Russia’s paratroopers boast something most other nation’s parachute troops can’t: their own lightweight infantry combat vehicle that makes the drop alongside them. The BMD-4M vehicle allows the Russian parachute forces a level of mobility and combat capability that many nations would struggle to match in a similar setting. However, a new plan announced through Russia’s TASS news agency promises to either increase that advantage, or eliminate it all together… by killing the paratroopers the moment they hit the ground.
According to the head of Russia’s Airborne Forces, they now intend to begin dropping these BMD vehicles, equipped with 100-millimeter and 30-millimeter guns, with their crews already inside. This would mean they could skip the normal process of landing, locating the vehicle and climbing aboard before moving forward with their mission. According to TASS, Russia is the only country on the planet that possesses the ability to execute such a feat, and if Russia manages to do so, they may well be right – but only because nations like the United States don’t often gamble with the lives of their troops as they head into harm’s way.
American paratroopers jump separate from any vehicles they may utilize once on the ground, because a parachute failure on the vehicle platform would result in an expedited one-way trip to Arlington National Cemetery. By making the jump separately, our troops can use their primary, and even backup chutes to ensure a safe landing, wherein they may then begin their mission. If their vehicles are destroyed in the fall, the mission will certainly suffer for it, but may still be accomplished by our highly trained airborne soldiers.
Using the Russian method, a single failed parachute could mean death for the BMD’s entire 7-man crew.
“Immediately after landing, this fighting vehicle with paratroopers inside can accomplish assigned missions, including combat and special assignments. Its ability to quickly leave the parachuting area after landing considerably increases its survivability,” Airborne Force Commander Colonel-General Andrei Serdyukov told TASS.
Serdyukov’s concerns about increasing survivability seem a bit misdirected, almost as though his primary concern is the survivability of the vehicle, rather than the crew. Perhaps Russian defense officials simply have that much faith in their Bakhcha-UPDS multi-cupola parachute system, which they are currently working to mount on the BMDs, as well as additional seating for passengers inside.
For a sound understanding of why this strategy may be a bad one, one needs to look no further than a video taken in April of 2016, wherein three American Humvees involved in the Sabre Junction ’16 exercise were dropped from the back of a C-130 only to experience parachute failures. All three of the vehicles belonging to the 1st Battalion, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team were completely destroyed in the incident, and had any American troops been on board, they would certainly have died.
Of course, these failures were deemed to be the result of negligence on the part of Sgt. John Skipper, who was charged with destruction of government property and making a false official statement in the wake of the incident, but this failure is far from the only time a vehicle drop has failed to go successfully. A cursory search on YouTube for failed air drops can easily prove that.
Russia may indeed manage to make this process a successful one, which admittedly would expedite Russian paratrooper’s ability to rapidly get out of their drop zones and get on with their mission – but it begs the question, is the slight increase in timeline worth risking the lives of the BMD’s crew?
Russia seems to think so, but it seems unlikely that the United States will follow suit any time soon.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense
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