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A fireteam or fire team is a small modern military subordinated element of infantry designed to optimize "NCO initiative", "combined arms", "bounding overwatch" and "fire and movement" tactical doctrine in combat. Depending on mission requirements, a typical "standard" fireteam consists of four or fewer members: an automatic rifleman, a grenadier, a rifleman, and a designated fireteam leader. The role of each fireteam leader is to ensure that the fireteam operates as a cohesive unit. Two or three fireteams are organized into a section or squad in co-ordinated operations, which is led by a squad leader.
Historically, militaries with strong reliance and emphasis on decentralized NCO-corp institutions and effective "bottom-up" fireteam organization command structures have had a significantly better combat performance from their infantry units, when in comparison to militaries limited to officer-reliant operations, traditionally larger units lacking NCO-leadership and "top-down" centralized command structures. Fireteam organization addresses the realities of 21st century warfare, where combat is getting exponentially faster and more lethal, as it identifies and removes anything which slows down the reaction time between first detection of an enemy and rounds impacted.
U.S. Army doctrine recognizes the fire team, or crew, as the smallest military organization while NATO doctrine refers to this level of organization simply as team. Fireteams are the most basic organization upon which modern infantry units are built 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.
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.
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.
In the Canadian Army "fireteam" refers to two soldiers paired for fire and movement. Two fireteams form an "assault group", which is analogous to most other militaries' understanding of a fireteam; two assault groups and a vehicle group of one driver and one gunner form a section of ten soldiers.
People's Liberation Army forces traditionally used a three-man "cells" (equivalent to fireteams) as the smallest military formation and such organization was widely employed throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Sino-Indian War, as well as Sino-Vietnamese War. It is unofficially named the "three-three organization". （Chinese: 三三制）
In Chinese sources, this tactic is referred to as "three-three fireteams", after the composition of the attack: three men would form one fireteam, and three fireteams one squad. A Chinese platoon, consisting of 50 men, would form three ranks of such fireteams, which would be employed to attack "one point" from "two sides." With each cell carries at least one automatic weapon (In the Korean War, it was submachine guns or light machine guns. In the early to mid cold war, it was assault rifles or squad automatic weapons), while the rest carried bolt-action rifle or semiautomatic rifle so that each "cell" could independently fire and maneuver.
An example of a People's Volunteer Army fireteam in the late Korean War,
The French section (groupe de combat – "combat group") is divided into two teams. The "fire team" (équipe de feu) is based around the section-level automatic rifle or light machine gun. The "shock team" (équipe de choc), made up of riflemen armed with rifle grenades or disposable rocket launchers, is the reconnaissance and maneuver unit. The teams employ bounding overwatch, 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'équipe) has been a radio hanging around their neck.
Infantry units of the British Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment introduced the fireteam concept following the adoption of the SA80 rifle and light support weapon. An infantry section of eight men contains two fireteams, Charlie and Delta, each comprising an NCO (corporal or lance corporal) and three privates.
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 tasks, special operations, and urban patrols (usually being to referred to as a "brick" in the latter scenario).
The U.S. Army particularly emphasizes the fireteam concept. Per U.S. Army doctrine a typical fire team consists of four soldiers.
In a stryker brigade combat team's (SBCT) infantry rifle companies, one man in each rifle squad fireteam is either the squad anti-armour specialist (RMAT) armed with an FGM-148 Javelin, or the squad designated marksman (DM) who carries an M4 carbine and M14 rifle. In both cases, these two positions replace the basic rifleman of the standard rifle squad.
The United States Marine Corps doctrine dictates that any active fireteam will include at least one 2-man gunnery-team and summarizes its fireteam organization with the mnemonic "ready-team-fire-assist", the following being the arrangement of the fireteam when in a column:
Navy construction force, "Seabee" construction battalions, utilize fireteams (as well as companies, platoons, and squads), similar in size to those employed by the USMC, in their organizational structure. Seabee units may be attached to Marine Corps units.
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. Vietnamese communist forces, who received extensive advisory support from Chinese communists, also adopted a fireteam concept similar to that of Chinese, known as "tam tam chế", and such organization is still in use.
Fireteams have their origins in the early 20th century. From the Napoleonic Wars until World War I, military tactics involved central control of large numbers of soldiers in mass formation where small units were given little initiative.
Groups of four soldiers were mainly employed for guard duty, or as bodyguards for VIPs. In the Roman Army they were referred to as quaternio (Greek τετράδιον).
Skirmishers in the Napoleonic War would often work in teams of two, ranging ahead of the main group and providing covering fire for each other.
During World War I, trench warfare resulted in a stalemate on the Western Front. In order to combat this stalemate, the Germans developed a doctrinal innovation known as infiltration tactics (based on the Russian tactics used in the Brusilov Offensive), in which a brief intensive artillery preparation would be followed by small, autonomous teams of stormtroopers, who would covertly penetrate defensive 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 fireteams, equipped with a light machine gun (Chauchat) team and grenades, to destroy German fire positions by fire (not assault) at up to 200 meters using rifle grenades. The light machine gun team would put suppressive fire on the enemy position, while the grenadier 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 American infantry, who used them with effectiveness at St. Mihiel and the Argonne. It was typical of a fireteam in this era to consist of four infantrymen: two assaulters with carbines, one grenadier, and one sapper.
In the inter-war years, United States Marine Corps Captain Evans F. Carlson and Merritt A. Edson are believed to have developed the fireteam concept during the United States 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. The introduction of the Thompson submachine gun and Winchester Model 1912 shotgun was popular with the Marines as a point-defense weapon for countering ambush by Nicaraguan guerrillas within the thick vegetation that could provide cover for a quick overrun of a patrol. A team of four men armed with these weapons had proven more effective in terms of firepower and maneuverability than the standard nine-man rifle squad.
Carlson, who later went to China in 1937 and observed Communist 8th Route Army units of the National Revolutionary Army in action against the Imperial Japanese Army, 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 semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle and were organized in the standard 4-man 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 gunner 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 rifle squads consisted of twelve soldiers divided into three teams: The A "Able" (contemporary spelling alphabet) team consisted of the squad leader and two scouts, the support B "Baker" team of the BAR gunner, assistant gunner, and ammunition bearer, and C "Charlie" team of the assistant squad leader, also serving as the anti-tank grenadier, and five riflemen, one of whom served as the alternate anti-tank grenadier). In an assault the A team would provide overwatch and security or assist the C team in the assault, as the squad leader directed, while 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 fireteam concept when on campaign in Italy and France. Each squad sub-unit of four or five men was heavily armed, composed of a two-man BAR automatic rifleman and assistant, a scout (marksman/grenadier) armed with an M1903 Springfield with a rifle grenade discharger, and a team leader armed with an M1 carbine or M1 Thompson submachine gun. 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.
A battle pair is the smallest unit above the individual soldier, in the modern era chiefly employed by Baltic militaries and special forces like the Special Air Service. 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.
It may be known in the US as a fire and maneuver team. The concept is not widely utilized. The United States and most Commonwealth armies rely on the concept of fire teams forming a squad.
Such a team is known as a Lahingpaar or battle pair.
Until 2015 in the Finnish Defence Forces, three taistelupari (combat pairs) formed a squad along with a squad leader. A three-man fireteam is now the smallest standard unit in Finnish infantry doctrine.
The French Army has the concept of a binôme ('pair'). In the regular forces it is the pairing of an experienced soldier with a recruit or replacement. The new soldier learns from the experienced soldier how to properly perform the everyday tasks and responsibilities of his assignment.
In the old colonial forces (like the French Foreign Legion) 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 Stridspar working in unison is as effective as four soldiers of same quality acting individually.