Fast-roping, also known as Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System (FRIES), is a technique for descending a thick rope. It is useful for deploying troops from a helicopter in places where the helicopter itself cannot touch down. Fast roping allows soldiers to respond to crises as a quick reaction force, conduct missions requiring stealth and board vessels while at sea. First developed by the British with UK rope manufacturer Marlow Ropes, its first combat use was during the Falklands War. The original rope was a thick nylon that could be used in a manner akin to a firepole. The special ropes used today are braided (plaited), which results in pattern on the outer circumference that is not smooth and so is easier to grip. Originally, each person would hold the rope for the next person; however this has been phased out.
It is quicker than abseiling (rappelling), although more dangerous, particularly if the person is carrying a heavy load, because the rope is not attached to them with a descender. The person holds onto the rope with his gloved hands and feet and slides down it.
Several people can slide down the same rope simultaneously, provided that there is a gap of approximately 3 metres (9.8 ft) between them, so that each one has time to get out of the way when they reach the ground.
The rope must be thick, typically 40 millimetres (1.6 in) diameter, to prevent it from being wildly jerked about from the rotor blast of the helicopter.
Individuals who fast-rope sometimes use a glove-inside-glove technique. In one such technique, combat gloves are used inside welder's gloves. When the fast-roping has ended, the outer gloves are removed.
Years ago, media reported about a disposable glove type (in use by special forces) which reportedly was designed for fast-roping. These gloves supposedly had advantageous properties, and after reaching specified lengths of fast-roping under specified conditions, the heat absorbed by the glove would have degraded the glove and also made the removing of the glove desirable.
Use by government forces
US Marine Corps
US Marines are trained to control the speed of descent by using their legs and feet in addition to their hands. (Instructors claim that some soldiers have let go of their rope because their gloves became too hot, causing injury.)
Fast-roping of around 25 US Marines onto a ship can take approximately 30 seconds.
The British military advises against use of the feet as this can make the descent for following personnel more dangerous. Specifically, boot polish or the leather of the boot can make the rope extremely slippery.
- MCRP 3-11.4A Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques (HRST) Operations
- Bianco, Michael (21 June 2009). "31st MEU Marines Fast Rope and Hook N' Climb at Sea". USS Essex (LHD-2) at sea: Marines.mil. Archived from the original on 2013-05-15. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
- Fast roping prepares Marines for rapid ship-to-shore deployment
- Fast Rope Inspection Manual
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