Recon Marines are training for some of the Corps' most challenging tactical jumps by leaping from a civilian skydiving plane.

Unable to use the Corps' KC-130J Super Hercules transport and tanker planes for training because those aircraft are tapped out with forward-deployed operations, the Marines from 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, have entered into a contract with a civilian company to ensure they get the jump time before deploying.
 
The jump training will take place in two waves, according to 2nd Marine Division spokesman 1st Lt. Johnny Henderson. The first iteration, running from Sept. 20 to 22, is a static low-line and military free fall involving roughly 50 Marines.

The second wave is planned from Sept. 30 through Oct. 22 near Raeford, N.C., where Paraclete Aviation, the skydiving company, is based.

Marine Forces Command said the shortfall is due to the KC-130J being a "critical enabler for forward deployed Marine Air-Ground Task Force success."

Aerial refueler transport squadron detachments are currently dedicated to the Special-Purpose MAGTFs assigned to cover European, Africa, and Central commands.

"Global demand signal associated with the 'new normal' increases the number of deployed KC-130 detachments, adding pressure to personnel tempo and reducing capacity to support [continental United States] Marine Expeditionary Force requirements," the command said in a written response to Marine Corps Times.

Marine Corps officials did not say how often civilian aircraft have been used in similar jumps in past years. Reconnaissance officials declined to comment on the matter.

Under the terms of the contract, the company will equip its aircraft with certain items common to any military jumper. The Marines will use a CASA C-212 ramp-style aircraft configured for day and night operations and equipped with oxygen for pilots and aircrew.

The planes have red and green jump lights in the cargo compartment and the pilots are certified to land and operate out of military airfields.

The training will involve a number of tactical insertions, including difficult and risky High Altitude High Opening, or HAHO, operations and High Altitude Low Opening, or HALO, jumps. They will use the SF-10A multi-mission parachute system, which includes a drogue to slow freefall, as well the Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery System, or TORDS, a parachute that can carry more than 500 pounds of gear.

Cargo delivery such as door bundles will take place, as well, according to the contract.

The Marine Corps does not expect to return to optimal aviation readiness levels until at least 2020, assuming the service gets necessary funding.

Mission-capable rates for all but one of the Marine Corps' 12 fixed-wing, rotary and tiltrotor airframes have fallen since the end of fiscal 2009, according to data obtained by Marine Corps Times via Freedom of Information Act request.

Lance M. Bacon is senior reporter for Marine Corps Times. He covers Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Forces Command, personnel / career issues, Marine Corps Logistics Command, II MEF, and Marine Forces North. He can be reached at lbacon@marinecorpstimes.com.