U.S. Marines jump out of the back of a KC-130J Hercules while conducting aerial delivery training during exercise Cobra Gold 2013 near Utapao Royal Thai Navy Air Field, Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 15. (Lance Cpl. Todd Michalek / Marine Corps)
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Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command is training more of its elite Marines in tactical air insertion.
In a “statement of work” posted to FedBizOpps.gov in February, the command announced plans to hire a private contractor to train 14 of its operators in high altitude, high opening jumps — a dangerous, but necessary, capability for special operations units. The training is scheduled for March 10 through 28, with classroom time at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and jump training in Parker, Ariz.
“MARSOC is tasked with deploying Marine Special Operations Teams that are trained and qualified to conduct HAHO operations in support of upcoming missions,” according to the statement of work. The new training will provide more operators with the ability to insert into unmarked drop zones, rough terrain and water drop zones, sometimes at night.
“HAHO requires the use of maneuverable parachutes to travel horizontal distances under canopy while navigating to an insert point,” said Capt. Barry Morris, a MARSOC spokesman at Camp Lejeune, N.C. “This training enhances the tactical capabilities of MARSOC to meet all of our assigned missions in support of the theater special operations commander. ...”
Neither the Marine Corps’ military free fall course nor the United States Army Special Operations Command provide advanced tactical infiltration instruction to MARSOC operators, according to the contract solicitation.
Whereas a typical recreational jump is performed as low as 1 ½ miles above the earth, HAHO jumps are typically made from more than 6 ½ miles up — about the height of a cruising commercial aircraft, but without the luxury of a pressurized, climate-controlled cabin.
The advantage of stealth comes with risks. Because jumpers are in an unpressurized cabin, they risk frostbite in temperatures as low as minus 68 degrees, suffocation because there isn’t sufficient oxygen for breathing at those altitudes, and decompression sickness, known as “the bends” among divers.
Operators will learn a variety of skills, including body stabilization while wearing night vision goggles, the use of special weapons and equipment, how to program and use electronic navigation systems, and how to use autonomous precision airdrop bundle systems, which are self-guided parachute systems that pilot themselves to a predetermined landing zone.
In addition to the 14 operators being trained in HAHO jumps, additional participants include 10 trained jumpers, 17 aircrew and parachute riggers, three training personnel, three logistics-and-communications personnel, and four medical personnel.