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High-Altitude Military Parachuting

High-altitude military parachuting is the specialized practice of deploying military personnel or equipment from aircraft at altitudes much higher than those typically used in traditional parachute jumps. This type of parachuting is often used by special operations forces for various high-risk strategic and tactical purposes. There are two types of high-altitude jumps: high-altitude high-opening or HAHO jumps, and high-altitude low-opening, or HALO jumps.

high altitude military parachuting

What is High-Altitude?

High-altitude jumps typically involve altitudes above 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). In some cases, jumps may be conducted at altitudes exceeding 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). Specialized aircraft are often used for high-altitude jumps. These may include transport planes equipped with systems for high-altitude and high-opening (HAHO) or high-altitude and low-opening (HALO) jumps. Common aircraft types include the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster.

High-Altitude High-Opening (HAHO):

In a HAHO jump, parachutists exit the aircraft at high altitude and open their parachutes shortly after exit. This allows for long-range horizontal travel, enabling covert insertion into a specific area.

Low Opening:

High-Altitude Low-Opening (HALO):

    A HALO jump, which stands for “High-Altitude, Low-Opening,” is a type of military parachute jump designed for stealthy and strategic insertions. In a HALO jump, parachutists exit an aircraft at a high altitude and freefall for an extended period before opening their parachutes at a relatively low altitude. This technique allows special operations forces to cover large distances horizontally while minimizing the chances of detection by radar. This technique is often used for stealthy insertions, as the freefall portion minimizes the chances of detection by radar.

    High-Altitude: The jump begins at an altitude significantly higher than that of traditional parachute jumps. Typically, HALO jumps are initiated from altitudes ranging from 15,000 to 35,000 feet (4,572 to 10,668 meters). After exiting the aircraft, parachutists enter a freefall phase. This can last for several minutes, depending on the altitude of the jump. The high-altitude freefall allows the parachutists to cover large distances horizontally.

    Low-Opening: Parachutes are deployed at a low altitude, typically below 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). This low opening helps minimize the chances of detection by radar or other surveillance methods, as the descent is conducted at a lower altitude where the aircraft is less likely to be detected.

    Special High-Altitude Equipment

    Parachutists engaging in high-altitude jumps may use specialized high-altitude equipment to compensate for the extremely harsh conditions experienced at high altitudes.

    • Parachute System: specially designed main and resereve parachutes capable of functioning at high altitudes
    • Oxygen: essential for providing the parachutist with a supply of oxygen at high altitudes where the air is thin. This ensures that jumpers can breathe properly during freefall and under canopy
    • Oxygen Regulator: controls and regulates the flow of oxygen to the mask.
    • Pressure Suit: a specially designed suit that covers the entire body and is airtight, providing protection against the low temperatures and reduced pressure at high altitudes. The suit helps prevent hypoxia and other physiological challenges associated with extreme altitudes.
    • Altimeter: An altimeter designed to accurately measure the altitude above a specific reference point. This is crucial for jumpers to know when to deploy their parachutes.
    • Navigation: GPS (Global Positioning System): Special operations personnel may use GPS devices for navigation and to ensure accurate positioning during high-altitude jumps.
    • Communications: Communication Systems: Parachutists need effective communication systems to stay in contact with each other and with mission control. This may include radio equipment compatible with the high-altitude environment.
    • Insulation: high-alitude paratroopers wear specialized cold-weather gear to protect against the sub-zero temperatures encountered at high altitudes.
    • Helmet: A helmet designed for high-altitude jumps, providing protection and, in some cases, housing communication equipment.
    • Goggles: Goggles designed to protect the eyes from wind, cold, and potential debris during the jump.

    High-Altitude training

    Paratroopers undergo rigorous training to conduct high-altitude jumps safely. This training includes the technical aspects of parachute operations at high altitudes as well as the physical and mental preparation required for such missions. Additionally, High-Altitude parachuting requires specialized training in the skills needed for navigation, communication, and mission-specific objectives when deployed from such a remote location to a target so deep in hostile territory.

    Military Free-Fall – MFF

    In the United States, military personnel who intend to participate in high-altitude military operations must undergo intense training with strict rules and regulations. Military free-fall is one of the most dangerous and physically demanding skills in special operations. MFF operations are typically done under the cover of darkness, so as to hide the operator’s presence from opposing forces.[7]

    The transition into being military free-fall certified starts with successfully completing Airborne School at Fort Moore. The Army Free-Fall School is a four-week course at Yuma Proving Ground. The first week of the course trainees learn the how to stabilize in free-fall by training in a specially constructed vertical wind tunnel (a more powerful version of the vertical wind tunnels used in civilian indoor skydiving facilities).

    The first combat high-altitude jump took place during the Vietnam War in November 1970, when a six-man team called SOG Recon Team Florida parachuted from 18,000 feet (5,500 m) into Laos.

    High-altitude military parachuting is commonly associated with special operations forces, including units like the U.S. Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces (Green Berets), and other elite military units. These forces may use high-altitude jumps for various missions, such as reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and direct action. HALO jumps are often employed for covert and stealthy military operations. Special operations forces, such as Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces, use HALO jumps to infiltrate enemy territory without being detected until they are close to their target.

    High-altitude military parachuting plays a crucial role in providing military forces with the capability to conduct stealthy and strategic operations in various environments. High-altitude jumping is a crucial component of the special operations skillset, allowing paratroopers to conduct long-range, stealthy insertions into enemy territory. The technique is part of a broader set of skills and tactics used by special operations units for unconventional warfare, reconnaissance, and direct action missions.