The subject of the Canadian Airborne Regiment has come up again. Aficionados of the unit are campaigning for its re-instatement. It raises the question; do paratroopers have a place in modern warfare?
Airborne soldiers are in the final analysis light infantry. Light infantry fill a limited but occasionally useful place in spectrum of war. At its simplest light infantry are soldiers armed with not much more then rifles and equipped with not much more then jeeps that are best used in a variety of peacekeeping and constabulary situations. Their best points are that they can be moved swiftly and have a limited logistics footprint. Their drawbacks include a lack of firepower and armour. The danger is that dedicated light infantry will be used improperly, as emergency reinforcements in deteriorating military or political situations. At which point they begin to refer to themselves as “speed bumps” and moral has been known to suffer.
It is this limited usefulness and predilection for misuse that inclines many in the Canadian Armed Forces against the concept of dedicated airborne formations. As well, nobody seems to believe that large scale parachute operations are ever again going to play a part in modern warfare. Against these arguments adherents of the regiment can only argue the case for northern deployments of a parachute force in disaster relief situations.
There is a use for the Canadian Airborne Regiment. As well as firepower and mass (armour) there is a third component to mastery and survival on the battlefield and that is maneuver. In this case maneuver brought about by helicopters. This new form of “vertical envelopment” seems like a rational evolution of the airborne ideal. As a battalion sized helicopter borne and equipped force it would only need to keep one company jump qualified at any given time to be able to meet the limited need for parachute forces. More important it would be a focus for the development of helicopter doctrine within the Canadian forces. With a new and potent force of CH-47 heavy lift helicopters coming into service and with the need for a replacement for our Griffon utility helicopters beginning to show itself on the horizon, now is the time to think about how to use these aircraft for more then just logistic support. An airmobile force would concentrate resources as well as minds and give the Canadian forces an important new capability it currently lacks.