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The Pathfinder Platoon
The Pathfinder Platoon (PF Platoon), or Pathfinder Group, is a reconnaissance unit within the British Army's 16 Air Assault Brigade. Pathfinders act as the Brigade commander's eyes and ears typically operat ahead of the Brigade's front line, often deep behind enemy lines, where they perform advance force reconnaissance operations and mark out drop zones (DZ) and helicopter landing sites (HLS) for use by Brigade forces.
Pathfinders may be inserted up to a week ahead of the main force, usually in 6-man teams. The men of the pathfinder platoon are skilled in covert insertion, concealment and intelligence gathering. Pathfinder foot patrols may be parachuted or helicoptered into position. They may also patrol in vehicles, usually heavily armed WMIK Land Rovers, or more recently, MWMIK Jackals. A typical Pathfinder mounted patrol comprises of 2 vehicles with 3 men on each.
Pathfinders are highly skilled in insertion by parachute, including HALO and HAHO techniques. They use a range of parachute systems, including the BT80 multi-mission parachute combined with the High Altitude Parachutist Life Support System, which provides oxygen when jumping at high altitude.
The Pathfinder Platoon is around 60-men strong. Many of the unit's ranks come from the Parachute Regiment and from other units within 16 Air Assault Brigade. Although not technically a special forces unit, the levels of discipline and skills required of Pathfinders are close to, if not entirely comparable to, SF. Indeed, a stint in the pathfinders is often a good grounding for those wishing to serve in the Special Air Service.
On operations, the Pathfinder Group may include attachments from other brigade elements such as the Royal Engineers or Light Electronic Warfare Teams so as to carry out specialized reconnaissance.
Pathfinder Platoon Video
For much of the 80s and 90s the Pathfinders were issued with non-standard personal weapons such as:
For a period in the 2000s, Pathfinders reverted back to standard UK issue weapons:
Browning High Power 9mm pistols were the standard sidearm for the Pathfinders for many years.
Reports surfacing in 2007 indicate that the following weapons have been added to the Pathfinder Platoon arsenal:
photo by Corporal Obi Igbo © UK MOD / Crown Copyright 2013
used under open government license
Pathfinder Platoon Selection
The Pathfinder Platoon's Selection Cadre is one of the most arduous in the world. It covers much of the same ground as UKSF selection, (literally - many of the marches take place on the Brecon Beacons), although condensed into a shorter time scale. The Pathfinder selection course consists of :
Those who successfully complete Pathfinder selection move on to in-depth training in weapons, radios and other patrol skills. Pathfinders qualify as High Altitude Parachutists by completing a HALO/HAHO training course.
more info / further reading:
The following books are recommended reading on Pathfinder Platoon...
HOW TO BECOME A PARA / SAS