Combined Arms at the Platoon and Company Level

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[ This is the second guest post on US Infantry weapons written by Charles222, a 11-B/light infantryman in the United States Army. ]

This article will attempt to explain the nature of how the US Army Infantry Platoon fights, both on it’s own and as part of a company. It will describe the basic infantry precepts of the base of fire element and the maneuver element, and describe the use of supporting arms.

Firstly, the basic unit of maneuver is the fire team. It consists of four men: a rifleman, a team leader, a grenadier, and an automatic rifleman.

The rifleman is the utility infielder of the fire team. Armed with the lightest, handiest weapon and accompanying ammunition load, he frequently has other tasks on the battlefield, such as Combat Lifesaver, Sensitive Site Exploitation, or general load-bearer for additional items such as binoculars, additional ammo for the team, mortar rounds, etc. His role in the fight is of rapid, aimed fire against enemy targets. He may either be equipped with a regular M4 (possibly with an ACOG is there is one available, more usually with an M68 or an Eotech Holographic Weapons sigh) or for situations in which longer range is required (providing that he’s actually a good shot-riflemen are typically the most junior soldier in the team and so it is rare that he’s the best marksman) a specialized M16 variant or an M14 EBR.

M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle

The team leader is the leader of the team. Almost always a Specialist or Sergeant, E-5, his default weapon is also an M4, typically with an ACOG. In some units he also has the grenade launcher. I-and many other light infantry NCOs-feel that a M203 or M320 is an inappropriate weapon for the team leader, who by doctrine is supposed to direct firepower from the subordinate members of his team, as well as maneuver them when appropriate, not to employ firepower from his own personal weapon.

The grenadier is typically next most junior after the rifleman, although this isn’t always the case. He is armed with an M4 with a mounted M203 or M320, and ideally should have an Eotech, as ACOGs and M68s block out the launcher’s leaf sights. He typically has no other job, as the grenadier is typically carrying between 12 and 48 40mmm rounds of varying kinds (HE, HEDP, Smoke, Parachute Flare, and Star Cluster are the most common). His job in the fight is indirect fire out to approximately 350m for area targets, and 150m for point targets. His weapon has a kill radius of approximately 5 meters.

M4 / M320 grenade launcher

The automatic rifleman has the team’s most casualty-producing weapon, the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. While is it belt-fed like it’s design cousin, the M240B Medium Machine Gun, that is where the similarities more or less end. The SAW is employed radically differently from the M240; while the platoon’s M240s are the centerpieces of their own gun teams, the M249 is an individual weapon and is treated as such; it is not the centerpiece of the fire team, but rather, another portion of it designed to provide volume firepower out to 600m against point targets, and area targets out to 800m. Typically automatic riflemen carry between 600 and 1000 rounds; if spare barrels are carried, it is typically only one, a long barrel to complement the standard short barrel.

M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW)

Two fire teams make up a squad, with a squad leader; his job is not to employ or direct firepower, but to maneuver his teams using the terrain to their advantage. The squad may or may not have it’s own 3-man M240B team directly attached to it as well.

The platoon consists of three maneuver squads, one weapons squad with two 3-man M240B teams and a squad leader, a Radio Telephone Operator, a medic, two Forward Observers, a platoon leader, and a platoon sergeant. Infantry platoons may also gain additional attachments in the form of combat engineers, EOD technicians, dog handlers, etc. based on mission; the largest my platoon ever was was 59 Soldiers with attachments.

The platoon leader maneuver the squads against the enemy; the platoon sergeant handles the supporting elements (mortars, M240Bs,etc) as well as the casualty collection point.

The most basic battle drill, which all other battle drills draw from, is squad attack/react to contact. In this, one team acts as the base of fire, typically the front-most team, to fix the enemy in position and deny them the ability to maneuver. The other team flanks the enemy left or right based on which direction offers the most cover and concealment. This scales up to a platoon-sized react to contact, with one or more squads plus machine gun teams acting as the base of fire and the third squad acting as the flanking element. This basic bounding philosophy can be observed in all US Army Infantry battle drills; a platoon attack through a city features one squad occupying a building and setting up a base of fire for the next squad, which repeats until the objective is cleared.

Now that you’ve gotten a fairly in-depth description of who does what in an infantry platoon, I’ll attempt to illustrate how the different weapon systems all act together, and illustrate the use of snipers and other supporting arms.

The riflemen, with M4s , along with typically most of the fire team, handle the 0-300 meter zone. Grenadiers and Designated Marksmen can reach further, from approximately 65 meters for grenade launchers out to 350 meters for an area target; Designated Marksman can, depending on the rifle type, reach out to targets 500m away; it can be argued that the M16 offers a more useful weapon for this type of soldier, as it is significantly lighter and also inherently more accurate than the M14.

The M240 teams offer the most long-range firepower of any weapon type inherent in the infantry platoon. On a bipod, they are capable of hitting point targets 600m away, and area targets 800 meters away; when attached to a tripod, this lengthens to 800m for point targets and 1100 meters for area. A light infantry platoon has two such guns; Ranger platoons have 3 Mk.48s, which is feasible due to considerably lighter weapon weight compared to an M240, although they utilized the 3-team pattern when they still issued the M240B.

M240L Medium Machine Gun (Light)

So, so far, we have pretty comprehensive firepower; riflemen and team/squad leaders can accurately engage to 300m, grenadiers to 350, and long-barrel equipped SAWs/DMs with M16s can reach to 5-600m. The M240 crews can reach to a full kilometer; if you’re engaging targets beyond that, you are or at least should be utilizing heavier weapons, which I’ll cover now.

The first exceptionally long-ranged weapon immediately available to an Infantry company is the M224 60mm mortar. In tripod, indirect-fire mode, this has a minimum range of 70m and a maximum range of 3,490 meters; in handheld fire, this changes to a minimum range of 75m and a maximum range of 1,340 meters. There are two of these in an Infantry company and typically, every soldier in the company can man-pack 2 rounds indefinitely, as my company did on every single mission in Afghanistan, for a total of approximately 100 rounds per gun. If the mortars are directly assigned to a platoon, this effectively extends the platoon’s maximum range to nearly 4 kilometers if necessary, at a rate of 20 rounds a minute until you run out of ammo. Mortars are frequently used in the direct-fire mode; while this cuts their range, it also makes them potent, quick to employ weapons with a range of nearly two kilometers, and also cuts system weight; the M224 system weighs 46 pounds with the tripod and baseplate, but only eighteen in direct-fire mode. The mortars can also be set up to block an enemy’s retreat from an attack with designated Known Firing Points, which the mortars can be pre-dialed in on to drop rounds on an enemy almost immediately.

M224 60mm Mortar

Stryker infantry companies, which now form one-third of the US Army’s light and medium forces, also have an integrated sniper team. This team has an M203 grenade launcher, a Barrett M107 .50-cal LRSR, and an M2010/M24 sniper rifle. The .50 is accurate to approximately 1800 meters (for their shots, such as a Canadian sniper’s world-record 2,700-meter shot in Afghanistan, are possible, but the official, no-BS range is 1800m); the M24/M2010 is accurate to approximately 1,000m for the M24 and 1,500m for the M2010. Sniper teams are typically used either in support of an attack, by locking down lanes of potential retreat, or as observation posts, to watch for enemy movement either in or out of the objective. They can be used in conjunction with mortar teams, the snipers calling for fire as they observe enemy movement-this allows them to kill the enemy without revealed their positions by firing.

M2010 Rifle

There are of course other weapon systems-fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, armed UAVs, and howitzers-available for the fire-support mission, but I’ll save those for another time; they’re not typically utilized except when absolutely needed.

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  • Mechman

    Always good to hear from a serviceman who knows his shit.

  • SpudGun

    Great article and very well written. Explaining the various roles, hierarchy and duties of each team / squad / platoon member, along with the equipment they utilize could have got bogged down in confusing gobble-de-gooky double speak, but I understood the system on the first read.

    Good job Charles222.

  • Matt S.

    Excellent article. I love a bit of strategy sown into my firearm fix. Many thanks and I hope to see more of such topics.

  • Armored

    The rifles never match the camo. A black rifle with Acupat, come on now.

  • Andrew

    Look at that M4, all those accessories.

  • Vitor

    The SCAR-H is a perfect substitute for the cool, but quite heavy M14 EBR. Just slap a 18-20″ barrel and it’s done.

  • Raph84

    Excellent post. This sheds a lot of light on the basics for those who have not served.

  • John

    Excellent post!
    Thank you very much!

  • Brian

    Excellent, thanks!

  • charles222

    Thanks Steve! Note-none of these pictures are mine, so the credit for thos goes to Steve, not me. Also, that’s an M240B; the 240L has a collapsing stock.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/ Steve (The Firearm Blog)

      charles222, the photos were all taken by US Army photographers and are therefor public domain images.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/ Steve (The Firearm Blog)

      charles222, PEO Solider thinks that it is a M240L:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/peosoldier/3880638816/in/photostream/

  • some cop

    Neat. Thanks for sharing.

  • Pisketi

    Great post! Keep’em coming!

  • Joe Hooker

    Thanks for the update!

    Two questions: 1) why do you say the M-4 is “inherently” more accurate than the M-14? Most people would see it the other way.

    2) What is “direct fire” with a mortar? Does someone actually make a shoulder stock and trigger for it?

  • Jeff L.

    Thanks for the great summary!

  • Kyle

    Great guest post I look forward to any future blog appearances.

  • Lance

    Interesting article Thanks Charles222

    I do believe the M-14 is more popular than sniperised M-16s due to its longer range with 7.62mm NATO than the M-16 5.56mm round.

  • A Lee

    ” Designated Marksman can, depending on the rifle type, reach out to targets 500m away; it can be argued that the M16 offers a more useful weapon for this type of soldier, as it is significantly lighter and also inherently more accurate than the M14.”

    Could you elaborate? I have no personal experience with either weapon, but I have been led to believe that the M14 is more accurate and effective at range than the M16, because of caliber. It appears that I am wrong!

  • Nate

    Just for accuracy’s sake, longest confirmed sniper kill was 8120 feet by Craig Harrison on May 2, 2010. The British soldier used the Accuracy International L11583.

  • Chase

    Once again you’ve given us a window into what is, for me at least, a different world. Thank you very much!

  • pro

    Man please answer the questions , about M-16 vs M-14 acuracy at 0-500m and direct fire with a 60mm mortar .
    Congrats for the article .

  • Lance

    The M-16 has a bit higher MOA than the M-14 . BUT the M-14 has larger caliber and longer range and can work in very dusty condistions better so there a trade for both weapons.

  • http://tomcatshanger.livejournal.com/ Tomcatshanger

    It’s pretty easy to make an M-16/AR15 pattern rifle accurate. Not so much for an M14 pattern rifle.

  • Martin (M)

    Great article. Love how US Army cammo blends with absolutely NOTHING!

  • lik

    He forgot about the rockets – LAWs, AT4s, Javs

  • Burst

    Good article, I learned something new!
    I wonder if there’s any reasonable kludge to allow leaf sights to work alongside an ACOG, though.

    I remain suspicious of whoever looked at an M240 and thought it’d make a good man-portable MG.

  • ptr911

    It is much easier to free float an M16 barrel , vice the M14. Also, the op-rod on the M14 has some give in it and this can change the bolt lockup. Since the AR design uses direct gas and locks the bolt into the star chamber, it has less mass in the operating system to tune.

    Many years ago when I was occasionally shooting at DCM/CMP competitions (poorly I might add), I noticed that the top competitors gravitated towards the AR. Not sure if that is still the case today.

  • arifonzie

    Interesting article,
    But is it paranoia to think that such detailed information on operational tactics and weapons (including useful ranges) could be used to aid our enemies?
    I keep thinking ” loose lips sink ships”.
    However I thank you for your service to our country

  • http://www.turnandfire.blogspot.com Matt122

    A few points I would like to add, but first a possible answer to the M-240B Vs. M-240L question:
    If you look at the barrel profile of that machine gun, you will see that it is significantly lighter than the “B” model and the butstock is interchangeable between weapons. So the pictured gun might be an early fielding model it might have the lighter components such as a lighter receiver or barrel but not the hi-speed butstock.
    On the article;
    The SAW gunners in a squad will use the SAW as a rifle while moving to contact or assaulting an objective (i.e. carried at low or high ready and fired from the shoulder while standing or kneeling) and as a machine gun while providing support by fire using the integrated bi-pod, a carried tri-pod (I only saw this in training when there were more tri-pods than 240’s), or a vehicle mount such as a pintle mount.
    In what used to be the mechanized infantry battalions a platoon would consist of 4 Bradley Fighting Vehicles separated into two sections and two or three dismount squads. Note though that this may have changed since the new Combined Arms Battalions (CAB) worked out the kinks during their first couple of deployments.

  • CWitt

    Totally awesome article! Would love to see a follow up post with more tactics perhaps with awesome graphics & diagrams!

  • Riceball

    @arifonzie

    Yes, it’s being paranoid. While the old adage of loose lips sinking ships is very true it really doesn’t apply to such basic info as squad or platoon level infantry tactics. That sort of thing is pretty basic and pretty common knowledge with the internet these days and is hardly classified information.

    While it’s good to not allow too much information out for our enemies to consume at the same there is a lot of paranoia over what’s published online these days. Concern over what rifle was used to kill Bin Laden is a fine example of such paranoia; it’s not like it matters what we used to kill Bin Laden nor does it matter who knows what we used either, it’s not like knowing that an HK 416 was used would do Al Qaeda any good. What are they supposed to do, tune their non-existent shields to the same harmonic frequency as the rounds fired from a 416 in order to deflect them or something?

  • M.G. Halvorsen

    A very well-thought-out article. Thank you, Charles222. One glaring omission, though…You left out my old friend, Ma-Deuce, the Browning M2 .50 cal. machine gun. And NOBODY should ignore that old girl…it’s so hard to be merely “wounded” by a .50!

  • charles222

    I suppose a M240L COULD have a fixed stock; I was under the impression that it was supposed to have a collapsing stock.

    Anyway:

    On M-16 vs. M-14 accuracy @ 500m: Feel free to ask the Marines why they dumped their M14 National Match rifles for M16A2s all the way back in the 70s. The DI system + lighter recoil from the round=more accuracy. The M14 can reach further, but the M16 is more inherently accurate.

    As for direct fire with a 60mm mortar: Basically, it’s hip-fired. You carry the tube itself on an M240 sling with the standard trigger unit and simply raise and lower by hand to get the desired range.

    Also, as I was out in sector until 3 am last night, halt the impatience please. :p

    Yeah, I left out rockets. This is because light infantry very rarely carries them anymore; we had AT-4s in my first deployment (Afghanistan), no rockets at all on my second deployment (Baghdad) LAWs on occasion on my third deployment (split between Kirkuk and a specialized mission I can’t really talk about…guess which job saw the LAWs ;) ) and again none on my current deployment (Ramadi). The Javelin I have never seen employed overseas, or even really integrated during training stateside, simply because our mission and current threats never called for it. There’s no tank or significant vehicle threat that a machine gun can’t handle, and buildings are more cheaply handled either by mortars or more effectively handled with JDAMs without making soldiers pack a 50-pound missile around. We used the Command Launch Units as surveillance devices (nice zoom, plus of course thermal vision in a relatively light package) but never the entire system as intended.

    Matt122: As far as I know the Bradley company still works the same; I’m light so it’s not my area of expertise.

    As for any of this being classified: Feel free to google “Fm 7-8″. All of this info is public information you can find with about half an hour of time.

    I’ll have to write an article just for Matt on how the point of camouflage is not “blending” but more “breaking up”. My main beef with ACUs is cheap construction.

  • charles222

    Also-as for barrel length + 7.62mm: You don’t need a long (20″) barrel to get excellent velocity from it; Guns & Ammo did velocity tests with a .308 Winchester bolt-action in the 1990s and found that you only lose about 50fps from 20 inches to a 16-inch barrel, which is not a significant loss with quality ammo. (7.62mm FMJ is not quality ammo, but the new 110-grain Mk316 round certainly is.)

  • Konrado

    What about M110 SASS? Is it’s used by designated marksman in place of M14 EBR/ sniper M16 variant, or it’s in the sniper team, replacing M24?

  • Lance

    @Komderado

    The M-110 is to replace the M-24. The M-14 EBR/DMR is to replace select M-4s in a rifle squad.

    And Charles222 you mean the 80s the M-16A2 wasnt around till 83.

  • charles222

    Yeah, my bad. Either way the A2 replaced the M14 for the Marines’ markmanship team (whatever it is called).

    Also-7.62mm is not inherently more accurate out of any weapon system; the machine gun qual range for the M240 and M249 applies the same standards for each weapon. The range STARTS with targets at 300m and goes to 800m. Hitting the 800m targets with the SAW is easily achieved.

  • Lance

    Its ok. Im just also pointing out to you Charles222 that I agree the M-16 is very accurate to its 5.56mm siblings. The Fact the Army is stil buying NEW M-4A1s is only proff it works.

  • Matt G.

    Very cool article! Thank you Charles. I always like to learn about military life and tactics since I cannot join and this is all very interesting stuff.

  • Rohan

    US Marine shooting team.

    The team used National Match M16 Service Rifles, an improved M16 with increased weight for stability; a heavier, free-floating competition barrel designed for increased accuracy; and a matched trigger modified for smooth and easier pulling.

    http://www.marines.mil/unit/mcbquantico/Pages/2008/MarineCorpsShootingTeamprevailsatCreedmoorCup.aspx

    Not exactly a standard issue rifle and a long, long away form the current M4 with a short barrel and poor semi / 3rd burst trigger.

    Also-7.62mm is not inherently more accurate out of any weapon system;

    The 7.62 still uses a M82 60 year old design bullet. At least the 5.56 was updated from the M193 in the 80′s to the SS-109 / M855. If the US Army had let the UK have EM-2 / 7mm or the .258″, which should have gone into the Stoner rifle and LMG, .30-06 would still be the NATO marksman’s rifle / MG round.

    The legendary .30-06 with the older M1 Ball 174g is a far better round, even for the 20′s. Same weight as Mk316 (175g not 110g Charles) with more powder behind it.

    Carl Hathcock did his best work with Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle.

    Hitting the 800m targets with the SAW is easily achieved.

    Pity the 5.56mm doesn’t do a lot at that range. .258″ wouldn’t have that issue and should have been America’s post war legend round.

  • Andy

    I find your article an intriguing view into the workings of your unit. Being a veteran and a member of the first Stryker Brigade to ever deploy into combat ( OIF 03-04), I saw the effectiveness of the breakdown that you described. The only thing I see a little differently is the team leader’s choice in using an M-203. While I agree that the team leader should be the one directing fire, wouldn’t you agree that it would be easier to direct fire when you can place a visual marker on the area with a smoke round? That is the only thing I found to be different in our views of the team leader’s role.

  • Mark

    Thank you for a very well thought out presentation. I really appreciate your service and you article.

  • charles222

    Andy-I’ve always found the 203 smoke rounds to be less than reliable for marking things-not that they don’t spew smoke very well, but they tend to bounce around alot on impact in my experience and might not wind up where you want it. Plus of course you could potentially wind up giving the enemy concealment. :p

    I mean, you can do the same thing much more reliably with a mag full of tracer rounds, and be having lethal effects downrange, too.

    Anyway-I’ve always kinda wanted to go to a Stryker brigade; what’s your opinion of the vehicle?