Yemen has seen the future of airborne training, and it is in the past.
When Yemeni officials went to Dubai to watch a tethered balloon carry tourists and locals 300 meters -- almost 1,000 feet -- into the air they saw a relatively cheap way to expose their airborne-soldier wannabes to parachuting, said Mattieu Gobbi, director general and co-founder of Aerophile, the Paris-based manufacturer of the balloon.
And that's just what they've been doing since March, when Gobbi's company set up the army's balloon in the desert just a few miles from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.
"The troops need to be trained [to jump] from a plane ... At the end of the day the operational skill is to be able to jump from a plane," said Gotti, who knows that from experience, having served in the French airborne. But Yemen, and some other countries that he has been talking with -- France, Portugal, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- estimate they can cut their airplane jump training by half.
So far he has had no contact with the U.S. Army, but obviously he would like to.
Cost benefits, alone, at a time of tightening budgets, would appear incentive enough to explore balloon jumping. Every jump that can be made without a plane is a jump without fuel costs or wear and tear on an aircraft. Annual operating costs of a balloon jump station is about $250,000 a year -- that includes an operating team of three, maintenance and helium. Over the course of 25,000 jumps, he said, that means $22 per jump.
The other benefit is that a balloon is green -- no carbon footprint to speak off.