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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.

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 smaller. 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.


National variations


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) 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.
  • 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 M24 Sniper Weapon System. In both cases this specialised 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 (currently M249 SAW, formerly BAR): also serves as second in command for the fireteam; "Fire".
  • Assistant Automatic Rifleman: carries extra ammunition; "Assist".

Fireteam rush

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 by 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 Army

The British Army 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 L85 rifle with an L17 under-slung grenade launcher. One of the privates carries an L85 rifle, a second an L110 light machine gun, while the final private carries an L86 light support weapon. Some units vary with one of the privates carrying the grenade launcher rather than the NCO.

Other nations

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. 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.


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. In the inter-war years, United States Marine Corps Captain Evans F. Carlson went to China in 1937 and observed the Communist Chinese Eighth Route Army in action against the Japanese invaders.

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. He 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 a 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.

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.


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.

See also

External links


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