In 1984 5th Airborne Brigade was in the process of developing its Limited Parachute Assault Capability (LPAC), which required a formation of 15 Hercules aircraft to drop a parachute battalion group over 2 drop zones (DZs) in under 5 minutes, by day or night. To do this there was a requirement for the DZs to be clearly marked, in order to ensure that the crews had an easily identified reference point to allow them to drop accurately and consistently.
Pathfinders had always been used for this task from as early as 1943. However, the demise of 16th Parachute Brigade in 1977 and the disbandment of the Pathfinder Company (No 1 (Guards) Independent Company The Parachute Regiment) meant that the expertise was lost. From then on the parachute battalions were required to develop and maintain that skill themselves, which proved difficult.
The requirement for a brigade level capability led to the re-establishment of a pathfinder unit and the formation of the Pathfinder Platoon in 1985.
From the begining much emphasis was placed upon High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachuting as an insertion method. In addition to the pathfinding role the platoon acted as the Brigade’s own medium range reconnaissance force, bridging the gap between the tactical recce of the battalions’ patrols platoons and strategic level recce carried out by Special Forces.
The Pathfinders currently operate within 16 Air Assault Brigade, which succeeded 5 Airborne Brigade in 1999.
During the Brigade's Op Herrick XIII tour in Afghanistan, 2010, the Pathfinders formed the major component of 16 Air Assault's Brigade Reconnaissance Force.
The Pathfinder Selection Cadre is open to soldiers of all cap badges, although there remains a very strong Parachute Regiment contingent. The selection cadre currently lasts 6 weeks and include a rigorous process to test aptitude, endurance, soldiering and field craft skills. Soldiers who successfully pass the cadre undergo a period of further indepth weapons training; high altitude parachute training in America; and survival escape resistance and evasion (SERE) training before deployment to the Pathfinders.