The 173rd Airborne Brigade is expecting to get new ground vehicles that can climb hills, ford streams and enable a speedy exit from a drop zone.
The brigade is one of the five airborne brigades scheduled to receive the Ground Mobility Vehicle, a high-performance, four-wheel drive vehicle based on the Flyer Advanced Light Strike Vehicle, sometime next year.
The Flyers, used in the past few years by special operations forces, have a turbocharged diesel 2-liter engine generating 195 horsepower. Their top speed is listed at 95 mph.
“What that means is we can get to our objective faster and more lethally,” said Maj. Christopher Bradley, a brigade spokesman.
Bradley said the brigade would learn more details — including when the vehicles would arrive and how many they’ll get — at the end of the year.
“We’re expecting the initial fielding next spring,” he said. “Soldiers like to hear that their long walking trips might be minimized.”
Speed is of the essence for airborne troops. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is supposed to be able to deploy within 18 hours, parachuting out of planes to do so if necessary.
“The faster we can get people in — that gives our political leaders some options,” then-U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen Ben Hodges said during a 2016 NATO exercise in Spain that culminated in a parachute drop from C-17 aircraft. “That’s the most important thing: speed gives political leaders options.”
But once paratroopers hit the ground, things slow down. “Most of the time paratroopers walk,” Bradley said. “The vast majority of the time, we move out without vehicles.”
The $271,000 Flyer, developed by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, can accommodate nine soldiers, the size of a typical infantry rifle squad. It can take them up a 60-degree grade, across water up to 30 inches deep and through a rollover.
It has a range of 300 miles and Army officials touted the vehicle’s suspension for its smooth ride.
“It’s great for soldiers riding in a vehicle for a long period of time,” Bradley said. Flyers are also designed to support modern communications systems, he said.
Army photos show Flyers equipped with an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun and an M240 7.62 mm medium machine gun.
The vehicles can be converted into lightly armored vehicles with modular panels.
The Flyer was designed to provide special operations forces with a lightweight vehicle that could be airdropped — from C-130s and larger aircraft, as well as CH-47 Chinook helicopters and Ospreys — and be configured for a variety of missions.
Mass combat jumps, however, have been rare since World War II and the increased use of helicopters to insert troops.
The 82nd Airborne Division made its first combat jump in more than 40 years in 1989 during the U.S. invasion of Panama. The 173rd has jumped into combat twice in more than five decades — once in Vietnam and once in Iraq.
Consequently, some experts have questioned the utility of airborne troops in modern warfare, especially against opponents with sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses.
But a 2014 RAND Corp. study said that airborne forces, “unique in their ability to quickly deploy worldwide,” could be made more capable by including light armored vehicles in drops.
The study said a historical survey of airborne operations since 1989 demonstrated the value of quickly deployable forces.
The analysis concluded that dropping vehicles with airborne troops would “increase speed, mobility, and survivability.”
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