In this age of stealth jets, nuclear munitions and guided weapons the infantryman still remains the most important weapon system. It is the infantryman who looks in the foxhole or immobilized tank to establish that the enemy is dead. It is the infantryman that drags the tyrant from his spider-hole. Wars end when it is Soldiers beating down the door, not bombs. Against the terrorists that hide behind civilians it is the infantry that will share the brunt of separating wolves and sheep. To avoid the massive firepower of conventional forces guerillas will often locate in difficult terrain where military vehicles cannot operate easily. The solution to this is usually the infantryman.
Until the early part of the 20th century most infantry combat consisted of troops operating as large formations of battalion strength or greater. A classic example of this was the Battle of Omdurman,1898. Small unit actions of platoon strength or less were by no means unknown, of course, but usually had very little strategic significance. For this reason in most armies the infantry were organized and equipped to fight as large formations. About the time of the Boer War things began to change. Improvements in weapons such as high-velocity flatter-trajectory ammunition, magazine rifles, machine guns and better artillery began to make operating in large formations very hazardous. If in a defensive position infantry could make use of entrenchments but large offensive formations of infantry became increasingly costly and ineffective. This ultimately lead to the trench stalemate of the First World War. Towards the end of the war the Germans introduced Stormtrooper or Hutier tactics and small unit operations began to have an important strategic role. By using stealth and exploiting irregularities in terrain small units could infiltrate and bypass enemy positions. One innovation developed was to rely mainly on edged weapons and grenades during an assault. Explosions might be mistaken for artillery or mortar fire and ignored by nearby enemies, while gunfire was an obvious signal that an attack was underway. Stormtrooper units could create gaps in the enemy's lines through which other units could advance. These tactics proved to be very successful. Oddly H. G. Wells describes Stormtrooper tactics very accurately in his 1903 story "The Land Ironclads
"What would you do if you were the enemy? said the war correspondent, suddenly. If I had men like I've got now? Yes. Take these trenches. How? Oh-dodges! Crawl out half-way at night before moonrise and get into touch with the chaps we send out. Blaze at 'em if they tried to shift, and so bag some of 'em in the daylight. Learn that patch of ground by heart, lie all day in squatty holes, and come on nearer next night. There's a bit over there, lumpy ground, where they could get across to rushing distance-easy. In a night or so.. It would be a mere game for our fellows; it's what they're made for. . . .Guns? Shrapnel and stuff wouldn't stop good men who meant business. Why don't they do that? Their men aren't brutes enough; that's the trouble. They're a crowd of devitalized townsmen, and that's the truth of the matter.
It seems unlikely that Wells came up with this idea himself. One can argue that such skills have been used by mankind ever since it first began hunting. The mystery remains as to why if such tactics were known they were not tried earlier in the war. Certainly many British officers would have read Wells' story in Strand Magazine where it was first published.
After the First World War small unit operations become a common occurrence. In many operations such as counter-insurgency or urban environments small unit operations effectively become the norm with units routinely operating independently in platoon or squad strength. The Korean War saw "Human wave" attacks practiced by the Chinese and North Koreans that on the surface look like a return to the mass attacks of the First World War. These wave attacks were in fact parallel columns of platoons with their squads in lines. Such units would attempt to approach the enemy position as closely and quietly as practical and made use of grenades and edged weapons when possible. Such operations can in many respects be thought of a multiple simultaneous Stormtroop attacks.
After World War One the infantry underwent some reorganization to better utilize the new weapons that had been introduced. The squad-level machine gun had been introduced so it became common to split the rifle squad into two parts. The machine gun team would be used to pin the enemy in position while the rest of the squad would move into a position from which they could flank attack, throw grenades or bayonet charge. A common variation now practiced in many armies is to give the squad two machine guns so either half can maneuver while the other provides support fire. A platoon is often comprised of several such "rifle squads" with a weapons squad which operates extra machine guns and sometimes light mortars and/or anti-tank weapons. Several platoons of this type are grouped with a weapon platoon with heavier weapons to form a company. A battalion has several companies with a support company of medium or heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, recoilless weapons and ATGWs. This pattern continues higher with Infantry battalions usually placed in brigades with an artillery battalion. Radio communication has also had an impact on organization. The mortars of the weapons platoon and higher support units are often out of sight of the enemy and rely on communication with forward units to direct their fire.
This model of organization that is now widely used is clearly designed with mutual fire support and "fire and maneuver" in mind. One half of a squad fires to support the other half. The weapons squad forms a base of fire to allow the other squads to maneuver, and so on up. For this system to work various elements must be in line of sight of each other or in radio contact. What happens when radio communication cannot be established or the nature of the terrain prevents visual contact?
Veteran Soldier and best-selling military author Ralph Zumbro has raised and interesting and important question. If small unit operations are the bread and butter of modern infantry combat, is the infantry unit actually equipped, trained and organized in the best way to do this?
To examine this idea we need to consider exactly what a modern infantry squad or platoon is used for. We need to consider not just what a unit is intended or expected to do, but what they actually end up doing in practice. My dictionary defines the Infantry as "The branch of an army made up of units trained to fight on foot", "one who fights on foot with small arms" and "Soldiers armed and trained to fight on foot". It also defines Foot Soldier as "One who performs necessary but basic, often mundane tasks". Although not particularly complimentary, the last is worth reflecting on, since the infantryman usually ends up performing all of the tasks that more specialized systems cannot.
Strengths of the infantry include
Stealth Since an infantryman is considerably easier to kill than a tank, stealth is one of his main survival strategies. The land surface of the world can be divided into open and closed terrain. From the infantryman's point of view closed terrain can be defined as that in which he can easily hide. In open country the infantryman can be seen at far greater distances.
Ability to operate on terrain unsuitable for most vehicles. Many parts of the earth surface can still only be traversed on foot ("Pedestrian" terrain), and as has been mentioned, such areas are very attractive to forces that want to neutralize an enemy's advantage in armour. Where roads do exist in such areas they are an obvious site for mining and ambush. Even in cities well supplied with roads there are many areas where vehicles cannot go. A tank is of little use in clearing the twelfth floor of a tower block, and the total destruction of the building will usually not be possible or prudent.
Capable of exploiting "micro-terrain". Even the flattest appearing field often has undulations or other means of concealment such as patches of long grass. When crawling the competent infantry man can use such features to get close to his objective.
From a modern military perspective characterisation of terrain is judged by what cover and concealment it offers and how readily it allows the movement of vehicles. Concealment/cover is described by phrases such as open or closed terrain. The Scrapboard chooses to describe how readily terrain can be moved through or over by vehicles with phrases such as motorable, motor-traversable, mech-traversable and pedestrian.
There is an old adage that "the cavalry halts between moves, the infantry moves between positions". Certainly many infantry missions involve occupying ground. Such missions include ambushes or the defence of assets. In H. John Poole's books he describes several useful variations of such tactics. One is to allow the enemy to pass past the forward (camouflaged) defensive positions and then engage him with fire into his flanks and rear. Another is the policy of not trying to hold ground that has no strategic value. If the enemy attacks a position inflict casualties and then fall back and engage him again from a new position. When involved in such warfare bipod and tripod fired weapons such as machine guns are a great asset but should be portable enough that they can be rapidly moved when it is necessary to chance positions.
Tankers seem to constantly need to relearn the lesson that infantry can kill tanks at close range. One strength of the infantryman is ease with which he can hide. Even in open country the use of a slit trenches, ditches or spider-holes can allow him to get within the visual dead zone of a tank where he cannot be seen. Explosive and/or incendiary charges can be placed on the tank or the weaker rear armour attacked with Infantry Anti-tank weapons. In recent years we have seen infantry attacks on armoured vehicles applied with considerable success in urban environments. Anti-tank teams of four men or less can easily use the concealment offered by such terrain to get within a hundred yards of a vehicle. The sight or sound of a vehicle will often draw several such teams to it, resulting in simultaneous multiple attacks from various directions without any need for communication or coordination between the teams. An analogy might be a scorpion dropped onto an anthill. One of the main defences that a tank force has against such tactics is to operate alongside infantry of their own. In open country the infantry may be riding on APCs and act as observer/gunners, watching the immediate area while the tanks concentrate on moving to the next objective. In close terrain the infantry will usually be dismounted, covering the dead area around the vehicle and scouting any likely firing position or hiding place for anti-tank teams. In close terrain vehicle speed is often reduced, so the dismounted infantry do not slow the movement of the unit down.
Not only are infantry troops who fight where vehicles cannot be used they also have a major role in allowing the use of vehicles in terrain where vehicles can be used.
Jungle or Woodland terrain is an obvious example of close terrain. Movement of vehicles in such terrain may be impossible. At best vehicle movement will be slow and noisy or restricted to roads. There is a very high likelihood that vehicles will fall victim to anti-tank teams under such conditions. These characteristics make jungles and woodlands very attractive to guerillas and other forces that face conventional forces well equipped with Armour. For these reasons operations in Jungle or Woodland terrain rely heavily on infantry forces. Most infantry missions in Jungle or Woodland will involve either trying to find the enemy or avoiding him. In such situations two man units may be the main unit of action. Such a pair can unobtrusively scout ahead or to the flanks of the main force. When the force is stationary they can act as easily hidden listening posts. The four man fire team will also see applications. The nature of the terrain is such that mutual support fire from other elements in the squad or platoon may not be possible. Having a Weapons Squad with centralized firepower is not particularly useful in such an environment. What is needed is for a scout pair or four man team to have sufficient decisive organic firepower to allow them to protect themselves or mount hasty assaults and ambushes when an enemy is encountered unexpectedly.
One of the most commonly encountered examples of open country are Deserts or Plains. Visibility and engagement ranges may be long. Open country usually permits the operation of vehicles and it is likely that infantry will be riding rather than marching. Infantry cannot contribute to the battle or assist armour if they cannot keep up with them. If operating alongside tanks the infantry unit must be mounted on vehicles with sufficient speed and cross country mobility to keep up with the tanks. Such vehicles will also need a level of protection that gives them a reasonable chance of survival against weapons that may be directed against the formation. If patrolling independently in open country the use of vehicles allows the infantry unit to cover more ground, and in harsh environments allows sufficient spares, fuel and equipment to be carried. Vehicles used should have suitable mobility for the terrain and suitable armament and protection for the threats likely to be encountered.
While infantry should be "armed and trained to fight on foot" this is not their only option. In certain situations infantry may be more effective if they fight from their vehicle. This was discovered by the ARVN mounted in M113s at a time when official doctrine was that infantry should always dismount to fight. ARVN infantrymen used their M113s as "mobile foxholes". Nowadays it is more common to hear complaints about Bradley infantry not dismounting enough. Effective use of mounted infantry depends on a good understanding of whether mounted and dismounted action is more suited to the tactical situation.
Infantry riding on vehicles are essentially functioning as gunner/observers. Dismounted action will usually be when there is a need to search an area, for stealth or to approach a position where there may be an RPG threat to the vehicles. The use of vehicles allows the platoon or squad to carry heavier weapons and greater loads of ammo and stores. Open country will often allow the elements of a platoon to be mutually supporting. In such a situation a base of fire can be created by dismounted troops, vehicle mounted weapons or a combination of the two. Dismounted teams may act as a base of fire to allow the vehicles to maneuver and assault a position. Tracking or infiltration teams may travel on foot in such country. Horses, bicycles, skis, motorbikes and Quad bikes have also been used for such missions. Such units may be of squad size or smaller which implies they need to have sufficient firepower for self-protection and offensive capability.
In an Urban environment Infantry may need to operate on foot to screen vehicles, sweep buildings, counter enemy infantry or interact with civilians. Or they may need to hold buildings and attack enemy vehicles. For missions such as room-clearing small mobile teams with adequate firepower will be needed. A similar sort of unit will be needed for tank-hunting. Weapons such as RPG/LAW systems will be used for both demolition and anti-tank. Vehicles (both organic and attached) can operate as a base of fire where visibility permits mutual support. In counter-insurgency, peacekeeping and aid operations there is a high possibility that civilians and non-combatants will be present. This may result in lethal force being applied with precision to avoid unwanted casualties. The unit may also need to have a Less Lethal Weapon (LLW) capability too.
When weather conditions are good mountainous terrain can be regarded as open terrain in that long engagement ranges will be possible. Units will often operate with the benefit of support fires from other elements of the platoon or from higher units. In other respects mountainous terrain can be regarded as close in that it will be difficult to operate vehicles other than on roads and vegetation and uneven ground will create many hiding places for a foot soldier. Enemies may be distant so main organic killing systems will be machine guns (GPMGs), sniping rifles and light mortars. Terrain may make the idea of fire and maneuver into grenade range impractical.
The infantry are a combat system that has applications for the full spectrum of military operations. Infantry are used for everything from major combat operations (Major Theatre Warfare or MTW) to Humanitarian Aid (HA) or Disaster relief. Between these two extremes are various operations such as counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, peacekeeping and non-combatant evacuation. In large combat operations infantry may be operating alongside or against armour and both sides may be using potently destructive systems such as artillery, air-strikes and naval gunfire. Often it will be small teams of infantrymen that locate targets for such systems and direct their fire. In more limited conflicts such as counter-insurgency the use of systems such as artillery and air-strikes will need to be more judicious and more of the burden of combat will fall on the infantry. Terrain may prevent the use of supporting armour. Main foe will be infantry/guerillas/terrorists. To reduce collateral damage a unit needs good organic direct fire capability and needs to be able to deliver it with precision. A unit may need to be capable of graduated levels of force to deal with angry civilians and other situations where lethal force will be counter-productive or unnecessary. Low Aggression Military Operations (LAMO) such as Peacekeeping or HA may still require a force to have a self-defence capability but this must be applied with restraint and precision. A Less-Lethal capability will often be necessary.
The Infantry platoon must be structured and equipped to handle any of these missions since many rely heavily on the use of platoon or squad sized infantry units.
For many of the operations described above it will be seen that one or more pairs of infantrymen working ahead of the unit is often more effective than sending the whole squad or platoon. Such pairs can act as scouts, flank guards, trackers, tank-hunters and forward observers or aircraft controllers. In a static defence such units will form LPs/OPs or roving security patrols. Four-man teams also prove to be a useful tactical unit. Such small units will need sufficient firepower to defend themselves or gain the initiative during a hasty attack.
To meet such needs I propose a Squad that has two fire teams, each of four men.
The addition of a squad leader gives us a nine-man squad as is currently used. I propose that to this we also add a two man "Gun team" which is armed with a belt-fed M249 SAW and a HBAR. This new TOE is intended to increase the organic firepower of the squad for situations where the squad is operating independently or in situations where support fire from vehicles or other elements is not possible. It is tempting to think of this unit as a "three team squad" but such a label obscures the tactical possibilities of this unit. For example, a squad leader may put a two man unit out on each flank and one or two pairs scouts or trackers at the van, keeping his SAW team and remaining Soldiers as a central body to react to any threats or encounters. This would effectively be a four or five team formation.
Three such squads form a platoon along with the HQ element. The Platoon HQ is structured in much the same way as current platoons. There is a Platoon commander (possibly with a M79?), Platoon Sergeant, JUS/FO/FAC team, RATELO and Medic etc. The HQ element has a single weapon team, which has a light (commando) 60mm mortar that provides illumination, smoke or indirect fires as the Platoon Leader directs. Size of this weapon team is open to debate but will be between two and four men. In addition to the mortar it may include a M249 SAW or M240 GPMG or may have an Anti-tank system, depending on mission. Essentially the above TOE decentralizes the powerful weapons to make the squads more potent in terrain where mutual support from the rest of the platoon is problematic. This basic TOE can be easily modified to suit the mission. In a LAMO operation the platoon weapons team will man an MG under direct control of the platoon leader and the rest of the squad will mainly carry rifles or shotguns. In mountainous terrain a squad may be issued with one or more GPMGs and we may also see a commando mortar carried at squad level. Most of squad will serve as ammo bearers/spotters for these weapons and act as local defence or assault element if needed. A fire team in essence will be a MG or mortar with three ammo bearers (one of whom may be a sniper). A squad will essentially be two or three GPMG teams or two GPMGs and a mortar team.
The platoon TOE proposed would be fit well with the MuRo battalion and Patch force ideas proposed elsewhere. An M113 has a capacity of 2+11men so it is possible to carry a platoon of the type proposed. With a Patch unit it is likely that the carrier crews will be part of the Patch unit. Eleven men in the back of a M113 is possible, but not necessarily ideal. My personal view is that it will be more practical to carry less men in each vehicle, giving more elbow room during long patrols and room for equipment, stores, spares, ammunition and additional RPG protection. Spare seats in a vehicle also make it easier to accommodate the passengers and crew of a disabled vehicle or move non-combatants. Ralph Zumbro has suggested that any mechanized unit needs a support track per platoon. This provides a place for the medic, mechanics, spare parts, supplies and maybe a fuel/ammo trailer, drastically increasing patrol range and endurance.
Ralph Zumbro: "The four vehicle platoon has one serious flaw. One mobility kill and all you have is a two-tank or two-ACAV light section to go fight your war, as one vehicle has to be left back with the cripple. With a five tank platoon you at least have a heavy section out doing damage and two full crews working on the cripple."
With a five M113 Patch unit three vehicles can each carry a squad leader and two fire teams. The fourth vehicle carries the Platoon weapons team and HQ element except for the Platoon Sgt. The three squad Gun teams ride on the fifth vehicle with the Platoon Sgt. This effectively forms the Gun teams into an informal Weapons Squad. Since infantry are most likely to be riding vehicles in open terrain were mutual support is possible this may prove quite useful.
A squad strength patrol should never be created by sending just one vehicle. Combat vehicles should always operate in pairs. In the event of a breakdown or other event one vehicle can tow the other or transport the crew. If fielding a squad strength unit at least two carriers should be sent, or a carrier paired with a tank. Use of two carriers allows more room and comfort for the crew and allows more fuel and supplies to be carried, increasing the possible endurance of the patrol. Such a small unit would also benefit from having a couple of motorcycles and/or all-terrain bicycles for mounting scout pairs.
The number of seats available in a Bradley Platoon prevents it adopting the TOE that I have proposed. However, the main function of a Bradley Platoon is to support tanks, not to conduct squad sized operations. The rearranged seating system shown in FM 3-21.71 gives a dismount element of three nine-man squads, but it is obvious that it will take some time for dismounting troops will arrange themselves into these divisions. It can be seen here that each vehicle carries enough personnel to form four six to seven man fire teams. It may be prudent to have some practice in operating the platoon as two large dismounted squads for when a unit must go into action at short notice.
William proposes in this article a platoon composed of four Fire Teams, a HQ team and a Machine gun team, each of five men. Each fire team would have a SAW, a LSW/HBAR and at least one grenade launcher. The five-man MG team would have a GPMG and there might be a platoon mortar with this team. His more recent articles suggest three Fire teams, a HQ team, a Machine gun team and mortar team. I tend to think of fire teams as being half-squads but if I understand Bill's idea correctly each of these fire teams would operate more like a small squad in their own right. It is probably better to think of this arrangement as a Team-based Platoon and the components as Teams rather than Fire-teams. William has suggested a five-man team, while I prefer six since it gives two MG/Grenadier pairs and a third pair. One man of this last pair can be an Anti-armour specialist, while the other is an ammo-bearer and can hold the Bazooka Joe's rifle while the anti-tank weapon is in place. See later for an expansion of this idea.
Certain models of APC can carry 10-11 passengers, so theoretically the entire platoon can be moved by three vehicles. My personal view is that it will be more practical to carry less men in each vehicle, giving more elbow room during long patrols and room for equipment, stores, spares, ammunition and additional RPG protection. If we accept the idea of a five vehicle Patch unit then each vehicle can carry a fire team or MG team with the various members of the HQ team spread between the vehicles in spare seats. Bill's idea also solves many of the problems inherent with IFVs such as the Bradley or Warrior which carry seven dismounts or less. Previously the Bradley platoon had a dismount section of two 9 man squads. The current arrangement has three 9 man squads but divided between four vehicles. It would be simpler and more effective to designate the dismounts of each vehicle as an independent rifle squad and use the vehicles to substitute for the MG team.
The grenadier has a rifle fitted with a M203 type grenade launcher. M203s can fire illumination rounds and Less-Lethal ammo and their capabilities compliment those offered by the Team's rifle grenades. In certain situations the M203 may be replaced by a shotgun.
The light machine-gunner (for convenience simply termed "a gunner" hereafter) is armed with either a LSW/Heavy-Barrel assault rifle, SAW or Ultimax 100 LMG. A Tactical Team would probably have one SAW and one H-Bar. The weapons chosen use the same round as the Team's assault rifles and preferably can use the same magazines. The weapons should be capable of providing both precision fire and medium-long range fully automatic fire. If a GPMG is issued to a Team one of the gunners will man this weapon in place of the LMG/H-Bar.
The third pair has an Anti-armour specialist and a rifleman/assistant. The assistant serves as an ammo bearer for the main weapon, provides local defence and carries the Anti-armour specialist's rifle when he is operating the main weapon. Depending on situation the Anti-armour specialist can choose from a selection of weapons to meet the perceived tactical requirements. MBT-LAW will be carried if facing enemy armour while a MBIL would be used when infantry, MG nests and light vehicles are the most likely target. In other situations a RPG-type close support weapon might be used. If the Team is issued a Spike ATGW the Anti-armour specialist would carry and operate the CLU.
If the Team chooses to operate as two trios then adding a machine gunner to the anti-armour pair gives two sub-units of potent capabilities. Alternately the two grenadiers can be used as point men while the machine guns and anti-armour weapons hang back to provide support.
Update : A potential option is that heavier weapons such as GPMGs, commando mortars and ATGWs are not organic to specific teams but become resources to be allocated to teams depending on intended mission and terrain. A proportion of the platoon would be trained as mortarmen or anti-armour specialists. Most of the platoon would have basic familiarity in using the GPMG while a proportion would be trained to a more advanced level. A six-man team that operates as pairs constitutes only three things for a team leader to control – two pairs of soldiers and his partner.
Combat Platoon A combat platoon has a HQ Team, four Tactical Teams, and a Fire Support Team.
There are four Tactical Teams. One Tactical Team in the platoon may be allocated a GPMG in place of one of its LMGs. This will probably be a lightweight weapon such as the LWMG In the case of a serious armour threat one Tactical Team of each Platoon will be issued with one Spike-LR CLU (4000m INDIRECT capability) and 4 missiles per platoon (2). The training requirement to operate Spike is set at 6 men per platoon, so about 15%. This saves a lot of training costs and training time.
The Fire Support Team is commanded by the Platoon Sgt and has one 7.62mm GPMG/LWMG and one 60mm Platoon mortar. This Team may operate as a single unit or the different weapon crews allocated to Tactical Teams or positions as the Platoon commander sees fit.
Infantry Company The Infantry Company has four Combat Platoons and a Company Support Platoon. Infantry Companies can be patched to customize their capabilities to suit the intended mission.
Infantry Company Support Platoon. The Company Support Platoon can act as a floating reserve and has the flexibility to produce task organised groups on an "as needed" basis.
Company Command Team.
Assault-Pioneer Team. Resembles a Tactical Team but equipped and trained for demolitions and obstacle removal. Also responsible for training other members of the company in such skills.
Sniper Team or Scout-Sniper Team. Three to four sniper pairs with the .338 rifle as primary armament. Other weapons such as silenced rifles and .50 Sniper rifles may be available. This unit is allocated as the company commander sees fit and can also act in a company level reconnaissance/surveillance asset.
GPMG Team. Two three-man weapon crews each with a 7.62mm GPMG.
Mortar Team. Two three-man mortar crews each with a 60mm company mortar such as the M224.
Team: Four individual Marines make up a team (Three team members, plus the team leader, a corporal).
Squad: 13 men. Three Teams make a squad, led by a Sergeant.
Platoon: Three squads are assigned to a platoon led by a Lieutenant.
Company (or Battery): Three platoons are assigned to a Company led by a Captain. The Company/battery is the lowest level of command with a headquarters element (example, a Company Commander, or Company First Sergeant).
Three companies to a battalion commanded by a Lt Col.