Pyramid Schemes

Most people don’t have a very good idea how the Army is organized. Given that the Army uses a jargon to designate units, this is pretty understandable. Mostly, the Army is organized under “The Rule of Three to Five”. The concept behind the rule is “span of control”. Typically, a leader can only effectively lead three to five subordinate units. Any more than that and control becomes problematic. It is just too hard to keep track of things. Various units are organized in different ways, but for our example, we’ll use my first unit, a light infantry division in the mid 80’s. The organization has changed since then, but this will give you some idea of how things work.

The smallest element in the infantry is the “fire team”.  This consists of a Team Leader, typically a Sergeant (E-5), armed with an M-16, an Automatic Rifleman armed with an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW, basically a light machine gun), a Grenadier armed with an M-16 with the M203 40mm grenade launcher attached, and a Rifleman armed with an M-16. Notice that this gives the team a balance of weapons, and with a leader and three subordinates, follows the 3-5 rule.

The next step up is the squad, and it is actually the exception to the rule, in that it has only two subordinate units. Two Fire Teams are paired with a Squad Leader, usually  a Staff Sergeant (E-6). The two teams allows the squad leader to use one team as a base of fire, while the other team maneuvers to assault the enemy. Three squads are used to make up a platoon.

Platoons are lead by a Second Lieutenant or a First Lieutenant (O-1 or O-2), with a Sergeant First Class (E-7) as his Platoon Sergeant. In addition to the three rifle squads, there is a weapons squad that belongs to the platoon, which has two medium machine gun teams. This is a pattern we will see repeated where a unit has 3 maneuver elements and a supporting weapons element.  The platoon also has a small headquarters element with Radiotelephone Operators for the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant. If other folks like medics or forward observers are loaned to the platoon (we would say “attached”) they would be part of the headquarters.

The next echelon is the Rifle Company. A Rifle Company is Commanded by a Captain (O-3) who is assisted by his First Sergeant (E-8). There are three rifle platoons, a weapons platoon, and a headquarters. The weapons platoon consists of two 60mm mortars, and a section of anti-tank gunners with a medium antitank missile. In my day, this was the M-47 Dragon, but now it is the Javelin, a much, much better weapon. The company headquarters, in addition to the CO and the 1SG, had RTOs for the CO, an armorer to fix the weapons, a supply sergeant, a Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Warfare NCO, and usually some attachments from the higher echelons, such as an artillery forward observer team. Again, we follow the 3-5 rule and have a supporting weapons element. Incidently, much like your own civilian organizations, re-orgs happen all the time. In the two years I was in Hawaii, the antitank section went from belonging to the company, then belonging to the platoons, then back to the company.

The Infantry Battalion is the parent unit for rifle companies, and is pretty much the smallest unit that will operate indepentently. A Light Infantry Battaltio consisted of three rifle companies and a Headquarters & Headquarters Company (HHC). An Infantry Battalion (BN) is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (O-5). He has an Executive Officer who is a Major (O-4) and a Command Sergeant Major (E-9).

He also has a staff to assist him with. There are four principal staff officers. S-1 deals with personnel and is typically a Captain. S-2 is the Intelligence Officer and is usually a Captain, but sometimes a senior First Lieutenant. The S-3 is the Operations, Plans & Training Officer and is a Major. The S-4 is the Logistics Officer and is usually a Captain. Each of these staff officers has a section of people working for them, usually a couple of junior officers, some mid-grade NCOs and a few private soldiers.

In addition, the BN CO has some special staff officers such as a chaplain. The HHC was a combination of weapons and support elements. There was an anti tank platoon with TOW missiles mounted on jeeps or Hummers, an 81mm mortar platoon, and a Scout platoon. For support, there was a medical platoon, a Support platoon with 15 or so Hummers for transport, a commo section, and a maintainence section. Most of the support elements worked for the staff officers, so we aren’t really violating the 3-5 rule. Basically, the BN CO had to coordinate and lead the three rifle companies to accomplish his mission. We’ll take a look at higher echelons at some point in the future.

Gunnery Goofs, Part One

Radio vs. ICS-
I was on a gunnery range in Colorado, getting ready to zero the main gun on my Bradley. I’d been spotting the other vehicles all night and now it was my turn. Some of the commo guys came up with a way to wire the second radio to transmit “hotmike” everything over the ICS (intercom) to evaluate the crew coordination. It played over the speakers in the tower and was taped for review.

Tower told me to go ahead and shoot. Only problem was that the zero target wasn’t up. I came up on the primary radio and told them. They came back and insisted it was. We went back and forth a few times on the primary radio.

I’d forgotten that we’d switched to hot mike and finally, disgusted, turned to my gunner and in a rant that would make the saltiest bos’un blush, cursed the civilian tower operator, his parentage, the US Army, Colorado, the target and Lord knows who else,explaining that I’d been watching the target for the last 10 hours and had a pretty good idea when it was up or down. My gunner let me go on for a good while before finally, in a small, quiet voice, saying two words. “hot mike”.

That tape was a little embarassing. But it finally convinced them the target wasn’t working. The night got even weirder after that. Stay tuned for Part 2.


I watched the movie “Midway” on Netflix the other day. It hadn’t aged very well. It looked like they stole a lot of footage from “Tora, Tora, Tora!”. One thing about those movies from the 70’s, though- it had everyone in it. Like who, you ask? How about Dabney Coleman, Erik Estrada, and Tom Selleck. Who knew…..

Buffer Rodeo

Since my most popular post to date involves the application of “soft power”, I thought I’d post a follow up. The guy’s in the video are Marines, but give credit where due- I’ve never seen a better example.


Real Army Life


Most of my time in the Army was spend doing serious stuff, but there was usually an element of humor in it. I have no idea who these guys are, but I can tell you I spent a great deal of time making life miserable for my driver.

Why 25mm?

The Bradley has a 25mm automatic main gun mounted in its turret. It also has a two round TOW missile launcher and a 7.62mm machine gun next to the main gun. 25mm is an oddball size ammunition. The US has previously tended to use the same calibers over and over. Examples would be 20mm, some 37mm, and lots of 40mm weapons. So why did the 25mm come in to use with the Brad?

The Bradley family of vehicles was developed in the late 60’s and throughout the 70’s largely as a response to the Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle, and primarily with the defense of Germany and Western Europe in mind. The Red Army was huge. Even considering that the US sector of the defense was fairly narrow, units would be facing massive numbers of Soviet tanks, BMPs, and BTR wheeled armored personnel carriers (APC’s). The M-113 was armed with only an M-2 .50cal machine gun. That’s a great gun, but it was insufficient to defeat BMPs and BTRs. Our Army’s tanks would have their hands full just trying to defeat the awsome numbers of Soviet tanks. Clearly, the next vehicle would have to have an anti armor capability. In addition, a prime infantry mission is to suppress enemy infantry and keep them from employing their own wire-guided anti-tank missiles against US tanks and infantry vehicles. It was a foregone conclusion that the next vehicle would have an auto-cannon. This was hardly new. Many M-114 scout vehicles had carried an M-39 20mm cannon. The question was, which gun?

The M-39 was a very attractive option. It was already in service, there were lots of them in the inventory (several cold war jets used them), there was a ready supply of ammunition and a mount already existed for them.

There were several drawbacks to the M-39, however. Maintainence had been difficult for M-114 units, and the gun lacked range and a good armor-piercing round. Also, the exposed action of the gun was vulnerable to dirt and moisture, causing a high failure rate. Surely the Army could do better.

About this time, Hughes came up with the concept of a “Chain Gun”. Rather than using recoil or gases from the firing of the weapon, an electric motor would drive a bicycle chain in a continuous loop. A cam mounted on the chain would fit into a slot on the bolt carrier of the weapon and provide the power to feed, load, fire, extract, and eject the ammo for the weapon. Best of all, the system was scaleable. Chain guns have been made from 7.62mm up to 35mm, and could conceivably go larger. The design was virtually jam free (15,000 rounds between failures), fairly lightweight, the rate of fire could be adjusted just by changing the power of the motor, and could accept two different types of ammo from two feed chutes. So the Army had the gun design it wanted. The question now was, what sized.

Everyone who comes here should know that you need to bring enough gun to the fight. But what most folks don’t realize is that in the Army, you also don’t want to bring too much gun. You want just enough to get the job done. Too much gun means more weight, more space needed (which almost always means even more weight), more space needed for ammo, and fewer rounds carried, and it generally costs more as well. It also leads to a larger muzzle blast, making it easier to spot.

After quite a few live fire tests of various sized guns (often on Soviet vehicles captured during the 1973 Sinai War), the Army settled on the M-242 25mm gun. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first 25mm in Army service. Ever. When I first started working on Bradleys in 1990, I was curious how they settled on that, and not just the bore size, but the velocity and range characteristics. A look at the potential battlefields of Europe gave me the answers.

The M-242 originally fired two types of operational ammunition and two types of training ammunition. There was an APDS-T (armor-piercing, discarding sabot-tracer) round, an HEI-T (high explosive incindeiary-tracer) round, a TPDS-T (training practice discarding sabot-tracer) round and a TP-T (training practice-tracer) round.

The APDS-T round had an effective range of 1700 meters, or just over a mile. When fired, the sabot fell away, leaving a 12.7mm (.50 cal) slug of tungsten to travel to the target. It penetrated the armor by kinetic energy, with no explosive charge. Given Soviet vehicle design, 3-5 hits should disable a vehicle, it’s crew, or start a fire from onboard fuel and ammo.

The HEI-T round had a range of up to 3000 meters, or a little over a mile and a half. Upon impact or at 3000 meters, the round would explode. The bursting charge was high explosive with a effective radius of 5 meters. The charge also had an incindeary component to start fires.

Mounted coaxially (that is, wherever the main gun pointed, it pointed too) to the main gun was a M-240C 7.62mm machine gun with an effective range of 900 meters. This fired the standard 4 ball/1 tracer mix.

These ranges actually have a basis in doctrine and desired effects on the then current Soviet forces. 1700 meters for the ADPS-T round matched the average field of fire in Western Europe and outranged the BMP’s main gun by about 800 meters. It didn’t need to shoot further since there were few places that you could see the enemy that far away. The HEI-T round self destructed at 3000 meters- The same range as the Soviet AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile the gun would be used to suppress. Basically, it was like tossing hand grenades a mile and a half, two hundred times a minute. You didn’t even have to kill the missile crew, just rattle them enough to make them miss. Given that a Sagger could take up to 30 seconds to travel the full 3000 meters, you could put quite a few HEI-T rounds in the missile crews direction.

The coax 7.62mm gun’s 900 meter range also just happened to match the maximum range of the Soviet RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher.

It came as quite a shock to me to realize that the Army had actually put quite a bit of thought into just how to arm the Bradley. Once I realized that, I started seeing a lot of other weapon systems where design decisions made a lot more sense. A lot of the doctrine of the day became clear as well. Just wait till I give you the lesson on AirLand Battle Doctrine in the 1980’s.