A fireteam is a small military unit of infantry. It is the smallest unit in the militaries that use it 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.[citation needed]

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. A team is often reduced to only two men in combat.

United States Army

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. Equipped with the M16 rifle or M4 carbine. Is typically led by a Sergeant or Corporal. Sometimes a Specialist.
  • 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 indirect fire over 'dead space'. Equipped with an M4/M16 with the M203 grenade launcher (or newer M320 grenade launcher) slung under the barrel.
  • Automatic Rifleman: provides suppressive fire; equipped with 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, who carries the M4 carbine and M14 rifle. In both cases this specialized function replaces the basic rifleman position in the fireteam.

United States Marine Corps

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 grenadier; "Team".
  • Automatic Rifleman (M249 SAW/M27 IAR): also serves as second in command for the fireteam; "Fire".
  • Assistant Automatic Rifleman: carries extra ammunition; "Assist".

Fireteam rush

Marines conducting a fire team rush during training.

The United States Marine Corps fireteam is organized around the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Upon receiving fire, the fireteam can organize in a methodical way to engage the enemy with fireteam "rushes". Fireteam rushes are movement by one part of the team during cover fire by the other part of the team. Generally, first the Rifleman and Team Leader will move ahead, being covered by the Automatic and Assistant Automatic Riflemen, then the Automatic and Assistant Automatic Riflemen will move up to the Rifleman and Team Leader, being covered by the Rifleman and Team Leader. The process is repeated until no forward progress is possible without serious risk to the entire fireteam. This theoretically increases the safety of the team members during movement.

When finally upon the objective, the fireteam assumes a "hasty 180", where the Automatic Rifleman covers 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock (12 o'clock being the most likely avenue of enemy approach), with the Rifleman and Assistant Automatic Rifleman covering 9 to 11 and 1 to 3 respectively. The Team Leader is next to the Automatic Rifleman to complement his fire with grenade rounds and to assign targets for the M249. Once a frontal enemy counterattack is deemed unlikely, the fireteam then will assume a "consolidated 360" to ensure the flanks of the fireteam are protected. The position of Marines in the fireteam is sometimes called RTFA (Ready - Team - Fire - Assist) because of one of the fireteam formations that are possible.

British Armed Forces

Infantry units of the British Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment also utilises 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. 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.

Fire and maneuver team

An example of fire and maneuver in actual combat. Here, during the Battle of Okinawa, a US Marine on the left provides covering fire for the Marine on the right to break cover and move to a different position.

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 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 fireteams 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.

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.


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To my recollection, a FIST is generally considered a "half-squad" of heavy weapons such as a AT-4 (90 mm bazookas) or a TOW missile team. In real combat situations, a good squad leader will break his squad down into two "half-squads". The whole point of "dividing forces" is to do a "bounding overwatch" where team "A" will lay suppressing fire on a fixed position while team "B" rushes the fixed position. Team A hitting anything isn't really the point. The point is to keep the defenders busy and from cutting Team B to shreds. Team B then flops down on the ground behind whatever cover it can find, and begins laying down suppressing fire. And then Team A rushes forward. Eventually one team or the other approaches to a "close quarters" range to engage in a quick but highly lethal for the enemy side confrontation. Possibly wasteful in ammunition, it's good at saving "friendly" lives.

Nice, coincidentally I posted the bounding overwatch last week.




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