THE HISTORY OF AIRBORNE FORCE
- The history of the ABF dates back to 1961 when the Airborne Training School (ATS) was established at old Tamale Airport. The roles assigned to ATS were firstly; to train mil personnel in para jumping techniques and to develop air supply techniques. The first OC was Sqn Ldr Brieley, who along with 3 NCOs were seconded from the Royal Airforce (RAF) as PJIs and QM. On 16 Sep 61, 4 Ghanaian Officers and 9 NCOs were the first to be posted to the school after completing a PJI course in the UK.
- On 14 Jun 62, the first life para descent in Ghana was conducted at Kumbugu Dropping Zone and about two weeks later a demo in life descent and supply drops were staged at Ghana Military Academy. The dignitaries included the then president of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah. The first para course was then organised for 3 Officers and 23 men and they passed out 10 Aug 62 after 7 weeks training.
- With the increase in strength of qualified parachutists (523 by end of Sep 62), on 11 Apr 63 authority was given for the formation of a para Bn. It began with a Coy co-located with the ATS. By 1966, 3 para Coys had been formed and were moved from the old airport to Kaladan Barracks and separated from ATS, though they continued to use the same facilities. In 1969, para Bn moved to Kamina Barracks and ATS was brought under command as a training Coy.
- With the increasing use of sophisticated surveillance devices to detect troop movement and the need to achieve surprise in battle, countries have experimented with small but highly trained and equipped troops capable of beating most of these surveillance devices and moving fast into op theaters for results. Examples are the marines, legion, commandos and SAS. Officially, this was the reason given by the Government of the Second Republic when the para Bn was disbanded and the Airborne Force (ABF), with a far lesser strength, established on 10 Oct 70. The unit was to specialize in commando and counter terrorist ops. It was re-located to Barwah Barracks and co-located with Airforce. It was also placed under Army HQ for OP con and HQ 2 Bde for Administrative Con. The Establishment order Number Army/1/1 dated 10 Oct 70 was approved for implementation with effect from 15 Jan 71.
- To present the Airborne Force.
- The presentation will cover the following:
- The roles of the ABF can be discussed under 3 headings and these
are Operational Role, Parachute Training and Ceremonial/Sports Parachuting.
- Operational Role. All troops of ABF are supposed to be trained as
parachutist and specialized as Commandos to perform the following functions:
- Seize and hold lightly held enemy positions for limited periods or
(2) Raids to disrupt en supply lines or HQs, destroy vital installations
or capture individuals.
(3) Harass and destroy comms.
- Track and destroy guerillas or en raiding parties in COIN ops.
- Assist in IS ops (Unit has responsibility for Upper East and West Regions).
- Be prep to supplement the efforts of Infantry Battalions in conventional, warfare.
- Parachute Training. The functions of the unit includes:
- Development of training methods and training equipment.
- Conduct basic para training for personnel of the GAF.
- Organize continuation and refresher for trained parachutists.
- Train PJIs and other auxiliary instructors for basic para
- training, continuation training, airborne assaults and equipment and supply drops.
- Conduct aerial delivery to include free drop of stores and equipment to support troops already inserted by air.
- Train personnel of other units in loading, aircraft drills, Air Transport
Liaison Officers duties, Unit Emplaning Officers and Dropping Zone safety Officer’s duties.
- Ceremonial/Sports Parachuting. It include the fol:
- It must be made clear that although ABF are supposed to be Commando
trained, except for the toughness that is imbued into students during the pre-para phase of the course this aspect has not been part of the training package for a long time. Most of the unit’s training is geared towards conventional training and para training for unit pers, Officer Cadets and recently other young soldiers. Free fall and supply drops are seldom done because of the lack of enough and appropriate parachutes. Recently the unit has also begun training her own PJI’s Riggers and Pathfinders.
- The unit has an operating ORBAT and a proposed one, which should have been approved more than 10 year ago but for the lack of both human and material resources to meet the proposal this proposal has not yet been approved. In 2003, the unit was asked to make another proposal but this is also yet to be approved. The reason however for proposing a new ORBAT is as follows;
- To generally conform to plans to expand the GAF.
- Meet the roles assigned the unit when it was established and the ever-growing task the unit receives from higher HQ.
ORGANISATIONAL DEFICIENCIES AND
EFFECTS ON ROLES AND ADMINISTRATION
- The Airborne force as presently organised is plagued with some operational and administrative shortcoming as outlined below which calls for a review of the present establishment.
- Combat Effectiveness.
(1) The unit’s organisation provides for only one Airborne Combat Company in pursuance of the assigned roles stated earlier. Under the present system where the Army is operating two Comds, it would be observed that only one of the Comds can be supported in an Airborne role at one particular time. Furthermore, once the only Combat Company is committed, the Army is left with no other Airborne Company for other tasks. There is therefore the need to upgrade the Airborne Force to a battalion size with three Combat Companies. One Combat Coy each to support each of the Comds with the third Company as an Army Reserve.
(2) A review was proposed in 1992. The reasons adduced are still valid today. Again since the unit operates both as a specialist unit and on occasion as a pure infantry unit it would be prudent to include the new sub-units proposed for the infantry battalion. The new Airborne Force must however be a unit with the requisite weapons and equipment that can be developed in the parachute role. An example is the retractable M 16 rifle. Similar weapon and equipment should be purchased for the Recce PI and Support Coy of the Airborne Force.
- Internal Security Operations. The unit is responsible for the Upper East and Upper West Regions for internal Security (IS) Operations and also assists 6BN in similar duties in the Northern Region. The present organisation of one Combat Company does not afford effective domination of the unit’s IS Area of responsibility. The review would afford the assignment of one Combat Company to each of the Upper Regions, with the third Company as a reserve.
- Fire Support. The present organisation provides for only two sections of MORTARS (81mm) and an 84 mm Anti-Tank Section. There is no MG (heavy role) support, as such all the machine guns held in the unit are in the light role, thus denying the unit adequate fire support required for independent operations. There is therefore the need for a review of the present establishment to cater for an MG Platoon as part of the Support Company.
- Engineer Support. The policy on the establishment of the unit was that personnel from the then Field Engineer Regiment (now 48 Engr Regt) were to be trained as qualified parachutist and attached to the unit for operations. Even though some combat engineers were trained some years ago, it is believed majority, if not all of them have gone on retirement, thus leaving the unit without para qualified engineer support. A review of the Airborne Force establishment should therefore cater for an Assault pioneer platoon as part of the support Coy.
- Communication Support. The policy on the provision of signalers was the same as that of engineer discussed in the preceding sub paragraph. The present establishment therefore provided for four signalers as attached personnel (presently only one exchange operator) from Signal Regt in support of the only combat Coy. Deployment of the unit especially on internal Security operation revealed inadequate communication support. Even though the unit has over the period trained a number of regimental signalers there is no approved establishment for them. There is therefore the need to include a signal platoon as part of HQ Coy in the proposed establishment.
- Intelligence Section. The present establishment does not cater for an Int Section. The review of the unit’s establishment should therefore cater for an intelligence Officer and his Supporting staff as part of the unit HQ.
- Parachute Training Support. The unit, on disbandment of the Airborne Training school (ATS) took over all specialist training related to Parachuting and Air Transport Operations. The training Coy, under the present unit establishment is not organized to handle aspects like Commando and free fall training. Also, the maintenance of parachutes and accessories was not catered for since the Airforce was responsible for that (no more). However, with these developments, it is necessary to review the organization of the Training Coy to include a Commando Trg Wing, Free Fall and Rigger Wing.
- Commando/Weapon Training Wings. The need to drop personnel in smaller groups beyond enemy lines to gather information, disrupt enemy communication and destroy base installation calls for the training of all Airborne personnel in intelligence gathering and the handling of explosives. The Commando/Weapon Trg Wings, as part of Training Coy will handle these specialists training.
- Free Fall Wing. Commando operations usually succeed by stealth. Personnel should therefore be trained in High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachute techniques (i.e. Free Fall). Additionally, free fall displays add colour and beauty to ceremonial parades and functions. Currently all our neighbors, as well as Nigeria have very good free-fall display teams. It is therefore necessary to include the Free Fall Wing in the proposed establishment to enhance effective Commando operations and parachuting displays.
- Rigger Wing. Until 1984, the Airforce had been responsible for the packing and maintenance of the unit’s parachutes. Presently all the Airforce personnel have gone on retirement without replacement. The unit now has personnel who are qualified to handle parachute maintenance and continues to train Riggers locally and send both officers and men on Rigger Course in the USA. The inclusion of this wing in the proposed establishment is therefore only to normalize the current trend of affairs and create an establishment to ensure the advancement of parachute riggers.
- Career Progression and Promotion Prospects. Contrary to the status of the unit where personnel were to be seconded for stipulated period of time, the unit is now just like any infantry battalion. Personnel are posted to the unit and in the case of the men; most of them even complete their whole service with the colours in the unit. The situation has affected the career progression and promotion prospects of the men since all vacancies for promotion are based on the present unit establishment vacancies. The normal “High Morale” of the Airborne at a point in time had to waver, thus affecting command. The present establishment should be reviewed and the status of the unit upgraded to that of a Battalion to better the career progression and promotion prospects of the men.
- The proposed ORBAT includes a signal PI, a Corps of Drums, an MG PI, Recce Pl, Engr Pl, a complete Mor Pl and 3 Fighting coys. It also has a Pathfinder Pl with the Sp Coy. This is because of the special tasks the unit is assigned. Pathfinders are personnel trained to infiltrate by land, sea or air to establish and operate navigational aids for guiding rotary or fixed wing aircrafts to drop or land personnel or equipment on landing zones. Pathfinders are capable of:
- Operating Hel emplaning and landing zones for airmobile assaults.
- Operating fixed wing ac landing fields.
- Operating re-supply zones.
- Operating DZs for Parachuting.
- ABF is basically a para unit so its advantages and limitation are not too different from other para units.
(1) Strategic Mobility. The training and equipment of ABF makes them particularly suitable for movement at short notice between theatres of operations.
(2) Tactical Air Mobility. Because of the flexibility in air movement, airborne forces can cross difficult terrain which may be difficult obstacles to ground forces. They could also have a wide range of objectives, depending on the capability of transport ac to drop the troops and their equipment.
(3) Flexibility. Airborne Forces are well trained and suitable for diversified operations. Airborne Force are not rigid in their procedures and methods and therefore can be deployed in all phases of war as well as in the support role and for recreation purpose.
(4) Surprise. Changes in flight routes and timings could be made in the air to achieve initial tactical surprise.
(5) Effect on En Plans and Morale. The fact that a country has an airborne force, capable of being dropped anywhere is enough to affect enemy plans and disposition. Considerable reserve will be committed in an effort to counter this threat. Once an airborne operation is launched, it has a lot of shock effect on the morale of enemy troops and commands.
(1) Availability of Transport Aircraft. Movement of airborne forces is always dependent on the availability of air transport, especially those equipped for para role, which is limited even in the US. Airborne operations are therefore considered very expensive.
(2) Air Situation. The effectiveness of air transport to deliver troops depends on the air situation and en air defence weapons. A measure of air superiority is therefore a pre-requisite to airborne operations and still necessary to maintain them by air.
(3) Weather Restrictions. Weather has a lot of effect on airborne operations. In poor visibility, Dropping Zones may not be located and a cloud base and strong winds could effect supply and personnel drops. Jumpers need wind speeds of less than 30 mph to drop; otherwise casualties would be higher than acceptable.
(4) Vulnerability in Flight and on landing. Parachutists are vulnerable while in flight and on landing. This is because the poor paratrooper is not covered by the Geneva Convention while in fight and it takes time for paratroopers to reorganize themselves into effective fighting units on landing.
(5) Firepower and Other Supplies. Because airborne units must travel light and might have to drop deep behind en lines, fire sp from arty, tanks and perhaps aircraft may not be available. Even though some para units have the capability of dropping heavy weapons for their operations, whatever the capability, this would not compare to what ground forces would have. In our specific case, apart from MGs and some anti-tank guns, there is not much available. Para operations must therefore be most often a prelude or part of a major land operations. Planning should however ensure that an airborne unit is able to maintain itself for a minimum of 72 hrs, by which time ground troops should have linked up to support or replenish their supplies.
(6) Mobility. Some sophisticated para units could drop vehs for mobility. In our case we will operate initially by foot until linkup. This is likely to affect tactical mobility.
(7) Endurance. All logs including ration and ammo may be replenished by air or carried by the individual. Paratrooper must therefore be able to endure walking long distances to pick up these supplies and carry them. They must also learn to live of the land or capture en supplies when the air situation does not allow for replenishment.
(8) Specialist/Instructor Training. Equipment and resources to train instructors either locally or abroad has not been forthcoming in our case. Until recently, the Unit continued to call on instructors who have been posted out of the Unit or are on retirement to come and assist in training because of the shortage of instructors. The cost of training specialist/instructors abroad is high. The Unit has now partially overcome this difficulty.
(9) Modernization and Maintenance of Equipment. Keeping abreast with modern trends in parachuting has continuously been an unfulfilled dream to this Unit. This is due to relatively high cost of para equipment and their maintenance, the short and fixed lifespan of equipment whether used or not and the relatively fast development of new and modern equipment which normally means discarding the obsolete ones that may have just been recently purchased.
- These limitations, no doubt requires that the paratrooper be mentally and physical tough, versatile and have a high morale to surmount his very difficult tasks, hence the motto of the unit. ‘WHO DARE WINS’.
- Tactically, ABF can be employed in the recce role to gather int, in the defensive role as a deterrent, delaying force or to hold small objectives for limited periods. In the offensive role as assault, harassing, disruptive or a probing force and in the combat service Sp role to conduct air supply drops. What is however important is what basic factors to consider when employing airborne forces.
- Employment Factors. The four basic factors to consider are:
- Joint Ops. Airborne operations are classified as joint operations because it always involves two or more services in the movement and delivery by air into an objective area. Planning must therefore include all the service involved. This is possible through a unified Comd arrangement, which provides for centralized direction. Usually a JTF HQ is established.
- Planning. Because of the many agencies involved, airborne ops require detailed planning and close cooperation among Army units, Combat Sp units, the Airforce and sometimes the navy. The feasibility of an op must be carefully weighed, with particular emphasis given to the availability of resources to Sp the mission. Such close cooperation and coordination must be maintained through the planning, briefing and execution phase until the joint operations is terminated. The main factors to consider during the planning phase does not differ from any other Estimate Process and these are:
(1) Int on ground and the en.
(2) Mission Analysis.
- Risk Factors. There are several risk involved in mounting para ops and therefore the Comd must carefully evaluate the scale or probable scale of war to determine the right time or whether it is necessary to insert paratroopers. The enemy’s capability to interfere with the operations must be sufficiently reduced to permit the conduct of a smooth para drop. The risk taken must be calculated, justified and acceptable. 20% casualty is acceptable and must be borne in mind when planning.
- Air line of Comm. An open, uninterrupted airline of communication should be available, especially in limited war and COIN ops. Remember that once airborne forces are inserted, especially deep behind en lines they must be maintained. A safe airline of comm. is even more important when ground link up is not feasible.
- To meet the exigencies in a variety of conflict environment commanders have used specialized troops to decisively influence ops that required both long and short range movement to area that their special skills were required. ABF is one of the few fast and effective options that the GAF has to satisfy this requirement. To meet this challenge, ABF has a crop of soldiers with a very high standard of training and endurance. As mentioned earlier, the unit also quadruples as a training, ceremonial and disaster management unit. Like all units within the Army and the GAF, ABF seeks to improve its present circumstances into many ways to better meet these challenges but the constraints are not peculiar to her alone. But even as we face these challenges we still know we have a role and therefore a task to accomplish so as Airborne Force, we always Stand Tall and Look Good. AIRBORNE!! ALL THE WAY! AND SOME MORE !!!