What could allow large scale paradrops to be viable against opponents with good air defences in the near future? Currently large scale paradrops just don't. For most western paratrooper forces lack the firepower to do much of anything, although russia & china have mechanised paratroopers so that can be fixed with current technology. However the more difficult issue is that air defences can shoot down cargo aircraft with ease. How could this be changed the near future? The 5 restrictions are:

  • You can't just treaty things out of existence.
  • It can't make air defences useless.
  • It has to be large, battalion to division sized drops, not small SF drops.
  • Airborne AFVs have to be able to be used, otherwise you can't fix the firepower when landed issue.
  • The planet this on is still earth like it is today so there can't be extreme environmental conditions.

Could large scale airborne operations be made viable again in the near future?

  • $\begingroup$ Air defence is not useless as of today, but it does not mean it almigthy or invulnerable. It might be effective against specific targets or limited scope, but it does not mean it altime/always effective, or has same effecivness against a strategy. Electronic warfare exists for a reason, and air defence is one of such reasons. Usa does not has it as part of a strategy(?) it does not mean it not effective, but that they rely on other strategies - gaining air superiority, limited troos engagement, more distant contacts. Are you asking how modern units do that as part of strategy or why is the q? $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg The biggest thing is that cargo aircraft are so vulnerable today that large scale paradrops air considered infeasible $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Aug 28, 2021 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ idk, I definitely not that knowledgeable on the topic of para drops so I would consider a great improvement some link where such claims are made and reasons for them. As sure, one does not send them alone - send this one /wiki/Electronic-warfare_aircraft and this one Boeing EC-18 ARIA, some jets to counter jets, etc, and sure you do planing and recon before all that for g2g. So what you requesting is that some X which allows to drop all that and more and that standalone transport ships could be effective despite effective ground to air missiles and air to air - is that what you are asking for? $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 28, 2021 at 15:56

6 Answers 6


Paradrops are still viable today. It's a good way to get light infantry back where they can do a lot of damage.

There's lots of ways to drop a battalion of soldiers/marines into an area. One way you can break them down by three heights:

  1. Needs Oxygen
  2. Conventional
  3. Until you've jumped out of an airplane at night, at 200 feet, you're just a leg.

The first, conventional answer is to gain air superiority by suppressing ground based radar and air defense units, then use fighter escorts to get the troop planes over the drop zone and back out. This tends to be very noisy, and against a "near peer" opposition could be a dicey proposition.

Most air defense operations have a effective ceiling, so you could do one of two things, depending on the resolution of the air defense radars, and it's operational ceiling. The first is to "HALO". You put a plane right at upper edge of where it can fly, put the jumpers on oxygen (and figure out some way to equalize the pressure on the way down) and throw them out of the plane at 55 thousand feet, with their chutes set to open about 1500 feet. That should get them down below where the ADF can deal with them. The other option is to "HAHO". Again they bail out at 55 thousand feet, but they are using steerable parachutes, and they "hit the silk" a lot higher--as soon as there's enough air to fill the chute. They then steer into the LZ. This is assuming that the ADF won't recognize a couple thousand soldiers with rifles as a threat.

The last way (and it's last because it's the last way I'd want to do it) is right outside the limits of where the ADF can ping you, you go down to about 400 feet and fly nap of the earth into the DZ, and then you just run everybody out at 400 feet on static lines.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer uses several bits of jargon that I find hard to follow, and I guess I’m not the only reader who’s unfamiliar with it. Could you expand/explain a few things a bit more — at least “HALO”, “HAHO”, “LZ”, “DZ”, “ADF”, “run out on static lines”? $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2021 at 17:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ HALO/HAHO = High Altitude jump, Low (or High) altitude Opening. LZ / DZ - Landing Zone / Drop Zone ADF - (Anti-?)Air Defense System or Automated Defense System. Static lines are ropes tied from parachutists to the airplane which cause the parachutes to fully open a few meters after they exit the airplane, reliably and quickly, making extremely low-altitude parachutist deployments safer. $\endgroup$
    – X Goodrich
    Aug 27, 2021 at 17:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This approach still has a problem dealing with "near peers" For example, Russia-made S-300/S-400 air defense systems can shot up to the altitude up to 30 km, which is higher than operating ceiling of virtually all paratrooper planes. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 27, 2021 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @XGoodrich ADF==Air Defense Forces. Static lines run from the parachute, not the parachutist. That would be messy. $\endgroup$
    – Petro
    Aug 28, 2021 at 2:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Drop them from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 28, 2021 at 15:18

This very problem had to be answered by the strategists involved with Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy in WW2. Whilst the paratrooper deployment was in support of the naval assault, lessons can still be learnt. They chose to go the Conventional route mentioned in Petro's answer (mainly because there was a very narrow altitude band viable for paradropping). So, they first beat the Luftwaffe into submission over several months before deploying over 13,000 paratroopers to target key locations.

However, as Petro said, versus a near peer this is still pretty dicey, so they supplemented with a number of other methods. First, was Operation Fortitude. This was a deception campaign that threatened invasions of Norway and Pas de Calais with "phantom armies", causing Axis Generals to hold armies in reserve to defend against this false attack, even as Allied soldiers were consolidating their gains beyond the beaches of Normandy.

Second, was deception on the tactical level. Dummy Paratroopers (nicknamed Rupert or Oscar by British/US personnel) were dropped enmass to overwhelm Air defence with targets and to divert defensive forces away from the real paratroopers.

Third, paratroopers were supplemented by glider-borne troops. These had the advantage of keeping units together when they landed (as opposed to parachuting which could easily spread the unit across a large area). Additionally, it allowed for heavier equipment than just parachutes, including armoured vehicles.

This is all one hundred years old compared to your near future setting, so upgraded versions no doubt exist. Air dropping vehicles directly, such as the M551 Sheridan, or attaching glider wings to tanks like the (failed) Antonov A-40 would allow airborne units to deploy with armour.


They Can't be Strong Everywhere:

The simple alternative is that you land your troops just outside the range of the air defenses involved.

Using the example of Normandy (popular here) the defenses were focused on the beaches. The solution? Land the troops behind the beaches and have the troops advance from the rear against the beaches. Sure, maybe German paratroopers were able to land directly on the Belgian forts, but that was because the forts didn't have adequate air defenses.

There will always be interplay between the essential functions of attack and defense. No one can be strong everywhere. You try to obliterate the air defenses (like always). Failing that, you see if you can avoid them by staying outside. Failing that, you suffer massive losses to achieve your objectives. The same story play out over and over again.


  • You can always try novel approaches. Stealth parachute pods deploying last-second retrorockets allow you to avoid air defenses. This is similar to the HALO (high altitude, low opening) concept used for advanced paradrops by special forces today. Stealth tech would need to be cheap for this to be practical.
  • Massive decoy deployment means you kill hundreds of sham paratroopers and drop planes instead of the real ones (a real possibility, if it works and doesn't cost too much/get foiled somehow).
  • Hyper-armored "drop ships" that can't be destroyed easily could fix this if you allowed them in your system (I'm guessing not).

Fly high, be fast and break in the last moment.

In order to get down to the ground in one piece despite decent air defense, your plane has to fly very high, possibly be stealthy until the moment of the drop. (Stealth probably is not possible when hangar doors open) Even the best air defense we currently have, needs a certain amount to target you and to shoot you down, so you have to finish unloading before that.

The paratroopers have to stay in free fall as long as possible and should be as small as possible. Having loads of small objects rain down makes it much harder to shoot them all. If you can get 90% to the ground, you are probably ok.

The free fall has to be stopped at the last second, much like in a suicide burn from one of those space x rockets.

It pretty much comes down to cost efficiency. How much is it worth to land behind the lines of the enemy, how much material gets lost in the process and how much does it all cost.

It might be quite suicidal to do an airdrop where only 50% of the units make it to the ground and most of the planes get shot down after the drop, but it might still be worth it, if the tactical gain is high enough.

Edit: It might also be wise to use decoys. The bigger the amount of drops, the harder it is to hit them all. By inflating the number with decoys, it should be possible to increase the amount of units that make it to the ground.

  • $\begingroup$ >The paratroopers have to stay in free fall as long as possible and should be as small as possible. Having loads of small objects rain down makes it much harder to shoot them all. If you can get 90% to the ground, you are probably ok. >The free fall has to be stopped at the last second, much like in a suicide burn from one of those space x rockets. This doesn't work with restriction 4, must be able to get airbourne AFVs down as otherwise you run into the firepower issue. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Aug 27, 2021 at 9:52
  • $\begingroup$ @OT-64SKOT You can create a drop pod for an AFV and make it as small as possible, can't you? $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2021 at 10:25

If all other options are not viable, than paratroop drops could be the only choice.

So let's look at scenarios that prohibit other forms of military intervention:

  • A large expeditionary force (such as a naval or amphibious landing) could be prevented by exceptional coastal / border defences which are unassailable, unable to be destroyed by any means, which makes a paratroop drop the only way to get a moving occupying force behind the line.
  • If missiles or long range artillery are not viable options to destroy infrastructure / targets behind borders, then paratroopers may be the only option. Perhaps anti-missile technology has been perfected to the degree that success using missiles is not possible, and shells can be negated somehow also (perhaps out of range).
  • Perhaps the goal of the mission is unable to be achieved using simple border crossing forces. For instance, securing towns / cities inland prior to a Capital on the coast. This requires 'boots on the ground' Ie. 'Winning the hearts and minds' of the populace instead of using missiles.

If a large paratroop drop then becomes the only way to intervene in an expeditionary sense, perhaps they overcome the current difficulties:

  • It may be a possibility that cargo craft could be designed to be unable to be detected by radar. Perhaps their speed, radar cross-section, and ability to fly very low over terrain, may mean a paratroop drop is viable. Maybe technology is formed such that an ultra-low altitude drop is safe, such as jetpacks, landing cushions, precision dropping and jumping techniques.
  • Also perhaps the drop itself can be safe beyond the range of air defence (for instance, almost from space), and the troops / containers that are dropped could have anti-radar / anti-infrared / anti-visual capabilities.
  • Perhaps the drop could utilise stealth to surprise the enemy who cannot react fast enough. For instance, if the defences are not yet ready, or the aircraft were stealthy, and technology, command and control, and numbers is such you could drop directly on a Capital or target that is slow to defend, this may be a way to occupy a city / change a government / accomplish a mission quicker than other methods.

You may find that there are many ways a large scale paratroop drop could be the only modern way to accomplish a certain mission, given enough constraints.


Bring your planes in, whether it's above or below AA it doesn't matter much, and throw out the soldiers and weapons. Each soldier will have a small rocket on their back, similar to the types used for ejecting out of aircraft. Once at about 50-100 feet, it ignites and slows the fall so the soldiers can land safely.

What this inhibits, though, is gear. Your rockets will only be able to slow so much weight, and will probably already be pushing its limits just supporting itself and the soldier with a rifle and vest. So you also drop supporting supplies with traditional parachutes(if going in high, add altitude trigger and inflatable cushion. if low, just parachute). But then there's a risk of enemies getting to the weapons before you. There's also the problem of leaving hot rocket engines around, which might cause a few fires.

  • $\begingroup$ This still leaves the issue of not being able to get down airbourne AFVs, something that is needed for the airbourne to have kind of firepower & something that can already be done with normal parachuting $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Aug 28, 2021 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ ...bigger rockets? $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2021 at 0:07

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