Green Berets have fielded limited quantities of a new parachute that provides a huge boost in terms of load capacity, maneuverability and ergonomics. They're upgrades decades in the making.

The new RA-1 model, first fielded last fall, covers substantial technological ground broken by commercial parachute-makers since the introduction of the long-tenured MC-4, used since 1991. The steerable parachutes already allowed for substantially more mobility than circular parachutes like the Army's nonmaneuverable canopy parachute, the T-11.

An expert for 3rd Special Forces Group told Army Times the advance was analogous to the difference between a car's lap-belts from the 1970s and to modern seat belt/air bag combos.

"It's a lot more comfortable. It's designed to fit the body," a warrant officer and aerial delivery adviser for 3rd Special Forces Group said, on condition that he not be identified. "The parachute is more ergonomic to the body."

"The RA-1 won't stall like its predecessor," Ray said. When maneuvering in for a landing, he said, sometimes if a soldier pulls the breaks on the descent too early and then releases, you can basically be upended and ultimately land on your face.

"I've done it," he said.

Adding to versatility, RA-1 works in high altitude-high opening and high-altitude-low opening scenarios, as well as static line jumps. The MC-4 could only be deployed by the soldier, so for static line jump, special operations typically carry MC-6 parachutes, Ray said.

"In the skydiving world, every year something new comes out. The military can't just go out and get that new thing and put it on the street; testing has to be completed," the areal delivery adviser said. "If we spent our time and money testing every single widget we'd go bankrupt."

The special forces group 3rd Group could not elaborate on a number of technical aspects of the parachute or details on how widely fielded it currently is. It looks similar to the MC-4

"Right now, it is not fielded wide enough to say this is what the Army is going to take to war tomorrow," the aerial delivery adviser said. "In the crawl, walk and run phase right now, we're walking — for some units, not all units."

The rigger company commander, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity couldn't be named, credited the adviser and others on the team., noting that they

"It's a testament to them and their skill level that they are able to conduct worldwide missions as well as this simultaneously," he said.

The MC-4 will remain in service after the full rollout, which has been scheduled for completion in 2018. The old parachutes will continue to be used for cargo.

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