The Squad – Size and Organization

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December 5, 2013
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December 9, 2013

A reader sent me this link to a long thread at Small Wars Council. Honestly, I groaned inwardly: I haven’t read the thread in its entirety. However I’m going to take the opportunity to comment on squad size and organization.

The topic of squad size and organization is a big one, with lots of opinions, and we could go on forever and get wrapped around the axle. I will simply give a quick opinion, and what I think is a utilitarian approach.

A quick skim of the Small Wars Council thread shows all sorts of opinions on the balance of the squad, the number of sub-units (or fire teams) and the numbers that make up those fire teams. In my opinion the buddy pair, or two man team, is the basic building block. With those buddy teams you build your four man fire teams. That is why I don’t like an odd number organization, such as team of three. A buddy pair forms the basis of a pair that will look after each other, sleep together under a tarp, form a team for break contact drills etc.


Read the rest on the MVT Forum:  Forums Tactics & Leadership CUTT Operations



  1. FormerSapper says:

    12 man teams sound about par for the course. If I was taking a pioneer section out 12 people would make my job a ton easier, a section on over watch and the other 2 doing their business. I also know it’s no reconciliation about the lack of jimpies and minimis but I reckon further training could make up for the short gap in the lack of support weapons, maybe a weapon in the same role as the L86, L129A1 from LMT or the M27 that the USMC seem to like.

    • Max Velocity says:

      FS: when are you sending me a guest article about assault pioneer work and its utility?

      • FormerSapper says:

        I guess I can send you a little basic something in the next few weeks. Just a few training pointers for the aspiring pioneer, talking about the basics such as knots, field work (yeah… get that fucking shovel sharpened), basic and expedient field defences and point people in to the right direction.

        • SP says:

          Don’t forget an entrenching tool can be a nasty little weapon.

          Green Jackets demonstrated that in Cyprus….

          • FormerSapper says:

            Yep, heard all about that. They also make an expedient little seat for taking a dump provided you get the positioning right, else it’s a disaster.

          • Perioikoi says:


            I love that you bring up the Etool as an expedient cold steel option. The Russians put a lot of thought into their Etool being applied in that manner and Cold Steel made it better. Check it out:

            Given that an Etool is needed to dig those shell scrapes Max talks about it should be part of a load-out anyway.

          • Max Velocity says:

            I thought he was referring to its use as a temporary shitter seat? oops.

          • FormerSapper says:

            @Max SP was referring to the 3 Green Jackets who killed a tour guide with an entrenching tool in Cyprus. They got released in 06.


            Anything flat with an edge can be sharpened and used as an expedient fight tool. I preferred not to sharpen mine for obvious reasons…

          • A Freeman says:

            Many, many moons ago when I was a young Staff Cadet we had a respected drill sergeant who, during service in Vietnam, used an e-tool to devastating effect on some VC at very close quarters when his position was in danger of being overrun.

            Despite being of a certain vintage now I still keep an e-tool as part of my field kit. It’s a real Aussie e-tool with folding spade & pick and solid hardwood handle – not one of those new-fangled tri-fold jobbies.

          • GunnyG says:

            I met and served with Marine General “e-tool” Smith. His motto? “A shovel doesn’t jam.”

            I prefer the 13th man as S.L. as it allows him to move about directing his squad vice having to engage. Good article.

    • Perioikoi says:

      An AR can be converted into a belt feed weapon like the one shown here:

      Defiantly not a permanent solution but neither is the semiautomatic AR, I’d plan on upgrading at the earliest opportunity.

  2. Chuck says:

    Makes sense. I started in the Army when we had the 11 man squad (Squad Leader, two 5 man fire teams) but the Army transitioned to the 9 man squad shortly thereafter. However, it was pretty typical to send a machine gun team out with a squad anytime it patrolled independently, effectively creating a three-team element, although in this case, one team was specialized as the fire support team.

    • Max Velocity says:

      And the machine-gun team makes sense too. If you have them. You need to move in a way that will ensure one of the rifle teams comes under contact, rather than the gun group, in order to allow the gun group to deploy into fire support.

      The big thing is really to decide whether to disperse guns into the teams or concentrate them into a gun group. Of course you can vary this depending on the mission.

      • Chuck says:

        One technique I like to use is to drop off the flanking team’s M249 with the support by fire team. The assaulting team can move faster without the M249 and now the support by fire team has doubled their automatic weapons. Since both fire teams are balanced this is an easy TTP to execute regardless of which team takes contact.

        With battlefield pickups being a quick way to add automatic weapons to the squad, it’s not too early to think about how to employ them.

        In the meantime, the idea of using a team of riflemen that “talk” their rifles in order to keep up a constant heavy volume of fire, has promise.

        • Max Velocity says:

          Or: drop off the M249 as the close support group as you go in to grenade with the assault pair (on a bunker assault).

          • Chuck says:

            Yup. M249 is always better when used as an LMG than trying do 3-5 second rushes with it.

          • QuietMan says:

            When my son was a SAW gunner in a Ranger Bn, that’s the technique they used. There’s nothing wrong with task organizing your squad. I’d make it a point to leave an M203 with the SAWs, though. Once the SAWs drive them to the low ground, the 203 can handle the dead space. Don’t give them a chance to crawl off and squirt.

            If you read Rommel’s “Infantry Attacks” you’ll notice his support element got larger as he got more experience. We can’t afford to relearn that lesson.

            I suspect the first few larger offensive operations conducted after EROL will be attacks by fire, then scooting out of there. More guys would be handy, just plan for dispersion after the fact.

            As far as the 12 man squad goes, it really needs to be 13. An element that size has got to have a dedicated leader and he needs to be very good.

          • Max Velocity says:

            Definite merit.
            BritMil: 8 man squad, squad leader in one fire team, second in command in the other.
            Multiple (satellite) patrol: 12 men, 3 teams, commander in one team, team leaders in the other two.
            It works great. However, just like the US Army 9 man squad, if you have the squad leader as the 13th man, it allows him to oversee three team leaders, and also move which team he is collocated with. Moving with the main effort.
            All good options.

          • Chuck says:


            Agree 100% with heavier support by fire. I think the rule of thumb should be “one up, two back.” Put most of your firepower in the support by fire and your assault element will have an easier go of it than if you reverse that.

            p.s. I need to dust off my old copy of Infantry Attacks. It’s been about 15 yrs since I last read.

  3. RRS says:

    IMO Big Green a good reference point, but it could fix people in the standup fight mindset just like their grandpappies fought in the big war. Just sayin

    • Pericles says:

      If you go the 13 man squad route, the heavy weapons can accompany the leader, so that a 4th element can be the base of fire, or provide additional firepower to the assault element.

  4. Ray says:

    Even without an MG a CIDG can still create fire support by using one or more men armed with 7.62 NATO rifles in the same way that BARs and BRENs were used as Base Of Fire weapons. Two or three men, acting as a team and firing in “relays” can create a volume of fire ALLMOST as great as an real MG.

    • Max Velocity says:

      This is never in doubt. It can also be done with 556. It is the accuracy that is most important. Granted, heavier rounds will have more effect on cover. A four man team with battle rifles, who can fire accurately and control that fire, is more than sufficient to generate effective covering fire. An MG in a support by fire role should be firing short accurate bursts anyway, because anything more is ineffective due to lack of accuracy.
      At the opening of WW1, the Germans thought in some cases that they were facing British machine gun battalions, when it was light infantry firing their bolt action 303 Lee Enfield rifles. ‘The Old Contemptible’s’ as the British Expeditionary Force were known, were old school well disciplined marksmen.

      • Perioikoi says:


        It also didn’t hurt that Lee Enfield was was probably the fastest bolt action ever made.

        • Chuck says:

          You’re making me regret selling that No. 4 Mk 1 Jungle Carbine a couple years back…

          • FormerSapper says:

            I LOVE the Lee Enfield rifle. I went along to a friend’s range day over at a massive range complex called Bisley Ranges and got to have a go at the “mad minute”. Very lovely action.

    • FormerSapper says:

      That is the exact role of the L86 in British service. It’s a long barreled L85 with a bipod and a rear grip and slightly different buttplate. I’m wondering if something similar to this: would be of any good.

  5. Ray says:

    Thank you Max, And I knew that about the British Army. You see I own one of the rifles used by “The Old Contemptibles”(SMLE No1*** manufactured in 1909 at LSA) I own and shoot the No1 and No4 rifles and will testify to the firepower the system can produce in the hands of disciplined marksmen. I love British service weapons and own and to some extent shoot ( except MG.s) everything used by the British army between 1700-1956.

  6. pat says:

    Another disucussion where I have some experience. As an 0331 (machine gunner) the old joke was “accuracy by volume”. And to some some extent that is true. Well aimed groups can be difficult with heavier platforms. Between the recoil and the dust blow back seeing becomes difficult. The ideas mentioned of well aimed battle rifle shots is a solid concept. A fire support element with possibly 7.62 and 5.56 rifles mixed together would work well. Having those individuals carry more ammo than the group SOP loadout and with a rapid fire rate of fire, say one to two seconds between shots, would be an excellent suppresive fire element. With the added bonus of shots being well aimed and not a spray and pray mentality. And should the situation change they can reconfigure into a rifle fireteam easily. Flexibility.

  7. Diz says:

    More and more I’m thinking along the lines of the SAS 4-man team. Initially that may be all you have for a good period of time. Then when things do go larger, they are readily combinable into larger teams. The triad concept does have it’s attractions but I think having a buddy-team as the basic building block, which can then be built to size, makes the most sense.

    The 12-man ODA model works well, especially if you can break down into 3 teams, which gives you assault, support, and command teams for various tasks.

    I think Max is spot on with distributing any heavy or automatic weapons amongst the 3 teams, so any team can be base of fire or assaulters. This is the model used among some SOCOM units and I think it would work well for us.

    As far as the article in question, my best guess is that the majority of those folks have never done SUT and most of what they’re saying is academic theory. The triad concept was popularized in Rawles original “Pariots” novel.

  8. Perioikoi says:

    The idea of creating identical 4 man fire teams is one that will aid in flexibility. As Max points out there could be specializations within that could be reconfigured as the mission demands. This type of flexibility will also provide greater mobility in the dynamic combat environment. One of the aspects that made Napoleon so great were the reforms he instituted in the construction of his “Grande Armée” where instead of having specialized divisions he organized divisions like little armies each with a commander capable of functioning like a general. This organization allowed his troops to rapidly move around the battle space and take on whatever challenges they met. Also when an army sized action was need they could rapidly concentrate their forces at the critical points/moments as the battle unfolded. This capability was further enhanced by the division commanders being allowed to take initiative when opportunities presented themselves. The effectiveness of this non specialized approach to unit organization was fully demonstrated at the Battle of Austerlitz where Napoleon destroyed the combined Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies who greatly outnumbered his own. It’s worth noting that a situation with compromised/unreliable communications could be much like the realities of war in the 19th century. Thus initiative and autonomy will be a requirement in future leaders/organization.

    “In war there is but one favorable moment; the great art is to seize it!”- Napoleon Bonaparte

  9. Submariner says:

    After reading the whole thread, I agree with most of the posters agree that the choice material is in the first four pages,

    There is also this gem:

  10. A Freeman says:

    For reference purposes, an article with comparative tables and discussion on mounted and dismounted infantry sections – US Army & Marines, Canada, UK, Australia:

    “Organizing Modern Infantry: An Analysis of Section Fighting Power”, pp22-52 in following edition The Canadian Army Journal Volume 13.3 2010:

  11. DocB says:


    How do you feel about the viability of semi auto belt fed weaponry in the squad support role, at least until regular ones become available?

    It seems to me that a weapon designed for sustained fire with a large ammunition capacity would be a good thing for an infantry squad. While it may not have the cyclic rate of a full auto machine gun, it would be more than capable of suppressing bad guys whilst the squad maneuvered up and destroyed them.

    • Submariner says:

      Have you considered where will you find sufficient amounts of linked ammunition? Who is going back over the battlefield to retrieve the links and assemble more belts of linked ammunition?

  12. QuietMan says:

    I’m not Max, nor could I play him on TV, but I posted this earlier.

    For 10K, you could buy a lot of Cmags, Sure Fire hi caps, etc. Max mentioned “talking guns” earlier. That’s an excellent concept down to rifleman level. Just let 1/3 to 1/2 of your support element open fire on command, then the rest pick up fire as directed. That way there might be a slight decrease in fires, but no lulls. You can get more sophisticated as you develop experience.

    • Max Velocity says:

      I’ll plan to answer this with a post,maybe Monday.

    • Pericles says:

      Or, that $10K could put you in the .50 cal semi auto game. Not saying that I would want to be carrying it…

      • Chuck says:

        Cal. .50 is wasted in the anti personnel role. It’s really an anti-materiel round. Would be an excellent weapon to structure an anti-armor team around. Local LE wants to play with MRAPs and other light armor? Welcome to the party, pal.

        • Pericles says:

          Of course, there is a relationship to organization, weapons selection, tactics, and anticipated threat.

          In most of the fire and maneuver discussion, there has been the emphasis on the advance – implied in that is that we assume we have superior combat power and are intending to destroy a limited number of opponents with similar or inferior arms, or we are capable of pulling off an ambush.

          The other scenario is defensive – the object is to attrit the enemy and counter attack to destroy the remainder, or draw the opponent into a prepared kill zone. One can not always assume that one can successfully run away and that we will have superiority in weapons, training, and personnel, but a good commander may still be able to pull out a win in those circumstances.

      • riverrider says:

        less than 3k can get you a m1919a6 semi,belt fed 308. fairly heavy, but an endless stream of fire. links, linker, mounts all available.i wouldn’t tote it on routine patrol but for a deliberate attack, defense, or heavy ambush its the bees’ knees. thru my years of running grunts, i liked the two four man teams, with a mg/heavy weapons team in support with the squad leader in the center. that way i could best place the heavies and direct the battle while letting the team leaders run there teams. its tough to run a whole squad/battle and a seperate team at the same time for me. i liked the flexibility of moving with whatever team i thought needed me or gave me better control of the op too. jm2c.

    These are options for the above mentioned squad positions are just that, options. The RPK style semi autos work fine (if your using 7.62Soviet), and will function a little better in that role than a standard AK (heavier barrel, longer sight radius and range). The Chinese type 75 round drums run better than the Russian type drums, and you don’t have to put the spring under full load while it’s being stored-loaded (Chinese type). TTI weapons barrel systems are not only accurate, but are very efficient at displacing the barrel heat, and could function in the SAW role more efficiently than a standard carbine/rifle barrel. I’m a rep, and have personally tested the ability of a TTI gun to keep the barrel cooler(AR, 4-30 rnd mags, stuck finger in chamber right after last round, luke warm). Being able to efficiently distribute semi automatic fire from the fire support position will be key to the fire support being just that. Till we can get autos, that’s what we have to work with, and learning how to do it with a semi auto, will make you more effective with an auto.

  14. QuietMan says:

    The RPK (Rapid People Killer) is a great SAW. I’d forgotten about it. The New Iraqi Army used it to great effect.

    We put them into rifle squads as SAWs, then took the best operators, issued them drum mags, and made MG squads until we were able to issue PKCs. I liked them better than the PKC since we rarely left the city and didn’t really need the extra range.

  15. Disadvantage of the 7.62soviet and 7.62russian ( and they’re mags)are that even though they are readily available in the U.S., they’re not in the U.S. arsenal like 5.56, and 7.62nato (it’s why I use AR and M14 type systems). X Systems drums
    are reliable and available for most semi auto AR 5.56, and multiple 7.62nato rifles models, and I’ve heard all models are super reliable (my only actual experience is through my SOCOM, and it works as intended). The downside to these are they are expensive, but what’s having a moderately high rate of sustained fire (relatively speaking) worth? Beta C (and they’re copies) work OK from what I hear, but I don’t think they have the durability for long term use. The only real world use I’ve seen with one was in Iraq, and that mag was dropped on the center plate floorboard of a hummer, and it dumped approximately 3/4 of its rounds onto the floor (damned plastic construction). If you’re gonna get an AR drum, I’d get the X Systems drum before the Beta C copies. Of course you can get 5 of the Beta C copies (500 round of capacity) for the price of 2 X Systems 50 round drums.

    • Submariner says:

      For those who have been around Lightfighter for a while, you will, no doubt, recognize this poster:

      Originally posted by basicload:

      “C-mag……I don’t care how many times that Beta corp says that they have reworked that magazine(they have been spouting that shit for 15 years now and its still a piece of shit), until you have pulled jammed one out of a dead man’s weapon, you will not have an appreciation of the hatred that some gunslingers have towards that company and their fucking snake oil.”

      Then there is this from a Surefire employee on Beta Corporation’s provision of graphite for lubricant:

      “All that aside and on a personal note I must strongly disagree to a previous post suggesting the addition of graphite to a weapons system. Or more accurately anything metal that might encounter moisture, or worse salt spray/immersion…ever.

      The reasons not to introduce graphite into a weapon system are a result of not so recent scientific studies in the area of galvanic corrosion. Some peoples view of graphite as carbon, which is inert, and therefore harmless are uninformed. Graphite is electrically conductive and in the presence of chloride ions will cause galvanic corrosion to occur. Anodizing minimizes this risk, but only where anodizing is still present. Its effects on unprotected steel alloys, including stainless, are equally as bad. I will also add that petroleum based lubricants will trap moisture and chloride near an unprotected surface and speed up the process. Personally my shit is dripping with such lubricants.

      I’m not a scientist, didn’t play one on tv. But this comes from my friends and family who are: PhD polymer chemists, PhD Research Scientists, and Mathematicians.

      All this came to my attention after my many seasons running a Beta mag, two actually one for practice and one for matches. They come with and advocate the use of graphite lubricant. My two samples never malfunctioned once. That said they were treated like the ark of the covenant and brought to me fully loaded in their pouch. Once the stage was completed they were immediately returned to said pouch and placed next to the terminator hand in storage. The issues with graphite were relayed to me by my polymer chemist friend. So I guess the problems were “theoretical” for me but nonetheless I stopped using graphite.”

      That’s two strikes. Enough for me. I sold my pre-ban CMAGs back during the Ban after reading basicload’s comment. Today, I would not touch another because of the graphite issue.

  16. QuietMan says:

    I wouldn’t buy an AK if I was looking for a rifle for those very reasons. If you have one, save your money, run whatcha brung and relax: There will be M4s available soon enough.

    For this purpose, at this time, there is nothing wrong with the old GI clip on bipod. Or a Harris bipod with adapter.

    Don’t forget you need beans, bandaids, barter, etc. Budget.

  17. […] posted HERE about ‘The Squad – Size & Organization‘. I advocated for a squad size of […]

  18. […] posted HERE about ‘The Squad – Size & Organization‘. I advocated for a squad size of twelve or […]

  19. Chris says:

    In theory, could you not reduce this proposed squad to its logical minimum force of three buddy pairs?

    The “triad” seems too small. There is clearly great utility in having a “battle buddy.” That said, three buddy pairs lets you do an assault cycle as well. Three buddy pairs also fits nicely into a two or three vehicle convoy.

    The biggest weakness of three buddy pairs is the fragility. A four man team can work with a casualty much more easily, or deal with a contingency. Obviously the 6-man fireteam+ is also more limited in the types of threats it can take on.

    Another weakness is limited fire and maneuver ability. It seems that the ideal is to have more fire than maneuver (2:1 or 3:1 ratio), which a four man team generates on its own. With a 6-man squad you’d have to be biased towards using your “reserve” buddy pair towards adding to the firebase if lots of movement is needed.

    The biggest downside of a three team squad that I see is the leadership requirements. It is relatively easy to move two elements around, one of which you are with. It is more complex to have to manage a third element, and you also need to find another competent sub-leader.

  20. QuietMan says:

    You hit it on the head with fragility. The smallest I’ve ever gone was three guys (Americans) and that was for a very specialized (advisory) role. It allowed security, communications, and self defense. There was very little in the way of combat power there.

    Three teams are difficult to control, which is one reason squads have two teams, and platoons and companies have three sub elements, with experienced leaders in depth at those levels, NCOs in particular, with an XO at the company level to backstop. Given what we’re trying to do under our potential circumstances, we’re playing with fire to deviate too far from that model. Our potential recruit pool will be familiar with it and it places a reasonable leadership and management burden on people who will be learning a new way of operating.

  21. […] way.   Skittles USMC (For further discussion of the 12 (13) man squad, see this post: ‘The Squad: Size and Organization‘ and the follow up ‘More on The Squad & the Assault Cycle‘. This article by […]

  22. […] way. Skittles USMC (For further discussion of the 12 (13) man squad, see this post: ‘The Squad: Size and Organization‘ and the follow up ‘More on The Squad & the Assault Cycle‘. This article by Skittles is a […]

  23. […] way.   Skittles USMC   (For further discussion of the 12 (13) man squad, see this post: ‘The Squad: Size and Organization‘ and the follow up ‘More on The Squad & the Assault Cycle‘. This article by Skittles is a […]

  24. […] developed further, for further reading concerning the squad size and the assault cycle, in ‘The Squad Size and Organization‘ and ‘More on the Squad and Assault Cycle‘ posts.) Straight up I am going to […]

  25. […] developed further, for further reading concerning the squad size and the assault cycle, in ‘The Squad Size and Organization‘ and ‘More on the Squad and Assault Cycle‘ posts.) Straight up I am going to […]

  26. […] ‘The Squad – Size and Organization’ […]

  27. Dave says:

    I came across this paper some time ago. It’s a thesis regarding Infantry squad size for the CGSC.

    In short, it says the minimum squad size should be 10-11 men and that they should fight as one unit rather than dividing into fire teams. It seems to say that the 2 fire team squad will condense into a single unit once a couple of casualties are taken. This seemed to be the case in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. Fire and maneuver is conducted at the platoon level where 2 squads suppress while one squad moves. That may not be applicable to the scenarios proposed for this website. It also said that 2 SAWs and 2 203s per squad were unnecessary.