Vmax, one of our loyal readers, shot us a link to this Military.com article discussing possible future weapons for the infantry rifle squad.
After a decade of war, Army infantry officials want to make infantry squads more deadly by arming them with a new generation of weapons ranging from ultra-light machine guns to compact sniper rifles.
Testing and fielding newer, more lethal assault weapons is just part of a larger effort to address shortcomings in the current squad formation identified in a recent Capabilities-Based Assessment performed by the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga.
I’m sure there is plenty of scope for improvement of the small arms of the squad. In fact, the Army has already made vast changes to the small arms of infantry units since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The M4 has gone from being widely adopted to being the universal personal rifle of the infantry and indeed, just about everyone in the Army. Small arms optics were unheard of a decade ago, but now every rifleman and automatic weapon gunner has a combat optic on his weapon. The basic design of such weapons as the M240B machine gun, and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, having proven sound, have been improved primarily to “add lightness” with new versions with titanium receivers and other efforts to minimize the soldier’s load. The development of a Squad Dedicated Marksman role, and the rifle to fulfill it, is also a direct result of the current wars.
But while talking about small arms is all well and good, I’m curious as to what the article mentions, but doesn’t address.
The CBA was completed last year and found 22 “capability gaps” that hinder the nine-man infantry squad’s ability to be decisive in small-unit actions, infantry officials told Military.com. That doesn’t mean today’s troops have major problems, just that they have room to improve, the Army says.
As the article notes, the Army hasn’t released the details of the 22 areas that leave room for improvement. Our occasional contributor here, Esli, has noted that during recent visits to the Maneuver Center of Excellence1 at Ft. Benning, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the squad as the critical unit of decision. It is at the squad level that the fight initiates, and quite often is decided.
A little refresher course for our non-infantry friends- the basic Army rifle squad2 is a 9 man unit.
|1x Squad Leader– typically a Staff Sergeant (SSG)|
|Fire Team A||Fire Team B|
|Team Leader (SGT) M4 Carbine||Team Leader (SGT) M4 Carbine|
|Auto Rifleman (SPC) M249 SAW||Auto Rifleman (SPC) M249 SAW|
|Grenadier (SPC) M230/M4 GL||Grenadier (SPC) M230/M4 GL|
|Rifleman (PFC) M4 Carbine||Designated Marksman (PFC) M14EBR/M16/M110 DMR|
And therein lies a dirty little secret. In this, the most high tech, best army in the world, our rifle squad isn’t all that much better than that of any other army. The great strength of our Army (and our military as a whole) is its ability to leverage supporting fires and other services and technology far better than anyone else in the world. But if you take one squad of our infantry, and a squad of someone else’s infantry, say… the Taliban, and pit them against one another with no access to outside support, the technological edge of our force is greatly diminished. Very roughly, small arms are small arms. Neither the M4 carbine, nor the AK47 are so technologically superior as to determine the outcome of a fight.
Well, you say, our troops are smarter, better trained, and more physically fit. Indeed, as a rule of thumb, they are. And that gives them a terrific edge. But our troops are also hampered by the constraints of Rules of Engagement that limit their freedom to exploit their training, smarts, and fitness. Further, our goal isn’t to field a squad that can eke out a victory over a roughly matched opponent. It is to field a squad that can consistently overmatch any opponent. And those improvements aren’t free. For instance, while our squads have unsurpassed night vision capability, and modern body armor that saves many lives, those both add considerable weight to the soldier’s load, reducing his mobility on the march, and agility in the fight. It’s hard to jump up and quickly flank an opponent when you’re toting over a hundred pounds of stuff.
Finally, in our country, if a US rifle squad gets into a straight up fight with an enemy squad and completely wipes it out, and yet suffers a serious casualty or death, that’s not a victory. It is, for domestic consumption, a loss.
One of my long standing complaints about the current Army rifle squad is its small size. I just explained to you that the squad is 9 men. But Army units are only rarely at full strength. People are absent for any number of reasons- folks on leave, recovering from wounds or injuries (lots of grunts suffer sports type injuries, and need time on the DL), discharged early for whatever reason, needed to fill critical slots at other locations, what have you. So it is not at all uncommon for a squad to only be able to field 5 or 6 men at any one time. And even if by some minor miracle the squad can go outside the wire at full strength, 9 men isn’t a lot. If I had my druthers, the squad would expand to 11 men, with the addition of an extra rifleman in each fire team.
We’ve often written enthusiastically about technological advancements such as battlefield apps for smart phones. And while we still support innovative approaches to improving the rifleman’s ability to communicate and operate on a networked battlefield, we also recognize that using a smart phone in the middle of a firefight isn’t eminently practical.
Basically, we’d really like to see what the MCoE sees as “room for improvement” in their assessment. And while we’d love to see further advances to improve the lethality and survivability of the squad, we’re also concerned that the “good idea fairy” might unduly burden the squad with equipment and training that is not central to the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and assault.
1. Why the recent fetish for business sounding names? MCoE? Why can’t they just call it the Infantry and Armor Center and School? Or at least the Maneuver Center and School?
2. This organization applies to Infantry, Airborne Infantry, Air Assault Infantry, and Ranger Infantry. Stryker and Bradley Infantry squads have slightly different organizations.