The last official combat jump occurred when a small team from the 75th Ranger Regiment jumped into an area in southeastern Afghanistan in July, 2004. It has been 11 years since a large-scale Airborne operation was conducted, when the 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped into Northern Iraq. The last large-scale Airborne operation where paratroopers had to jump into hostile territory was in Panama during 1989.
In today’s combat environment, are large-scale Airborne operations obsolete? At the height of World War II, there were seven Airborne divisions. Today, there is only one. As Barack Obama said famously in the 2012 presidential debates, “…we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Is large-scale Airborne operational capability going the way of horses and bayonets?
With possible military contingencies in North Korea, China, Russia/Ukraine brewing, having an entire division that is capable of deploying anywhere in the world within 18 hours is a wonderful tool to have in the toolbox. The fact that the 82nd Airborne had already left Pope AFB and was en route to Haiti convinced leaders of a 1991 coup d’état to abdicate power and return their democratically elected president, Jean-Bertand Aristide, to office in 1994.
Traditional force-on-force combat is a “suitable” environment to use paratroopers. A situation where this would work is the capture of an international airport in the capital city of the enemy. In the initial days and weeks of the Iraq War in 2003, there were, in fact, plans for the 82nd to take the Baghdad International Airport from the air. Those plans were scrapped in favor of having paratroopers defend supply lines.