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A fireteam is a small military unit of infantry. It is the second smallest unit in the militaries that use it (smallest are support teams such as machine gun teams, mortar teams, sniper teams, or military working dog teams) and is the primary unit upon which infantry organization is based in the British Army, Royal Air Force Regiment, Royal Marines, United States Army, United States Marine Corps, United States Air Force Security Forces, Canadian Forces, and Australian Army. Fireteams generally consist of four or fewer soldiers and are usually grouped by two or three teams into a squad or section.
The concept of the fireteam is based on the need for tactical flexibility in infantry operations. A fireteam is capable of autonomous operations as part of a larger unit. Successful fireteam employment relies on quality small unit training for soldiers, experience of fireteam members operating together, sufficient communications infrastructure, and a quality non-commissioned officer corps to provide tactical leadership for the team.
These requirements have led to successful use of the fireteam concept by more professional militaries. It is less useful for armies employing massed infantry formations, or with significant conscription. Conscription makes fireteam development difficult, as team members are more effective as they build experience over time working together and building personal bonds.
The creation of effective fireteams is seen as essential for creating an effective professional military as they serve as a primary group. Psychological studies by the United States Army have indicated that the willingness to fight is more heavily influenced by the desire to avoid failing to support other members of the fireteam than by abstract concepts. Historically, nations with effective fireteam organization have had significantly better performance from their infantry units in combat than those limited to operations by larger units.
In combat, while attacking or maneuvering, a fireteam generally spreads over a distance of 50 metres (160 ft), while in defensive positions the team can cover up to the range of its weapons or the limits of visibility, whichever is less. In open terrain, up to 500 metres (1,600 ft) can be covered by an effective team, although detection range limits effectiveness beyond 100 metres (330 ft) or so without special equipment. A team is effective so long as its primary weapon remains operational.
Infantry units of the British Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment use the fireteam concept. An infantry section of eight men contains two fireteams, Charlie and Delta, each comprising an NCO (Corporal or Lance Corporal) and three Privates. The NCO will carry an L85A2 rifle with an L17A2 under-slung grenade launcher. One of the privates carries an L85A2 rifle, a second an L110A1 light machine gun, while the final private carries an L86A2 light support weapon, although this is being supplanted by the L129A1 designated marksman rifle. Some units vary with one of the privates carrying the grenade launcher rather than the NCO.
The fireteam is generally used as a subdivision of the section for fire and maneuver rather than as a separate unit in its own right, although fireteams or fireteam sized units are often used for reconnaissance and special operations.
In the Canadian Army 'fireteam' refers to two soldiers paired for fire and movement. Two fireteams form an 'assault group' and two assault groups form a section of eight soldiers.
The French Section (Groupe de Combat - "Combat Group") is divided into two Teams. The "Fire Team" (Equipe de feu) is based around the section-level automatic rifle or light machinegun. The "Shock Team" (Equipe de choc), made up of riflemen armed with rifle grenades or disposable rocket launchers, is the reconnaissance and maneuver unit. The Teams leap-frog, with one element covering as the other moves. The Team leaders have handheld radios so the elements can stay in contact with each other, as well as with the Section Leader's backpack radio set. The most common symbol of the modern French junior NCO (chef d'equipe) has been a radio hanging around their neck.
The United States Army particularly emphasizes the fireteam concept.
According to US Army Field Manual 3-21.8 (Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, formerly FM 7-8) a typical United States Army fireteam consists of four soldiers:
- Team Leader: Provides tactical leadership for the team at all times with a "Do As I Do" attitude. A team leader is equipped with either an M16 rifle or M4 carbine, and holds the rank of Sergeant or Corporal, although occasionally a team is led by a Specialist or Private First Class.
- Rifleman: Is 'the baseline standard for all Infantrymen'. They are equipped with the M16 rifle or M4 carbine. The rifleman is usually assigned with the grenadier to help balance the firepower capabilities of the automatic rifleman.
- Grenadier: Provides limited high-angle fire over 'dead space'. A grenadier is equipped with an M4/M16 with the M203 grenade launcher (or newer M320 grenade launcher) mounted to the weapon.
- Automatic Rifleman: provides suppressive fire, and is the most casualty producing person in a fireteam. An automatic rifleman is equipped with an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
In the context of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT)'s Infantry Rifle Companies, one man from each fireteam in a rifle squad is either the Squad Anti-armor Specialist (RMAT), armed with the FGM-148 Javelin, or the Squad Designated Marksman (DM), who carries the M4 carbine and M14 rifle. In both cases this specialized function replaces the basic rifleman position in the fireteam.
The United States Marine Corps summarizes its fireteam organization with the mnemonic "ready-team-fire-assist", the following being the arrangement of the fireteam when in a column:
- Rifleman: acts as a scout for the fireteam; "Ready".
- Team Leader (M203): also works as the designated grenadier; "Team".
- Designated Automatic Rifleman (M249 SAW/M27 IAR): also serves as second in command for the fireteam; "Fire".
- Assistant Automatic Rifleman: carries extra ammunition; "Assist".
Many other armed forces see the squad as the smallest military unit; some countries' armies have a pair consisting of two soldiers as the smallest military unit. In others a fireteam is composed of two pairs of soldiers (fire and maneuver team) forming a fireteam. Chinese military forces traditionally use a three-man 'cell' (equivalent to fireteam) as the smallest military formation.
Fireteams have their origins in the early 20th century. From the Napoleonic War until World War I, military tactics involved central control of large numbers of soldiers in mass formation where small units were given little initiative. Although in the Napoleonic War skirmishers ahead of the main group would often work in teams of two, providing covering fire and protecting each other, this was particularly effective for the British Riflemen. During World War I, this resulted in a trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front. In order to combat this stalemate, the Germans developed a doctrinal innovation known as infiltration tactics, in which small, autonomous teams would covertly penetrate Allied lines. The Germans used their stormtroopers organized into squads at the lowest levels to provide a cohesive strike force in breaking through Allied lines. The British and Canadian troops on the Western Front started dividing platoons into sections after the Battle of the Somme in 1916. This idea was later further developed in World War II. French Chasseur units in WWI were organized into teams with a light machine gun (Chauchat) team and a grenade team, to destroy German fire positions by fire (not assault) at up to 200 meters using rifle grenades. The light machinegun team would put suppressive fire on the enemy position, while the grenade team moved to a position where the enemy embrasure could be attacked with grenades. The Chasseur tactics were proven during the Petain Offensive of 1917. Survivors of these French Chasseur units taught these tactics to US Infantry, which used them with effectiveness at St. Mihiel and the Argonne.
In the inter-war years, United States Marine Corps Captain Evans F. Carlson went to China in 1937 and observed units of the Communist Chinese National Revolutionary Army in action against the Japanese army. Carlson and Merritt A. Edson are believed to have developed the fireteam concept during the US occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1933). At that time the US Marine squad consisted of a Corporal and seven Marines all armed with a bolt-action M1903 Springfield rifle and an automatic rifleman armed with a Browning Automatic Rifle. With the introduction of weapons such as the Thompson submachine gun and Winchester Model 1912 shotgun and the thick vegetation that could provide cover for a quick overrun of a patrol, a team of four men armed with these weapons had more firepower and maneuverability than the standard nine-man squad. Carlson later brought these ideas back to the US when the country entered World War II. Under his command, the 2nd Marine Raider battalion were issued with the semiautomatic M1 Garand rifle and were organized in the fireteam (although it was called firegroup) concept, 3 firegroups to a squad with a squad leader. A firegroup was composed of an M1 Garand rifleman, a BAR and a submachine gunner. After sustaining severe wounds, Carlson was replaced and his battalion later disbanded and reorganized under conventional Marine doctrine of ten-man squads. Later, Carlson's fireteam concept was re-adopted.
WWII US Army squads consisted of an A-Team (squad leader and two scouts), B- team (BAR Gunner, assistant and 3 rifle men) and C-Team (Bazooka gunner, assistant and 3 rifle men). In an assault the A team and C team would assault, as the B-team provided suppressive fire. Suppressive fire from the BAR would be supplemented by fire from the rifles of his team as he reloaded, and could be further supplemented by platoon medium machine guns.
The US Army Rangers and Special Service Force adopted an early Fire Team concept when on campaign in Italy and France. Each Squad sub-unit of 4 to 5 men was heavily armed. Each Fire Team was made up of a BAR automatic rifle team, a scout (marksman/grenadier) armed with a M1903 Springfield with a rifle grenade discharger, and a team leader armed with an M1 carbine or M1 SMG. Their later misuse as conventional infantry negated their special training and fighting skill and their use as "fire brigades" against larger enemy forces negated their advantages in aggressiveness and firepower.
Meanwhile, the Communist Chinese established the three-man fireteam concept as the three-man cell when they organized a regular army, and its organization seemed to have been disseminated throughout all of Asia's communist forces, perhaps the most famous of which are the PAVN/NVA (People's Army of Vietnam/North Vietnamese Army) and the Viet Cong.
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Fire and maneuver team
A fire and maneuver team is the smallest unit above the individual soldier. It consists of two soldiers with one soldier acting as senior of the two fighters (decided amongst the two or by their superior). A fireteam in turn consists of at least two fire and maneuver teams and a squad of two or more fireteams.
The concept is not widely utilized. The United States and most Commonwealth armies rely on the concept of fire teams forming a squad.
In the Finnish Defence Forces, a squad is formed by three fire and maneuver teams (taistelupari, literally "combat pair") and a squad leader.
The French Army has the concept of a Binome ("pair"). In the regular forces it is the pairing of an experienced soldier with a recruit or replacement. The new man learns from the experienced man how to properly perform the everyday tasks and responsibilities of his assignment.
In the old Colonial Forces (like the Legion Etrangere) it was a means of imposing order. The pair were responsible for each other - if one member broke the rules or deserted, the other would be punished for not preventing it.
According to the Swedish Armed Forces field manual, a trained fire and maneuver team is as effective as four individual soldiers of same quality. However, the efficiency of the fire and maneuver team has been challenged by many experts as it has been claimed to be insufficient in close-quarter situations where many fighting techniques have been designed for larger units.