Note: This is part four of a multi-part series exploring elite components within the conventional British forces.

The Pathfinder Platoon (PF), also known as the Pathfinder Group, is an elite airborne reconnaissance unit within the 16 Air Assault Brigade. Pathfinders work as the Brigade’s eyes and ears, and operate far forward of the Brigade, behind enemy lines. There, they perform advanced force reconnaissance operations and mark out drop zones and helicopter landing sites.

Logo of the Pathfinder Platoon

Pathfinders may insert up to a week before the primary force, and typically deploy in small, six-man teams. The men of the pathfinder platoon are proficient in covert insertion, concealment, and intelligence gathering. A patrol will consist of individuals trained as a medic, a sniper, and a signaller from 18 Signals Regiment.

Pathfinder teams are often inserted into position by helicopter or by parachute. They may also patrol in vehicles such as the heavily armed WMIK Land Rover, Pinzgauers, or more recently, the MWMIK Jackals. A typical Pathfinder mounted patrol team consists of two wagons with three men on each.

Pathfinders are exceptionally proficient in insertion by parachute, including HALO and HAHO techniques. They use a variety of parachute systems, including the BT80 multi-mission parachute and the High-Altitude Parachutist Life Support System, which provides the jumper oxygen when conducting high-altitude jumps.

The Pathfinder Platoon is comprised of approximately 60 men. Many of those in the ranks come from the Parachute Regiment or 16 Air Assault Brigade. Although not technically a special operations unit, the standards of discipline and competence demanded of Pathfinders are similar, if not entirely equal to, those of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF). A stint in the Pathfinders is often a helpful stepping stone for those aspiring to serve in the Special Air Service.

UK Pathfinders conducting freefall training from a blackhawk. US Army Photographic team 3rd SFG.

Pathfinder Weapons

In the ’80s and ’90s, the Pathfinders were issued non-standard personal weapons such as:

  • M16A1/A2 assault rifles
  • M203 grenade launchers
  • M72 LAW rocket launchers

In the 2000s, Pathfinders reverted back to standard U.K.-issue weapons: