U.S. Special Forces soldiers will use military free-fall techniques “to mitigate anti-access and area-denial threat capabilities,” according to the latest issue of Special Warfare magazine, an official Army special operations publication. This is an interesting threat to single out as something for Special Forces free-fall teams to tackle, as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) is the strategy the Chinese intend to employ in the South China Sea and the Pacific in the event of a war against the United States.

Military free fall (MFF) is a term that actually encompasses two different, but related, capabilities. The first technique is High Altitude Low Opening (HALO), in which a parachutist in full combat gear jumps from an airplane at high altitudes while on oxygen and deploys his parachute around 4,000 feet above ground level (AGL).

The second technique, which is more practical for actual combat jumps, is High Altitude High Opening (HAHO). During a HAHO jump, the Special Forces soldier bails out of an aircraft at 30,000 feet, of course on oxygen or he would immediately asphyxiate, and deploys his parachute a few seconds after exiting the plane. Then, under canopy, he maneuvers his parachute across long distances (across an international border for example) to his drop zone. It is highly unlikely that he would be alone, as Special Forces teams almost always work in 12-man teams called Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) elements.

Special Forces pioneered MFF as an infiltration technique with Green Berets assigned to MACV-SOG making the first successful combat jumps in Vietnam. In later years, the real innovators of HALO and HAHO became JSOC’s two counterterrorism units, SEAL Team Six and Delta Force. As smaller, more specialized units, these counterterrorism operators were able to try new techniques, with less restrictions, but as the War on Terror expanded, Special Forces again got serious about what they needed to do to modernize their MFF course and make it applicable for real-world combat jumps.


For this reason, the Advanced Tactical Infiltration Course (ATIC) was stood up so that Green Berets could learn how to jump in full combat equipment—including helmet, night-vision goggles, plate carrier, and weapon—so they they would be ready to roll into combat immediately after hitting the ground. The oxygen system used was improved, and is now an “on-demand” system sort of like a SCUBA regulator rather than a mask that constantly emits O2. Special Forces soldiers would also train to land at night on unmarked drop zones, just as they would be doing in combat.

Special Forces is also interested in greatly expanding the military free fall basic course, eventually getting all Special Forces soldiers MFF qualified.  Today, only one ODA in every six ODA Special Forces companies is MFF qualified and tasked with maintaining proficiency on the infiltration technique. As you can see from the graph below, Special Forces command would like to change this.

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