RAF 'not good enough' for SAS parachute training


Verified Military
Sep 7, 2006

By Thomas Harding
Last Updated: 1:01am BST 01/04/2005

The Special Air Service is to move its parachute training to the United States because it believes that the Royal Air Force no longer has the skills to train its soldiers in Britain.

SAS officers and the Parachute Regiment have accused the RAF of being more interested in preserving "jobs for the boys" than providing adequate parachute training for live operations, according to a leaked e-mail.

There are fears that combat parachute skills will be further eroded if plans go ahead for training to be contracted out to a civilian company.

Some senior Army officers have accused RAF officers of failing to understand the equipment and training requirements for specialised parachuting because they have no operational experience.

A Special Forces e-mail passed to The Telegraph, titled "What is going on with Britain's parachute training school?", said the SAS "in exasperation" had withdrawn from the RAF's High Altitude Low Opening (Halo) course to train with the US special forces at Fort Bragg. The SAS and members of the Paras' Pathfinders platoon use Halo as a highly-skilled method to drop behind enemy lines.

Matters came to a head when the SAS "had enough of asking for the course to be updated to prepare troopers more realistically for the hard business of jumping from 25,000 feet at night, with large operational loads, onto dark and unmarked drop zones".

This "shocked the RAF out of its complacency" and a new course was devised at the parachute training school in Brize Norton, Oxon. But, the e-mail said, RAF officers at the Parachute Department headquarters in High Wycombe "have not delivered the end product".

"Those in the know at Hereford [where the SAS is based] will tell you that this is because they do not understand the difficulties of jumping on to unmarked DZs [Drop Zones] at night because they have never done it."

While RAF officers talked about it, very few did "hard-core" parachuting familiar to the SAS's air troop. "Yet, those officers would be the first to try to bask in the reflected glory of the SAS, often implying they were some form of superior being as they 'taught the SAS'," the e-mail added.

Britain is unique in having its parachute training controlled by officers from a branch with no operational experience, the RAF, to train the Paras, Royal Marines and SAS. While the NCO instructors "are well respected as pure parachutists" the Army has bitterly complained that not enough thought is given to teaching operational skills.

There appeared to be some movement towards allowing Army instructors in when Wg Cdr Nigel Gorman, the parachute school's head, supported the proposal.

But at High Wycombe "this was seen as a threat to the whole business of jobs for the boys", the e-mail said.

Wg Cdr Gorman, who the e-mail called "a breath of fresh air for the operational community", is now facing a disciplinary tribunal on bullying and corruption charges made by colleagues last December.

A source at the Ministry of Defence's Directorate of Air Operations said a five-year study had recommended to the director of Special Forces and the Parachute Regiment's commander that more instructors were needed from "an operational background".

A senior Parachute Regiment officer criticised the "flat earth society" in the RAF who did not want change.

"They want more time training themselves than those who are doing a job in the front line," he said. "They are not providing us with the right sort of training."

An MoD spokesman said all the parachute courses were under constant evaluation to ensure that they met the correct standards.

"The Parachute Training School works very closely with all users to develop appropriate and tailor-made courses," she added.

While there were no immediate plans to introduce instructors from the Army or Royal Navy, "suitably qualified instructors could be considered in the future".

It is also believed that training could be privatised with a contract going to Serco, a civilian company.

The MoD said there were no plans to involve external contractors or "civilianise" RAF instructors.