Air Assault troops to jump from new A400M aircraft under Future Soldier plan

The Army’s increased forward presence will be supported by a very high readiness Global Response Force, consisting of 16 Air Assault Brigade and the newly formed 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, which will be ready to respond to emerging crises from humanitarian relief through to crisis response and warfighting. The newly formed Land Operations Command will coordinate the Army’s global engagement daily. This Global Response Force of air assault troops will form part of the new Future Soldier transformation plan.

The Force will be centred around an Air Manoeuvre (AM) Brigade Combat Team (BCT) consisting of airborne, air assault and light infantry battalions, complemented by Artillery, Engineers, Logistics, Signals, Intelligence, Electronic and Cyber Warfare specialists, miniature Un-crewed Aerial Systems (UAS), Ground-Based Air Defence and Weapon Locating Radar. A newly-established Combat Aviation BCT will be equipped with upgraded Apache and Chinook helicopters and integrated with strategic RAF Air Transport.

The British Army will not just train in case of war but will be continuously working to keep the country safe. Having more regularly deployed troops around the world– known as ‘persistent presence’ – gives us the ability to anticipate and react quicker to emerging crises.  It will deter enemies and make sure we are ready to move quickly to a warfighting position. Specialist units such as the Security Force Assistance Battalions and Army Special Operations Forces will help the UK to spot developing issues or identify or respond to unpredictable activity.

The Air Manoeuvre BCT, the spearhead of Defence’s capability, will be made up of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which has more than 2,300 highly-trained specialist troops, held at very high readiness (with the Lead Assault Force at Extreme Very High Readiness). 16 Air Assault Brigade is based in Colchester, and includes Reservist Units from 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment and 299 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers. Many are held at High Readiness Reserve status, ready to deploy with their regular counterparts.

Troops have recently parachuted into Estonia as part of Op CABRIT, the NATO operation in Eastern Europe, and into Ukraine as part of Op Solidarity alongside US forces to join Ukrainian troops on the ground. 

16 Air Assault Brigade as the future Air Manoeuvre BCT will deploy either by helicopter air assault, or by parachuting or rapid airlanding from the new A400M. Until now, this has been done using the C130J – commonly known as the Hercules – set to be retired in 2023. In its place will be A400M, an aircraft which can travel twice as fast, fly twice as far, and has twice the capacity of the C130J.

As part of the Integrated Review, under the Future Soldier Army transformation plan, some so-called ‘sunset’ capabilities will be retired, to make way for modern and innovative technology.

The A400M will require soldiers to parachute from both side doors of the aircraft, with specialist parachutes also being able to exit from the tail of the plane. New parachute systems will be developed for both the paratrooper and for heavy aerial delivery systems affording more load capacity. 

Lieutenant Colonel Justin Tancrel, Air Manoeuvre Capability Development lead for Airborne Forces within Army Headquarters, said:

“The A400M will give the new Air Manoeuvre Brigade Combat Team significantly improved range, speed and global strategic reach than we’ve ever had before. With much greater capacity to hold troops and equipment, the AM BCT could deploy an entire Battlegroup by Parachute or Air Land into Theatre in a single wave of aircraft.”

The C130 has been in operational service since the 1950s – with the current model, the C130J, being the last in circulation. This aircraft is being retired early ahead of investment into the new A400M fleet.