About Me

My photo
MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

07 August 2015

With Brazil’s Paratroopers at the ‘Nest of Eagles’

Paratoopers the world over consider themselves special – a breed apart. That is an inevitability, given the role they have to play in the complex mix of modern military operations. And it is A Good Thing, for the most part. There is rivalry with other ‘special forces’ organisations and, indeed, with ‘line’ units. But that is also A Good Thing – it promotes the esprit de corps that is essential to the ethos of elite troops and it ensures that training programmes are enhanced and tweaked to enable trainees to hone the unique skills that paratroopers require.

Entrance to the Eagle’s Nest. (All photos via MASA Group)

Vila Militar, just outside Rio de Janeiro, is home to the Brazilian Army’s 1st Parachute Brigade, a force of some 5,500 men consisting of three parachute battalions and all the supporting units that enable the brigade to conduct a wide variety of relatively autonomous operations. That may seem like a strong force, compared with the size of similar units in other armed forces around the world. But for an army of something over 200,000 men it is not a disproportionate force. More importantly, it is a unit that really does do what it says on the tin. When asked, “how many men in the brigade are jump qualified?” Maj. Fritzen, deputy public affairs officer, replied: “All of them” – though his body language indicated he really wanted to add. “of course!” By comparison there are a number of air assault or paratroop brigades in other national forces that will often only have one battalion fully jump qualified at any one time – the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade being just one example.
That capability is the product not just of a doctrine that demands every paratrooper is, indeed, qualified to jump from a perfectly serviceable aircraft on demand but also of a training regime that has been built over time to extract the very best performance from troops that consider themselves a cut above the rest.

Freefall jump simulators provide a semi-immersive environment for trainees.

The training programmes combine traditional jump training and familiarisation training using harnesses and static line jump towers to rather more innovative solutions to specific training requirements, many of which have been “home-grown” solutions at the brigade’s headquarters.
A good example of the latter approach is the solution developed for jumpmaster training. Built in 2010 as the brigade’s solution to a requirement it had insufficient resources to outsource, the simulator (Simulador do Lançamento) consists of a generic aircraft exit door mockup poised over a photographic terrain that ‘rolls’ past the door at a simulated height of 1,000ft  – that being the routine drop height for the brigade’s troops, rising to 1,200ft  in formation jumps. The solution was based on serious games software – the X-Plane 9 engine – and provides a cost-effective and very effects-oriented training environment for jumpmasters. Up to 4 classes per year are held at Vila Militar, with up to 48 students spending five weeks perfecting their procedures and tactics. An additional course, specifically for Pathfinder jumpmasters, is normally held once a year.

The four jump towers at Vila Militar are the most used of all the brigade’s training facilities.

The Curso de Salto Livre (Freefall Jump Course), held on average twice a year, caters for approximately 24 students at a time over a three week period, including ground school, wind tunnel and live jumps. Each student will conduct 10 simulated freefall jumps using two simulators provided by Parascene in the United States. Consisting of a suspension rig and a wraparound headset that provides for a realistic computer-generated visual environment for the jumper, the simulator teaches students “how to command manoeuvre in freefall and coordinate with colleagues throughout the jump profile, according to senior instructor 2nd Lieutenant Felipe Freitas. In addition to the two freefall simulators operated by the 1st Paratroop Brigade, there are two further examples in the Brazilian Army’s inventory, operated by Special Forces units.

As well as delivering human beings to the ground, aircraft operating with the brigade also routinely drop cargo, ranging from military supplies to sustain ground operations to supplies of food and water delivered by air to inaccessible locations following natural disaster as, for example, the recent relief operations in Haiti.

In order to train the crew responsible for delivering cargo – known as ‘riggers’ in Brazilian parlance – the brigade developed its own simulator, using a replicated cargo rig coupled to a video system (using Windows Media Player) of a C-130 rear cargo hatch that gives trainees a realistic visual representation of the entire airdrop process. Homebuilt, using what instructor Captain Schons termed “retired equipment,” the simulator gives trainees the opportunity to practice and perfect packing, maintenance and high level drop (900 feet) techniques for cargo release and drop.

A single rigger course is run each year – largely because the course lasts up to six months – for up to 20 officers and NCOs at a time. Of this time, some two months is spent using the cargo launch simulator, during which crews will conduct up to 30 simulated drops. The system has been in use for three years and is “something we have not seen elsewhere,” according to Schons, who added that delegations from both Germany and Chile had recently visited the facility to evaluate the Brazilian approach to an increasingly important training objective.

The largest component of the specialist training programmes, inevitably, is jump training itself. Here the brigade has four jump towers available, “which are the most used of all our facilities here,” according to Maj. Fritzen. Over 1,000 paratroopers per year go through the initial training programme, with a ratio of jumpmasters to paratroops of approximately 1:16. This training is the penultimate phase of the process that concludes with live humps from a C-130 at airspeeds of around 70m per second.

The Pathfinder company trains for operations in all Brazil’s regions, from jungle to mountain terrain.

As a separate but integrated part of the brigade’s training regime, the Precursor ParaQedistas (Pathfinder) company conducts its training largely in collaboration with other special forces units, “in all Brazilian terrain environments,” according to the company’s second in command, Captain Gedeel Machado Brito Valin. The Pathfinder company, which Valin explains is, “the birthplace of special operations in Brazil,” consists of six specialised teams, each of 18 men, trained (and cross-trained) in operating in distinct operational environments: HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) for covert insertions; high altitude jumps from 12,000ft; low altitude jumps from 1,000ft; aquatic and jungle environments; semi-arid and mountainous environments; and airfield/landing zone occupation. The company has already extended its expertise to the Paraguayan Air Force, where one of Valin’s colleagues is helping develop and implement that force’s first pathfinder training course, and will be doing so for Argentina and Peru next year as well.

In addition, the Canadian Forces Warfare Centre has now twice sent representatives to participate in the Brazilian programme and a Brazilian officer is currently in Canada acting as an instructor on the Canadian course.

High above the entrance to the brigade’s campus at Vila Militar an arch carries the motto “Ninho das Aguias” (Nest of Eagles). One cannot help but feel that the brigade does, indeed, consist of the human equivalents of birds of prey: powerful, swift and deadly.
Tim Mahon, invited by MASA Group

No comments:

Post a Comment