There is a common phrase used when trying to explain the role of the British Army’s Global Response Force: the tip of the spear.
But when you look more closely there is actually a very formidable and able component right at the sharp end of that saying, in the form of the Pathfinders.
Their capability was most recently demonstrated on Operation Fortis when 16 Air Assault Brigade conducted a Joint Theatre Entry exercise with the Jordanian Armed Forces.
"We are the embodiment of the Future Soldier concept." Pathfinders Operations Officer
The Pathfinders were the first to parachute in, at 12,000 feet from C130 aircraft. Their role was to establish a drop zone, clear the area and provide fire support to the follow-on forces, which were assured safe air manoeuvre via two flanking Typhoons from the Carrier Strike Group in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“We pack a far bigger punch than our numbers would suggest and are the embodiment of the Future Soldier concept,” said the Pathfinders Operations Officer.
“It’s a small team that can deploy at reach and in short order, all the while adapting to the emerging threats of modern-day conflict.
“In military terms, we would refer to this as a Force Multiplier, a niche tactical unit that is able to deliver an effect in the strategic space.”
The Pathfinders are hugely reliant on their own capabilities but have to prove an individual capacity to work at reach, in isolation and under significant pressure. Anyone wishing to serve in the unit must pass a particularly arduous selection course.
The operations officer said: “Everyone brings something unique to the team and the trick is to deeply understand how to harness and exploit those skills before meshing them with those of other team members. In essence, it’s about our ability to be strong in all areas as a formidable yet adaptable force.
“Pathfinders can expect to train across a variety of skills, including as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, snipers, medics and communications specialists. This is coupled with our ability to enable theatre entry by air and our specialist reconnaissance skills, ensuring that we can fulfil a variety of functions before the UK’s Global Response Force arrives, during their arrival and afterwards too.”
As the very first troops into a new theatre, Pathfinder’s must be comfortable with uncertainty and a situation that lacks clarity. They must be prepared to conduct operations across a variety of tactical spaces and be ready to insert into an operation by air, whether that be a high-altitude parachute insertion or a helicopter, or by land, which could be by vehicle or even on foot.
The operations officer said: “We cannot rely on mass and thus must be able to deliver an inordinate effect in order to achieve the mission. That effect may have to be delivered tomorrow, in an unfamiliar part of the world, amidst a set of circumstances that are far from ideal. That is the business of modern-day advanced forces and that is the role of the Pathfinders, the epitome of the future soldier concept.”