department of Defense's Joint Operational Access Concept dated Jan. 17, 2012, "Operational access does not exist for its own sake, but rather serves our broader strategic goals. Joint forces must be able to project military force into any operational area … This is not a new challenge, but it is one that U.S. joint forces have not been called upon to face in recent decades. That condition is likely change, and may prove to be of critical importance in the coming years."
To meet this challenge, the Special Forces Regiment has re-evaluated its training methodology to ensure its Soldiers have an expansive skill set to meet the demands of our current and future operational environment. This reevaluation has established that while Army Special Forces units do include select MFF-capable ODAs, the force lacks a formal, wide-spread clandestine infiltration capability; such that would be available through regiment-wide military free-fall qualification.
To improve the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) units' proficiency in MFF, the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is prepared to incorporate military free-fall training into the Special Forces Qualification Course, or SFQC. This initiative will increase the regiment's collective forced-entry and global response capabilities.
This initiative will institutionalize MFF operations by investing in the Military Free-Fall School at Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., which is the U.S. Special Operations Command's proponent for military free fall.
The school is restructuring the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course, or MFFPC, so that it will offer sufficient annual training slots for all SFQC candidates while maintaining allocated slots for qualified Special Forces personnel already assigned to operational units. Beginning in February 2013, the MFFPC will transition from a four-week to a three-week course.
The first week will remain the same, consisting of vertical wind tunnel body stabilization training, MC-4 parachute packing and an introduction to MFF operations. The remaining two weeks will encompass a jump profile of three airborne operations per training iteration, totaling 30 MFF operations per course encompassing various conditions and equipment loads.
In fiscal year 2013, SWCS plans to host up to 358 Special Forces Soldiers through the MFFPC. By fiscal year 2015, with the addition of 18 MFF instructors and dedicated aircraft, the MFFPC will reach its optimal throughput of 1,026 MFF parachutists, including 766 Special Forces Soldiers. When fully manned and equipped, the Military Free Fall School will conduct 19 MFFPC classes each fiscal year with 54 students in each class.
Simultaneously, the MFFPC continues to evolve its program of instruction, or curriculum, to send the highest-quality MFF parachutist into the military's special-operations forces. The course incorporates the use of body-armor carriers and modular integrated communications helmets as the baseline equipment load for all jumps. Instructors use this communications technology to interact with their MFFPC students while under canopy to foster proper canopy-control techniques. As a result, MFFPC graduates are capable of landing as a group on a designated point, fully prepared to execute follow-on missions.
The Special Forces Regiment ability to train and sustain a MFF infiltration capability, which is critical to forced-entry operations, is not only completely possible, but can become the norm vice the exception. In addition to the vertical wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, a new vertical wind tunnel at the MFF School in Yuma is projected for completion in the fall of 2013. Furthermore, the latest technological advancements have been incorporated into MFF equipment, such as night-vision, high-glide canopies, on-demand oxygen systems, inter-team MFF communications and para-navigation equipment. Most importantly, 11 years of multiple MFF combat infiltrations by the operational force have left us with invaluable lessons, which have been incorporated into MFF training and procedures.
High-altitude, high-opening, known as HAHO, operations now encompass nearly 50 percent of the jumps conducted by students during the MFFPC.
As the MFF School transforms the MFFPC to meet the evolving needs of the operational force, the school's cadre will continue to conduct the Military Free Fall Jumpmaster Course, the Military Free Fall Advanced Tactical Infiltration Course and the Military Free Fall Instructor Course. All MFF courses are continually updated to ensure the safest and most relevant MFF tactics and techniques are addressed. Through innovation and a relentless desire to excel, the school fully prepared to provide an overwhelming infiltration capability to the regiment, one required to gain entrance to tomorrow's areas of operation.
Tomorrow's battlefields will not reappear in a linear or predictable manner. Now is the time to build a collective MFF capability across the Army's Special Forces groups, so that all Soldiers wearing a green beret are more capable of clandestinely entering into denied territory. The SWCS MFF expansion will meet this need by providing the regiment with SFQC graduates who are ready to conduct military free-fall operations immediately upon reporting to their first ODA assignment.
The Special Forces Regiment, armed with a collective MFF capability, will maintain its ability to gain access to operational areas around the world and serve the United States as its premier unconventional warfare force.
The U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is responsible for special-operations training, leader development, doctrine and proponency for the U.S. Army's Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations and Special Forces Soldiers.