63rd PARACHUTE BRIGADE

The elite paratrooper unit with exceptional tradition. Boldness and endeavors of operating personnel in combat actions during armed conflicts in the nineties have become a symbol of the highest professional values amongst the military personnel in the Republic of Serbia, building the outstanding reputation of the unit and a sense of prestige amongst the brigade`s operators.

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A detail from night shooting. : Ministry of Defence

HISTORY AND PURPOSE

Ideas of inserting own forces into the enemy`s rear by air have emerged during the First World War, due to the so-called trench warfare. In the period between the two world wars, the theory and practice on the use of parachute units within the airborne units had been significantly developing, with the then Soviet Union leading the way, along with Italy, France and the then Germany.

The beginning of the parachuting tradition in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia dates back to 1925, when French parachutist Beranger performed the first parachute jump in the kingdom, at the hippodrome in Belgrade, as part of the promotion of the French-made parachutes, that were introduced into service in the following year. Analyzing the foreign paratrooper practice, the then policymakers and top military officials had deemed that organization of parachute units should have begun in the kingdom.

The first parachute school was established on October 1, 1939 in Pančevo, which had trained two paratrooper classes in the next two years, and the first parachute company was formed from the students of the year 1940 class, in the city of Novi Sad. With the outbreak of the war, the company received a combat task — to protect the airport in Novi Sad, but since the airport had not been endangered, the company withdrew towards the city of Sarajevo, merging with other infantry detachments. However, most of these formations were captured, without significant resistance.

The first parachute battalion was formed in the place near the city of Bari, Italy, on October 14, 1944 with lieutenant Čedomir Vranić as commander, but the battalion had not been engaged in combat during the war. The day of the battalion`s foundation is also the Day of Paratroopers and the Day and slava of the present 63rd Parachute Brigade. During 1952, the 63rd Parachute Battalion was formed in the city of Šabac, and on February 5, 1953, the 63rd Parachute Brigade was established and moved to Novi Sad the next year, due to better conditions for organization and operability of the unit. With the disbandment of the brigade in 1959, three independent battalions were formed, settled in Skoplje, at the airport in Batajnica and in Cerklje.

For the homeland, for the comrade, for soldier and warrior honour, the paratroopers of the 63rd Parachute Brigade — operate!

On December 5, 1967, the 63rd Parachute Brigade was re-formed in the city of Niš, consisting of operating companies in formation, in accordance with the then military conceptions. From that moment Niš has been the center of paratroopers in the Republic of Serbia. Development of the aviation industry, as well as the parachute industry, especially the “wing” parachute, have had a significant impact on development of military strategy and use of parachute units throughout the world, therefore, the purpose and use of the brigade have been modified.

In the armed conflicts in former SFRY and FRY, the 63rd Parachute Brigade carried out the given combat tasks professionally, bravely and selflessly, therefore, the unit was decorated with the Order of the People's Hero on October 14, 1999, to make the symbolic of the decoration even more prominent.

The Special Brigade of the Serbian Armed Forces was formed in September 2006, within the Army (Srb. Kopnena vojska), including paratroopers, organized as the 63rd Parachute Battalion, also in Niš.

By the decision of the President of the Republic, from December 21 2019, organization changes were made in the Special Brigade and the legendary parachute unit — in accordance with its exceptional tradition — was restored to a brigade rank and is operational today as the 63rd Parachute Brigade, directly under Chief of the General Staff, settled at the airport “Sergeant-pilot Mihajlo Petrović” in Niš. Colonel Nenad Zonić is carrying out the commanding duties.

Today, the 63rd Parachute Brigade is a tactical unit, specially trained and equipped to:

-collect intel
-carry out special operations

The brigade is able to carry out the given activities independently, through vertical maneuvers in enemy tactical, operational and strategic depth, or in areas controlled by own forces. The paratroopers can be effectively tasked to carry out combat tasks such as reconnaissance, commando, counter commando, counter terrorist, counter insurgence actions in all conditions, marking targets for aviation and artillery in the enemy`s rear, to provide air supplying etc. The elite brigade also improves capacities to participate in multinational operations, according to the defined missions and tasks of the Serbian Armed Forces.

ORGANIZATION

The structure of the 63rd Parachute Brigade is defined and carried out according to the given tasks and jobs of the unit and specialties of the operating personnel. Brigade`s formation consists of companies.

The commanding element consists of the Command and the Commanding Company. Logistics — being significantly changed after the previous status of the elite parachute unit got restored — are being covered by the Logistics Company. Training curriculum for candidates, as well as the operators of the brigade is carried out by personnel of the Training Company, all of whom, commonly, had previously completed courses for junior parachuting instructors, or courses for parachuting instructors. The operating personnel is organized in several operating companies of various specialties. So, besides the elite combat search and rescue parachuting company, the paratroopers operate within the parachuting-commando company, as well as the parachuting-reconnaissance company and others. The companies are further organized into several operating teams.

TRADITION

The elite 63rd Parachute Brigade is proud of its exceptionally long tradition which, as mentioned, dates back to 1944. Besides exceptional deeds in combat, an important part of the Serbian paratroopers` tradition regards to the adopted principles (the famous ten paratroopers orders) on which interpersonal relations of generations of paratroopers are built up and are respected even after the active service ends. The mutual loyalty of the paratroopers, their loyalty to the unit and their country is evidenced by the fact that on the occasion of calling up a reserve force because of NATO aggression on the then FRY, in the late 1990s, the response was so extensive that the actual formation strength of the brigade exceeded the full combat formation strength, because many, veterans and volunteers, had reported even without a formal invitation.

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A detail from the Freedom 2019 training and equipment showcase. : specijalne-jedinice.com

It is often pointed out for the Serbian paratroopers that they take two oaths — the first one during the ceremonial admission to military service, and the second one, being the motto of the present brigade and written by the legendary Mirko Đorđević[1], upon a successful completion of parachute training. The Day and slava of the 63rd Parachute Brigade are being honoured on every October 14, on the Day of Paratroopers and The Intercession of the Theotokos. The ceremony, whenever possible, is being organized at the barracks of the unit in Niš, in the presence of military, state and church officials, active operators, veterans, as well as families and friends of the deceased operators, friends of the unit and others. The lives and deeds of the paratroopers died in combat and other tasks are being kept from oblivion on this occasion.

TRAINING

The training system at the 63rd Parachute Brigade is being organized according to the tasked activities of the unit, and consists of selection training, basic and advanced training of special forces, with a focus, of course, on parachuting training for those operators who are tasked with parachuting duties. The General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces enacts an opening for a selection of candidates at the unit. Every opening includes a type and number of vacancies available at the brigade, requirements, way of application and necessary notes.

Officers, non-coms and professional soldiers of all branches and services of the Ministry of Defense and Serbian Armed Forces are able to apply for a paratrooper vacancy at the 63rd Parachute Brigade, while other vacancies are, as a rule, available for professional soldiers only.

The requirements of a job opening are general and special, depending on the current needs of the unit. The general ones often require for candidates to meet the requirements of Article 39 of the Law on the Serbian Armed Forces, at the time of application, while the special ones usually require candidates to be of a certain age (for example, candidates no older than 30 years of age), to be citizens of the Republic of Serbia, including their immediate family members, to have at least two years of service within the Serbian Armed Forces, without negative grades in their professional files, etc. Applications and required documents must be delivered in a defined manner and on time. Every candidate who had properly and on time submitted the asked documents and met the initial requirements, undergoes a thorough background check. Those who meet the criteria are called up for a paratrooper medical check, also of an elimination type, being one of the most rigorous ones in the Serbian Armed Forces, lasting for three days usually. Healthy candidates are admitted for a selection training at the 63rd Parachute Brigade, that is also their fixed-term employment. Selection for a paratrooper vacancy, commonly, lasts for nine weeks, whilst 4 weeks for other formation vacancies. The beginning of the selection training is planned for the classical drill, during which the comfort zone of the candidate is usurped with intensive physical efforts with minimal resting periods. Besides, those who apply for a paratrooper vacancy undergo various tests at paratrooper ranges to check their motor skills, body balance, orientation in space, cognitive capacities, character traits, with meticulous monitoring and recording of the reactions expressed. The candidates undergo shooting and tactical training, defined with a training curriculum for candidates applying for a vacancy at the brigade, basics of special operations, and bearing in mind the given tasks and jobs of the unit, special attention is given to topography study and practice and the so-called training in special conditions, such as outdoor survival. At the end of the selection training, a team of instructors who led the training evaluates results of the candidates, on the basis of which their ranking is created, ensuing an admission to a vacancy at the unit.

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A detail from training at a paratrooper range. : Ministry of Defence

The basic training of the rookies starts with the moment of their admission to vacancies and is adjusted to a type of tasks and jobs defined for those vacancies. Rookies in paratrooper vacancies start with mandatory basic parachuting training, that includes theoretical and practical training and is being carried out in the country. Theoretical lectures are reckoned as a preparation for parachuting jumps and include studies of jumping techniques, procedures on an aircraft, acquaintance and packing of a parachute and other parachuting gear. A part of the practical training is conducted on the ground, in a hangar for parachute packing and at a parachute range, with parachute jumps being the most important part of the practical training, of course. A defined number of day and night jumps is required in order to successfully complete the basic parachute training. The purpose of the basic parachute training is to train the operators to conduct combat tasks through a parachute landing.

A parachute landing is carried out, of course, by air, with paratroopers jumping out of a transporting aircraft, descending and landing on a so-called drop zone. It can be classic and special parachute landing.

Through the advanced parachuting training, also being carried out domestically, more complex jumping techniques are studied, that are used to perform special landings during special operations, with a focus on a study of specialist parachuting equipment, necessary to conduct these landings.

A special landing is a planned and organized activity, used to carry out combat tasks, primarily in the enemy`s rear, when a swift, sudden and effective action on a high-value infrastructure is needed, and the action itself cannot be, or at least not to the same extend, achieved with other forces or means. According to a value of the infrastructure and its depth in the enemy territory, a landing can be tactical, operational and strategic.

The paratroopers prepare, theoretically and practically, to conduct the HAHO and HALO techniques. The mentioned techniques are carried out with special parachutes, in day and night conditions, from high altitudes and with landings on small drop points, in order to conduct combat tasks. Deeming the level of risk of these jumping techniques, their practice, commonly, starts with a necessary parachuting gear only, and as the training of paratroopers improves, jumps are carried out with full combat loadouts, with more complex drop zones, in all conditions.

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A detail on the occasion of performing a landing on a water surface. : Ministry of Defence

The parachuting specialists of the 63rd Parachute Brigade are also trained to carry out landings on water surfaces.

The basic and advanced ground training for the operators of the 63rd Parachute Brigade is also being conducted in all weather-terrain conditions, including shooting training, especially in night environments, climbing training, special physical training, training in the field of special operations and other. It is being carried out independently, in cooperation with other domestic units and services and — whenever possible — with similar units from partnering countries.

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A detail from summer training. : Ministry of Defence

Summer training includes special operations training, summer climbing, search and rescue training, survival training, training in overcoming water obstacles, etc, and is being carried out at the Sergeant-pilot Mihajlo Petrović airport, Zavoj Lake near the city of Pirot, military shooting ranges and training ranges throughout the country.

Winter training is mostly conducted at Jastrebac and Kopaonik mountains, including winter special operations training, winter climbing, ski training and conditioning, winter survival, search and rescue in winter environments and the like.

The advanced training is, as a rule, carried out through special courses domestically and abroad. With successful completion of courses, operators attain certificates and specialist ranks, based on which (such as reconnaissance course, basic and advanced sniper training) can be assigned to some of the operating companies of the brigade, or attain an instructor title.

Due to specific tasks, special attention in training of the 63rd Parachute Brigade`s personnel is given to the study and practice of special tactics of small tactical formations. The paratroopers practice actions of observation and reconnaissance in smaller formations, in all conditions, especially tactics of reconnaissance ambush, reconnaissance raid, raids against the enemy technics, infrastructure and fighting force, along with counter commando actions, especially attacking tactics with elements of area blockade, surrounding, destroying and the like.

GEAR

With the efforts from the Ministry of Defense and the Command of the unit, significant funds have been allocated for beefing up the elite unit of the Serbian Armed Forces, in the last few years, especially since the unit was re-formed as a brigade.

Parachuting gear includes a part of gear and tools of a parachuting unit, necessary to conduct given activities through vertical maneuvers, consisting of special parachutes, parachuting instruments, special rescue equipment and paratrooper protective gear.

The most used parachutes in the 63rd Parachute Brigade are UM1, MC4, both of the “wing” type, OVP-80.08, as well as the D10 assault parachutes. The US-made UM1 parachute is designed for operational-tactical tasks, training jumps, special jumps (the so-called HALO and HAHO jumps), as well as jumps with an additional load. Similarly, the high-end MC4 parachutes, manufactured by the well-known Para-Flite Inc. manufacturer, are intended for operational and tactical tasks, special jumps and jumps with an additional load. The OVP-80.08 parachutes, from the Czech MarS a.s. manufacturer are designed for training, training-combat and combat jumps, and are being used in a set with a reserve parachute ZVP-80.08. The Russian-made assault D10 parachutes are intended to conduct training and combat jumps, out of military transport airplanes, such as AN26 and AN2, as well as the Mi8 helicopters. Parachuting instruments refer to technical tools that allow a paratrooper to determine time and position in a jump, such as altimeters, compasses, GPS, stopwatches, signal, telecommunication means, individual oxygen equipment, etc. Altimeters are a very important element of parachute gear, with the STELLA electronic systems from LB Altimeters being the most used at the 63rd Parachute Brigade. The famous HEL-STAR 6 multi-function III Gen lights, manufactured by CORE Survival, are classified as a signal means and are mounted onto helmets allowing a position marking with stable and strobe lights in the visible and IR spectrums. Simple glowing sticks can be used for the same purpose.

The CYPRES parachuting automatic activation devices (AAD), commonly, are being used in configuration with the aforementioned MC4 parachutes, and serve to open a reserve parachute in case of a partial or total failure of a main parachute, and are, therefore, classified as paratrooper special rescue equipment. The M2 AADs have been procured from the mentioned Czech manufacturer MarS a.s. The KAP 3P AADs are in use and serve to complete the opening process of a main parachute, or other parachute-opening device. They can also be used as semi-auto devices for a parachute opening.

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A detail from a jump preparation. : Ministry of Defence

Paratrooper protective gear includes protective helmets, being used to protect a head against mechanical traumas and as a platform to mount other gear at the same time, summer and winter tactical gloves, parachuting protective goggles — such as models produced by the US Bobster manufacturer, jumping clothing and boots etc. The Serbian paratroopers use helmets from various producers, such as the Guner models, from Bonehead Composites, along with the Full Cut ones, from the Pro-Tec brand, as well as the Paratec FreeZR helmets, being present in a small number. The Pentagon Storm tactical gloves are the main in use, and have been delivered within the T18 sets, by Yumco ad. Besides the sets of tactical uniforms in the M10 camouflage pattern, the same producer has delivered summer and winter tactical overalls, designed for paratroopers, in the same camo pattern. Reliable, light-weight boots are being used whilst carrying out the given activities, commonly Lowa Task Force, in the Zephyr GTX MID and Zephyr GTX HI models, in black and desert tan, all of which have been delivered by the national producer and official distributor of this brand — Horus Ltd.

Depending on features of a specific engagement, paratrooper protective gear can consist of ballistic gear, such as a ballistic helmet and body armor. Bearing in mind the specifics of the 63rd Parachute Brigade tasks, advantage is always given to a more compact, light-weight gear, in order to maximize mobility. Therefore, FAST high cut helmets are in use, delivered by Yumco ad, within the mentioned T18 sets, in configuration with side tactical rails, front shroud and camo canvas covers. Plate carriers in the M10 camo pattern have been delivered through the same sets.

As for the semi-auto handguns, several modes are in use. Paratroopers require reliable, compact models, relatively low in weight and with a significant mag capacity. The main models in use are the Austrian Glock 17s Gen 4, in 9 mm, with threaded barrels to screw on suppressors. The HK USP SD 9 mm systems with threaded barrels are also at disposal. The CZ 99 models, in the same caliber, manufactured by Zastava Arms, are being used to a less extent. Tactical holsters from the T18 sets, in grey-olive colour, are the most used ones. The G-Code XST RTI US-made holsters in OD Green colour are also in use. Due to personal preferences of the operators, various holsters are to be seen as well, procured privately.

When it comes to submachine guns, the paratroopers trust the famous German models. The main in use are the HK UMP 9 mm systems, primarily due to a foldable stock, along with the suppressed HK MP5 SD3 models, in the same caliber.

Automatic rifles, modeled on the Kalashnikov system, produced by Zastava Arms in 7.62×39 mm and 5.56×45 mm NATO are a part of the the 63rd Parachute Brigade`s arsenal, but are seldom used in engagements, mostly for selection and regular training. The Bulgarian Arsenal AR M1 system, in 7.62×39 mm, is also modeled on the Kalashnikov system. The main model in use is HK G36 KV2, chambered for 5.56 mm, which can be, depending on an engagement, fitted with suppressors, delivered by the same manufacturer. The superb Belgian FN SCAR L rifles, in 5.56 mm and in the STD, and shortened-barrel CQC models remained in the armament of the unit, after the organizational changes at the end of 2019 and re-formation of the 63rd Parachute Brigade.

Additional modifications of personal armament are done by mounting various tactical accessories, such as the Aimpoint CompM4 red dot sights, procured with the Aimpoint KillFlash ARD filters, that prevent a reflection from a front lens. These sights, as a rule, can be combined with the Aimpoint 3×MAG magnifiers. The holographic EOTech XPS2-0 sights are at disposal as well, and paratroopers often attach some foregrip accessories, laser sight, or a tactical lamp.

Amongst fire-support systems, priority is given to more compact ones, lighter, designed for a single-shooter handling. Thus, trust goes to light machine guns, with the Zastava M84 7.62×54 R models and Belgian FN Minimi Para versions, with a telescopic stock and in 5.56, from FN Herstal, being used at the brigade.

Amongst the systems being used for precision shooting, the primary in use are the Finish Sako TRG series, in 21, 22 and 42 models, chambered for .308 Winchester (the 21 and 22 models), as well as .338 Lapua Magnum (the 42 models), usually fitted with the Schmidt & Bender Police Marksman II optics.

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Operators during a live-ammo night shooting. : Ministry of Defence

Capacities of the elite Serbian Armed Forces units have been significantly increased through the “Project 1500”, therefore the then Special Brigade had received contingents of high-end gear, procured from reliable foreign producers. A part of the gear, assigned to the then 63rd Parachute Battalion, has been, of course, kept by the present brigade, therefore, the operators have the Dedal DVS8 III generation binoculars, used to conduct tasks in night conditions, along with the multi-function JIM UC binoculars and day-night Moskito laser rangefinders. Both systems have been procured from Safran Electronix & Defense.

COOPERATION

The present 63rd Parachute Brigade has a superb cooperation with the elite units of the Serbian Armed Forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs, including the Aeronautical Union of Serbia. Military and police special forces operators often carry out parachuting training, exchange of experience and compete with the paratroopers from the 63rd.

In September 2019, the Government of the Republic of Serbia enacted a decision on a six-months moratorium on all military exercises and other activities carried out with foreign partners. In addition, soon after the restoration of the elite parachuting unit`s status, the world got entangled by the coronavirus pandemic. The mentioned circumstances have had a negative impact on a professional cooperation that units of this type achieve in regular circumstances.

As the 63rd Parachute Battalion of the Special Brigade, the Serbian paratroopers had been carrying out joint activities with paratroopers from Russian Federation and Belarus on several occasions, through the joint Slavic Brotherhood tactical exercises. This cooperation began in 2014, with the complex Srem 2014 tactical exercise, completed in the Republic of Serbia. Very good cooperation and friendly relations are nurtured with paratroopers from Greece. The Serbian paratroopers have conducted joint training with the US colleagues, the last time in November 2017, within the Double Eagle exercise, carried out by the paratroopers of the former Special Brigade of the Serbian Armed Forces and the 173rd Airborne Brigade of the US Army.

[1] Mirko Đorđević is a versatile parachuting instructor and a specialist doctor. He is decorated with the Order of Bravery and retired from military service as lieutenant colonel.

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