There’s an exercise that exists to get one to challenge one’s own assumptions by imposing a very difficult condition on a problem so one sees what tradeoffs come out. Let’s play with an example. Inspired by the interview with former General der Panzertruppe Hermann Balck, let’s give this sort of problem a try.
The criteria in question is that rifle companies shouldn’t number more than 70-80 men. Let’s firm this up a bit and call it a hard limit of 80 men. Arbitrarily choosing mechanized infantry as our guinea pigs, what would an 80 man mechanized infantry company look like?
Let’s start by thinking about our vehicle. Balck also postulated a 10-tank company, with 3-tanks per platoon. Let’s assume our mechanized infantry company mirrors this structure, which is pretty reasonable. We have a few simple options depending on how we want to operate our IFVs:
- Keep a crew of 3 men in the IFVs during mounted and dismounted operations. Have five dismounts in two of the IFVs in the platoon and six dismounts in the third, giving us two eight-man dismount squads. There are, of course, a few other ways to think about this problem, but that’s a pretty standard one.
- Have a crew of 3 men in the IFVs during mounted operations and a crew of two men in the IFVs during dismounted operations. Have five other dismounts per IFV, giving us two nine man squads (or three six-man squads if you prefer). Having two crew in the IFV is suboptimal but doable. We could also look into extra automation, but that brings up our next option:
- Have a crew of 2 men in the IFVs during mounted and dismounted operations. This gives six dismounts per IFV. Two-man crews might be as effective as three man crews given modern technological aids. Certainly the US Army wants a two-man crew for the OMFV.
My preference is for #3. I’ve read enough good test data to justify the design,1 and we’re going to want plenty of optics on our IFV anyway.
We could also consider variations that would give us two ten-man dismount squads if we preferred, but I’ll stick with those classic US Army nine-man dismount squads, that could also be reconfigured (either ad-hoc or doctrinally) into three six-man squads. That gives each platoon a total manning of 24. We’ll postulate that one of the IFVs is commanded by the platoon leader (a lieutenant), and the platoon sergeant will command another IFV or one of the squads. So we’ll have one officer and 23 enlisted personnel in our platoon.
Three platoons gives me 72 men total. Not bad so far. All we need is a company HQ. CO, XO, First Sergeant are pretty obvious. We’ll also add a supply sergeant, and we’ll stipulate that the HQ has one IFV and probably a truck. So, that’s four men in the HQ, and 76 men altogether. Done.
That was a little less hard than I thought it would be, so let’s look at those squads. As mentioned before, we can use a ‘split squad’ method to give us two 9-man squads in the pattern of the US Army. And, while the US Army has made this work, I’ve never quite been a fan of splitting squads across vehicles. Our other obvious choice is to use each six-man dismount team independently as squads. Let’s unpack that a little.
There are a bunch of ways to work with a six-man squad, but I like having a squad being able to fire and maneuver, and I like symmetrical teams, which gives us a six-man squad comprised of two three-man teams. Which should function like four-man teams, except with less ability to absorb casualties. Or so the theory goes; that was the stated reason for the marines to switch from three to four men per fireteam in the 1940s. Three men in the fireteam does mean that we’re low on riflemen, especially if we add grenadiers. We could make the teams asymmetrical, but that makes the command burden harder, and per Balck, the whole point of this was to make command burden easier.
Looking at the other configuration, two dismount squads of nine men each in a mechanized platoon has been tried before in the US Army and they found it unsatisfactory. Specifically, they didn’t like the lack of infantry, and they revised the platoon in the early 2000s to have three dismount squads of nine men each in the same four Bradley platoon, and there haven’t been much in the way of complaints about that after the Iraq war. Certainly, there are no calls to change it.
And, unlike the 10-tank company that Balck also proposed, no one has put forward a formal organization for an infantry company that’s this small. Likely because it’s pretty bare bones, and when one adds casualties, transfers, absences for leave, training assignments, and the like, the platoon never starts at full strength. It should be noted that, while on paper the US Army’s mechanized infantry platoon consists of 1 officer and 38 men, plus a few attachments, and there are only 36 seats in four Bradleys, veterans in Operation Iraqi Freedom never reported having a problem finding seats for everyone in the platoon.
- Yes, I know Chieftain doesn’t like it. He’s entitled to his opinion. I disagree with him based on test data showing it works that goes back to the early 90s. All successful. ↩