The Rifle Squad

A couple years ago, a friend of the blog mentioned that one of the prime initiatives at the Maneuver Center of Excellence was an effort to increase the lethality of the Rifle Squad.

The Rifle Squad is the lowest tactical formation capable of fire and maneuver. It is the building block upon which Infantry companies, battalions and higher formations are built.

While there are different varieties of Infantry today in the Army, such as Mechanized, Airborne, Air Assault, Light and Ranger, the Rifle Squad is identical in all of them.

Today’s rifle squad consists of nine soldiers.

Squad Leader SSG M4 Carbine
A Team Leader SGT M4 Carbine
Auto Rifleman SPC M249
Grenadier SPC M4/M320
Rifleman PFC M4
B Team Leader SGT M4
Auto Rifleman SPC M249
Grenadier SPC M4/M320
Rifleman PFC M4

http://noblecotactical.com/uploads/3/2/1/0/3210155/1725476.jpg?554

This has been the standard organization of US Army Rifle Squads since the Army of Excellence reforms of 1983. That’s 31 years without any significant reorganizations, just about as long a stretch as any in the history of the Army.

The Rifle Squad balances balances several factors in its organization. First is span of control. In spite of all the miracles of communications technology today, in the close fight, voice commands and hand and arm signals still prevail as the most common, most effective means of control. The division of the squad into two teams means the Squad Leader only has to concentrate on controlling two elements. The team leaders have three subordinates to control, but much of that is simply by “follow the leader.” Secondly, the weapons of the squad, and the identical team organization, means that both teams have significant organic firepower, and either team is capable of forming a base of fire upon an enemy, or maneuvering against the enemy. That’s the basis of all tactics- one element forms the base of fire while the other maneuvers to attack the enemy by his flank or rear.

A historical review of the rifle squad shows that a 9 man squad is pretty much the smallest size in which a squad can maintain this autonomous ability to simultaneously conduct both fire and maneuver. At any smaller size, the loss of two, or even one member as a casualty renders the squad ineffective. What is interesting is that, in spite of the changes in weapons and technology across the 20th Century, this holds constant all the way to here in the 21st Century.

The concept of the Rifle Squad being a formation capable of independent fire and maneuver came about after World War I. The World War I Infantry Platoon had sections, organized by specialty, rather than squads. Riflemen, grenadiers, automatic rifle, and rifle grenade sections would be task organized as needed to fulfill a mission. Further, the platoon was generally expected to perform either fire or maneuver, as a single entity.

The Infantry in the US was the subject of a great deal of intellectual thought and efforts at experimentation between the wars at all levels, including down to the squad level.

The primary aim of all this study was to increase the lethality of the infantry, decrease the size of the formations, and increase the maneuverability of the formation. Maneuverability was more than mere mobility, in that control of the formations was a key aspect of maneuver, as opposed to mere movement.

This was part of the experimentation that lead to the triangular division. From platoon through division, the patter was set. Three maneuver elements with a supporting fire element. The platoon would have three squads and a weapons squad. The company three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon, etc., through the division with three regiments and the division artillery.

Things broke down a little at the rifle squad level. The Rifle Squad of World War II was a 12 man organization.

Squad Leader Sergeant M1 Rifle
Asst. Squad Leader Corporal M1 Rifle
Auto Rifleman PFC M1918 BAR
Asst. Auto Rflm. PVT M1 Rifle*
Ammo Bearer PVT M1 Rifle*
Scout PFC M1 Rifle
Scout PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PFC M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle

*Also carried extra 20rd BAR magazines

The Automatic Rifle team, with the BAR, assistant gunner and ammo bearer could obviously form a base of fire. The riflemen would thus serve as a maneuver element. The scouts (who apparently were rarely used as such) could either supplement the riflemen or the BAR team. The squad leader would normally lead the maneuver element, while his Corporal assistant controlled the BAR team.

After World War II, the Army revisited the question of the best organization for a rifle squad. Manpower shortages led to the adoption of a 9 man squad, with the elimination of the scouts and two riflemen.

Squad Leader Sergeant M1 Rifle
Asst. Squad Leader Corporal M1 Rifle
Auto Rifleman PFC M1918 BAR
Asst. Auto Rflm. PVT M1 Rifle*
Ammo Bearer PVT M1 Rifle*
Rifleman PFC M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle

During the Korean War, when available, a second BAR replaced one of the Riflemen.

When the Army restructured under the Pentomic Division, the squad was again reorganized, into a 10 man squad, and for the first time, introduced two fire teams. The unbalanced teams were unpopular, and shortly thereafter, the squad was increased to 11 men.

Squad Leader SSG M14
A Team Leader SGT M14
Auto Rifleman SPC M14 AR
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14
B Team Leader SGT M14
Auto Rifleman SPC M14 AR
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14

Note: delays in introducing the M14 meant many units were still armed with the M1 Rifle and the M1918 BAR well into the early 1960s. Also, ranks shown are representative. Also, eventually one rifleman would be armed with the M79 Grenade Launcher and serve as a grenadier- but only one per squad.

Again, manpower costs soon enough caused the Army to trim one rifleman from the squad. And again, the shortcomings of the unbalanced squad in combat soon enough lead to the reintroduction of the 11 man squad in Vietnam.

About that same time as the Army (again) settled on the 11 man squad, it also argued that in a perfect world, the squad would actually be 13 men, but that the Army could never afford it. Bowing to the personnel costs, the Army recommended 11 man light infantry squads, but 9 man mechanized infantry squads.

A word about the mechanized infantry squad of those days. Mounted on the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, with a crew of two, an 11 man squad only leaves 9 troops available for dismount.

That situation was exacerbated with the introduction of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It too had a 9 man squad associated with it, but three of those were vehicle crew, leaving only six dismounts. After 2o years, the Army fielded a new organization for Bradley platoons that showed 12 crewmen, and three dismount squads of 9 men each. The trouble there was, that totals 41 troops, while the Bradleys can only seat a total of 40 (counting crews). That doesn’t even account for the attachments a platoon habitually carries, such as aidmen and fire support specialists. Add in the additional attachments today such as interpreters and military working dog teams, and merely getting the platoon to the fight is problematic. Of course, units are constantly understrength, so there are generally one or two seats open.

One of the prime drivers to the move to the 9 man squad in 1983 was the Reagan buildup. The Army was authorized to increase its force structure, that is, the number of divisions it fielded, but was not authorized a substantial increase in its congressionally mandated end strength. If it wanted more units, it would have to trim body counts elsewhere. Among other things, it virtually eliminated cooks from the various field units. It trimmed the strength of its non-mechanized infantry divisions from around 16,0000 men to just over 10,000, most of which came from eliminated virtually all vehicles below the brigade level, but it also saved about 160 men by trimming from the 11 man squad to the 9 man squad. As M113 battalions converted to the M2 Bradley, they lost their anti-tank companies, and eventually lost their fourth rifle company.

Let’s diverge for a moment and address the Marine Corps Rifle Squad. Aside from a brief flirtation with the 9 man squad a few years ago, since World War II, the Marines have used a 13 man squad, with a squad leader and three fire teams.

Squad Leader SGT M16
A Team Leader CPL M16
Auto Rifleman LCPL M249
Grenadier PFC M16/M203
Rifleman PFC M16
B Team Leader CPL M16
Auto Rifleman LCPL M249
Grenadier PFC M16/M203
Rifleman PFC M16
C Team Leader CPL M16
Auto Rifleman LCPL M249
Grenadier PFC M16/M203
Rifleman PFC M16

There are some historical reasons, and doctrinal ones as well, why the Marines haven’t succumbed to shedding squad members from the squad as the Army has been forced to. Those are rather complicated and outside the scope of the discussion. The Marines are quite satisfied with their squad. Of note, when the Army posited that the ideal squad should be 13 men, it did not suggest adopting three teams, but rather two teams of 6 men, which would likely have been at the limits of the span of control for the team leaders.

Today’s rifle squad is a balanced organization, with considerable firepower, and maneuverability. What it lacks is manpower. The increased load of mission equipment that today’s infantry squad and platoon must carry into battle would be far less a burden were it to be shared over additional bodies.

In a perfect world, the light, airborne, air assault and Ranger infantry squads would be bumped up to 11 men. Limitations imposed by vehicles means mechanized and Stryker infantry will remain limited to 9 man squads.

But if I were to design my own army, you can bet I’d go with 13 man squads.

An interview with LTG H. R. McMaster

Just prior to departing Ft. Benning, H.R.  McMaster gave an interview with the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. A lot of it is geared to the local community, but quite a bit of it is applicable across the board, and worth a few minutes.

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster is a combination of warrior, intellectual and leader. He was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

McMaster earned a reputation for his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which questioned political and military leadership during Vietnam.

Dave Barno, a retired lieutenant general, described McMaster this way: “I watched senior Army generals argue over ways to end his career. But he dodged those bullets and will soon take over command of the Army’s ‘futures’ center. After years as an outspoken critic, McMaster soon will be in the right place to help build the right Army for the nation.”

McMaster has spent two years as commander of Fort Benning. He has been selected for promotion to lieutenant general, and has been reassigned to Fort Monroe, Va., where he will serve as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command. He has been in charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning for two years. McMaster recently sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams.

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One of the key strengths of our Army is what we call the “philosophy of mission command,” which is basically decentralized operations based on mission orders. It means, “Hey, I’m going to ask you to accomplish a mission, but I’m not going to tell you how to do it. You can figure it out.” That’s the strength of the American Army. It’s that kind of initiative and the ability to apply your imagination to solve problems. What I’ve found here at Fort Benning and across my career is if you give people the freedom to take initiative and help give them the resources they need to accomplish the mission, they’re always going to exceed your expectations.

When you’re a company commander or platoon leader at a remote Combat Outpost in Afghanistan, it’s hard for your commander to micromanage. There are some that are sure to try, but sheer distance has imposed Mission Command philosophy to some extent. Harking back to the WaPo piece on the challenges the Army will face in peacetime, one thing I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of is junior officers, used to operated well away from their chain of command, will increasingly chafe under the daily stress of the battalion commander being right across the street, and the multitude of taskings his staff generates that, to our hard charging officer, have no correlation to success in combat. These officers, who are just as capable of being successful as entrepreneurs as they were combat leaders, will walk out the door. The ones left behind, by and large, will be the ones that need more supervision. And the higher echelons of the unit will give it to them in ever increasing doses.  This “brightsizing” happens to every army in the transition to peacetime. And frankly, I don’t know how to mitigate it. And the worst part is, eventually those micromanaged leaders become senior leaders who, while fully capable of mouthing the philosophy of Mission Command, have internalized the lessons of oversupervision and micromanagement. Let’s hope enough of the cream of the crop can tolerate the avian excrement long enough to rise to senior leadership.

 

In the comments on a recent post, Byron asked about McMaster being passed over for Lieutenant General the first time.

While then COL McMaster was passed over for promotion to Brigadier General by the first promotion board, there is no promotion board for Lieutenant General. LTG is a nominative rank, and a rank of office. That is, only those positions authorized and required to be filled by a three star general, all of which require the advise and consent of the Senate. If you aren’t serving in one of those positions, you don’t get the three stars.

The Future of the Combat Outpost

From Tet during the Vietnam war to the present day, our enemies have intuitively grasped that the key to defeating the US lies not so much in success on the battlefield, but in eroding popular domestic support of US campaigns. In virtually every battle the US has fought in the last 50 years, the US has been able to seize terrain virtually at will, and inflict casualties on its enemies at ratios from 10-1 to 100-1.  In a strictly military sense, we’re unbeatable.

But unless and until the US is willing to reduce the lands of its enemies to utter wastelands, the enemy has only to remain a viable threat, and wait until the US forces inevitably return home. They then resume their campaign to overthrow any existing regime, and establish themselves as the ruling power, and in the process, crow about their victory of the the evil forces of America.

For a couple of reasons, such as media bias, as well as access to information, US victories over the forces of darkness receive far less coverage than US defeats. Accordingly, our enemies strive to defeat US forces in any venue, regardless of any tactical or operational military significance those operations may have.

In any counter-insurgency campaign, the first and most important objective of our forces is to secure the local population. That means US forces have to be co-located with them. Given the small numbers of troops we can commit at any one time and place, this necessarily means only small units can be positioned in most towns and villages, at most a company, but more commonly a reinforced platoon.  These forces are positioned in what are, in Army jargon, “Combat Outposts,” or COPs. Ideally, COPs are located close enough to be mutually supporting, either by fires or maneuver. Sadly, geography often means that isn’t possible.

Further, the small numbers of troops available to any COP means the commander is faced with the challenge of sustaining a viable defense of the COP, while also needed to get outside the wire. There are two reasons he needs to go out. First, the force MUST engage the local population. US forces must provide, and be SEEN to provide, physical security against insurgent forces, support host nation civic institutions and security forces, promote infrastructure development and generally “show the flag.” Further, US forces have to patrol within their areas of influence to deny enemy forces safe havens, and provide early warning of any impending attacks on their COP.  In Iraq, during the surge, the COP was part of an “ink blot” strategy in which a COP would first provide security for itself, then the immediate surrounding area, then through the use of offensive patrolling and attacks on insurgent hide positions, expand its region of security and influence. Obviously, the more terrain you secure, the more troops you need.

Hunkering down in FOBs and COPs just isn’t an option. Before the surge, US forces often didn’t have the manpower to get out among the population to the degree needed to establish control over any area greater than their compound.  But these compounds still needed to be supplied with fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts, and personnel. This lead to supply convoys having to travel through areas that US forces could not secure. Logistical units, those least suited for combat operations, became the focus of insurgent attacks, both from IEDs and from ambushes.  When your entire fight comes down to securing your supply lines solely to support bases which exist only to protect themselves, you’re fighting a losing battle. The initial impulse is to consolidate your forces in order to shorten your lines of supply and reduce the vulnerability of your supply lines. But granting an insurgent force a safe haven is a losing proposition.

Eventually, the Surge allowed US commanders enough manpower to both establish an interlocking network of COPs, and the forces to operate outside the wire to provide security to neighborhoods, villages, towns and entire cities.

Similar, though not identical, circumstances are in effect today in Afghanistan. There are combat outposts scattered throughout areas occupied by US forces.  While the Taliban forces have little chance of defeating US troop units on a large scale, that doesn’t mean that they cannot conceivable mass sufficient forces to defeat a platoon COP. Militarily, the destruction of one US platoon doesn’t mean much. The Taliban would not be able to retain the position. They’d be exposed to destruction by US forces. But that isn’t their objective, is it?   The blow to domestic American political support for operations there would be worth almost any price the Taliban paid. The secondary effect of showing the local population that the US was unable to guarantee their security would be an added bonus.

Via War News Updates, we find this article from Wired that discusses insurgent attempts to overrun one US COP.

 

Twice in the span of a month, the Taliban has unleashed human waves on one of the U.S. Army’s most isolated Afghan outposts. Twice, the American soldiers guarding the tiny fort have beat back the attackers, killing scores of extremists while suffering no losses of their own.

The U.S. troops’ skill, and luck, have been remarkable. They’re going to need both, as more large-scale attacks seem likely.

The Oct. 7 and Nov. 8 assaults on Combat Outpost Margah, in remote Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan, came almost exactly a year after one of the biggest pitched battles of the decade-long war. An October 2010 attack on COP Margah by hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers wielding rockets and AK-47s resulted in a lopsided tactical victory for the Americans. More than 90 Taliban died in a counter-barrage of gunfire, helicopter-fired missiles and satellite-guided bombs. As in the recent assaults, no Americans died — though the fighting left deep psychological scars.

If Army forces can keep the Taliban at bay for as little as 30 minutes, they can call upon massive amounts of firepower to support them, and break the back of the enemy’s assault.  But relying on luck isn’t what we are paying our military leaders for.

ADP 3.0, the Army’s capstone doctrine publication, foresees a future battlefield where combat will take place across a spectrum from low-level civil disturbances, to small scale insurgency, to mid-intensity conflict*, all simultaneously in a single theater.  As such, it is almost inevitable that any future theater the US deploys to will see distributed operations that include numbers of small troop formations establishing COPs.

Back in 2008, at what came to be known as the Battle of Wanat, the enemy was able to seize the initiative and inflict significant casualties on a US platoon as it was establishing a COP. A combination of geography, lack of troops, bad weather, and lack of early warning lead to the loss of 9 US soldiers lives, with many more wounded.  The Rand Corporation, a think tank with a long history of providing analytical support to the US defense industry, has provided a “hot wash” review of the situation at Wanat, and offers a look at potential solutions that the leadership on the ground faced there.  The document is a 36 page .pdf, but the meat of the document is only about 15 pages. I’d encourage you to download it and read it for yourself.

While most of the proposed solutions to the tactical problems described are technical, the fact is, the answer is, as always, in leadership and training. Small unit leaders such as platoon leaders, must be trained and capable of applying METT-TC analysis and implementing troop leadership procedures to prepare for operations in remote locations in which supporting ISR assets, fire support, and reinforcement from other units may not be close at hand. Leaders at company, battalion, and brigade level have to be aware of the difficulties they are imposing on these small detachments. They have to have a plan in place to support them. In fact, they’d better have a strong plan in place to determine whether establishing a COP at a given location at a given time is a wise use of their limited resources, or whether operations elsewhere should be used first to facilitate follow-on operations with a greater chance of success.

*Mid-intensity conflict being what we think of as traditional war, force on force, organized army against organized army. High-intensity war being reserved to describe nuclear war.

Hope in Afghanistan?

The Washington Times has an article out that says some folks in the military are starting to see progress from the troop surge.

“What is happening is, the Taliban’s freedom of movement,” he said. “We are literally taking away from them things they are used to. We are denying them some of the safe havens that they have in the south. We are denying them the support zones they’ve been operating out of with impunity.

“Support zones are up in the mountains, where they use villagers to help hide their weapons caches. Safe havens are up there, too, usually away from everybody, and we are denying them the use of those. We are interdicting and disrupting their operating areas, which had a tendency to focus on the roads quite a bit, and we’re interdicting what they’re doing there.”

But all is not sunshine and puppies:

Gen. Petraeus is on a schedule to show positive results by July 2011, when President Obama’s war strategy calls for the beginning of a troop exit.

The four-star general’s job may have gotten tougher last week, when James L. Jones, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, quit as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. He will be succeeded by Thomas Donilon, a Democratic Party operative and lawyer who served as Gen. Jones’ deputy and who opposed more troops for Afghanistan, which puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

GEN Jones successor, Tom Donilon, has virtually no qualifications in the national security field other than being wrong as often as Joe Biden (hence his elevation in this administration). He’ll be at loggerheads with Gates. I won’t be a bit surprised when Gates elects to “spend more time with his family.” The next SecDef will probably be another clueless functionary.

Here’s the problem- the military is trying to  find a way to win this war. The Obama administration is trying to find a way to quit. But the administration is also leery of being accused of cutting and running. So they put on a show of a surge, set preconditions that effectively doom it (hello, July 2011!) and then will say the war is unwinnable. Well, here’s the thing. No war is unwinnable. But you can take a tough fight and work to lose it.

Let’s face it, in 2006, all the Democratic Party establishment, and a pretty fair portion of the GOP thought Iraq was hopeless. But Jack Keane, mentioned early in this article, managed to get President Bush’s ear, and convince him that there was indeed a path to victory. Keane was, more than Petraeus, the real architect of the surge in Iraq (he was the idea guy, Petraeus was the guy who had to make that idea work).

A similar operational concept is being employed in Afghanistan right now. It is NOT a carbon copy. The theaters are very different, and so are the players. The challenges of the terrain, and the fact of Pakistani duplicity are real problems. But as you can note from the article, there is real cause for optimism. Sadly, I’m not at all convinced the President will seize this initiative and continue a tough road. After all, he’s never done things the hard way before.

H/T: WNU