England's 5 Airborne Brigade Pathfinder Platoon
Britain's original Pathfinder unit was raised during World War 2. The unit was disbanded after the war, and its tasks were eventually assigned to the patrol platoons of the Parachute Regiment. In 1985, it was decided that 5 Airborne Brigade (5 AB), needed a dedicated pathfinder unit. A new pathfinder platoon was formed from volunteers.
The pathfinders primary task is to secure and mark a Drop Zone (DZ) for the main assault force. The platoon acts as 5 AB "eyes" during deployment. Their secondary task is to act as a medium reconnaissance unit for the brigade. The unit is capable of conducting patrols up to 70km in front of the brigade. Unit members are trained to conduct ambushes and demolition operations, in support of there mission.
Any male member of the Army is eligible to volunteer for the platoon, with most members coming from with 5 AB. Prospective pathfinders must complete a five week long selection course, divided into four phases. Upon completion of the selection phase, survivors, if not already airborne qualified attend the basic airborne course at RAF Brize Norton. All unit members attain a basic military free fall qualification. Successful graduates will then be assigned to the platoon for a one year probation period. Officers serve a two year tour, while NCO's and Other Ranks (ORs) serve for three years. Upon completion of his initial tour, a pathfinder may volunteer to extend his tour for another three years.
Once assigned to the platoon a new pathfinder will receive training in combat medicine, demolition's, communications, survival, and jungle warfare. The platoon conducts training in a number of environments and various exercises, to keep unit members skills sharp. Many members use the experience that they have gained as a stepping stone for joining the SAS.
Approximately 40 men are assigned to the platoon. The platoon is commanded by a captain and subdivided into a headquarters and two troops: Air Operations Troop and Mountain Troop. Each troop is commanded by a lieutenant and broken down into four or five teams of four men. Air troop members hold both HAHO and HALO qualifications, while Mountain troop members are only qualified in HAHO operations.
The platoon is outfitted with a wide range of equipment to help theme complete there mission. In the event that insertion by parachute, or infiltrating by foot is impractical, the platoon is equipped with 12 highly modified Land Rovers (similar to the SAS Pink Panthers). Unit members are primarily armed with US M-16s, M-16/M-203s, and GPMGs.