The Squad – Size and Organization

Max Velocity Tactical

A reader sent me this link to a long thread at Small Wars Council. Honestly, I groaned inwardly: I haven’t read the thread in its entirety. However I’m going to take the opportunity to comment on squad size and organization.

The topic of squad size and organization is a big one, with lots of opinions, and we could go on forever and get wrapped around the axle. I will simply give a quick opinion, and what I think is a utilitarian approach.  

A quick skim of the Small Wars Council thread shows all sorts of opinions on the balance of the squad, the number of sub-units (or fire teams) and the numbers that make up those fire teams. In my opinion the buddy pair, or two man team, is the basic building block. With those buddy teams you build your four man fire teams. That is why I don’t like an odd number organization, such as team of three. A buddy pair forms the basis of a pair that will look after each other, sleep together under a tarp, form a team for break contact drills etc.

One thing that I notice from the linked thread is an opinion that each team, when you have two or three teams in the squad, should be specialized. Because we don’t know how things will pan out I believe that each team should be interchangeable, in terms of its light infantry capability on the ground.  This means that if we look at the potential squad combat roles of assault, fire support, and reserve/flank protection (you can add breach to that, if you so wish), then each team should be able to accomplish these tasks as they rotate through them as part of the fight.

One of the useful things with the two fire team, eight man squad, was the interchangeability of the two four man fire teams. Yes, this was a limited task organization, because they were missing that third team. But it was arguably an improvement over the old style gun group/rifle group organisation. Granted, if you are conducting a deliberate attack there are definite advantages in concentrating heavier weapons into the fire support group while the rifle group assaults; however, your squad task organization can always be adapted for specific missions, whereas as the standard organization I prefer the flexibility of identical teams.

My preferred organization is a 12 man squad, divided into three fire teams of four men. Each four man team will be able to perform any of the roles required of the squad in combat. This does not mean that the personnel must be identical; you can have specialists within the squad, but they will be divided up among the identical fire teams.

It is up to you whether the squad leader is integral as the 12th man within one of the teams (primary team), or whether you have him as the 13th man above the mix. Either way has its merits. The three fire team 12 man squad is ideal to be utilized for the satellite patrolling method I have so often described. It also allows for react to contact upon any of the three teams while the other two teams deploy in support. If your squad is made up of specialized teams, then you may be in trouble if the wrong team is pinned down on the X. Hence the importance of interchangeability.

One other consideration is that for a team of armed civilians in SHTF, they will not, at least initially, have heavy weapons systems. Thus if everyone is armed with battle rifles then an interchangeable organization works very well.

The three fire team squad is ideal for patrolling and combat operations. It allows four man teams to be detached from a patrol base and sent out on specific missions, such as recce patrols. It also works very well for low intensity conflict. For example, if you found yourself moving into a village in order to provide assistance, you can designate the primary team for key leader engagement, another team with the relevant specialists to conduct required tasks, perhaps medical assistance or an engineering task. This leaves a third team for security and overwatch tasks.

Of course, none of this should preclude flexibility. You can adapt your fire team groupings for the task at hand. If, for example, you had a machine gun in each fire team, you could group them into a fire support group if you wanted. You can even organize into two six man teams if you felt it was better suited to achieve the mission.

Although the magic number is 12, I’m not talking about an ODA. What I don’t like about the ODA organization is that, although it provides the specialists to fulfill the ODA mission, it does not translate readily into a combat squad organization. Thus with my 12 man squad, one team will be designated as the primary team, to include the squad leader and perhaps the primary medic. Other specialties, perhaps your engineers etc. would be strategically spread out between the three teams.

I really don’t see any downsides to the 12 man three fire team squad. Your biggest challenge will be getting such numbers together and getting sufficiently trained together as a team. Even if you have 12 individually trained personnel, you are simply asking for trouble if you try to conduct a squad task in combat such as an attack. You are not going to be able to roll through an objective with teams rotating through the assault cycle (assault, fire support, reserve/flank protection) without considerable training and rehearsal.

In fact, one of the things not considered by those advocating two or three specialized fire teams, is the potential requirement to destroy a second enemy position, in-depth or to the flank. Once your assault team goes firm on the first enemy position, you want the option to fire another team through onto the next enemy position. To generate this kind of flexibility you need three equally balanced fire teams. It can be done with the eight man two fire team squad, but flank protection often gets sacrificed, with one fire team as base of fire, the other assaulting.

To look at this in very simple terms we are simply taking the two fire team eight man squad and adding a third team. However, ideally in SHTF, your team will not be comprised of cookie-cutter rifleman, but will have a healthy dose of specialists dual-roled within the fire teams.

Live Hard.

Die Free.


P.S. Forgot to mention: in Patriot Dawn they were fighting a tyrannic Regime with a Resistance campaign. In that scenario, each four man team was divided into a buddy pair marksman/cover group, and an IED pair. These teams would then go out on four man IED missions. The teams could then be brought together, the fire teams forming squads and then platoons, to allow them to concentrate force up to Company level for deliberate raid or ambush. You can decide on the dispersal of light infantry skills within each fire team, overlaid with other skills such as medic etc.

Also: Age 18, I went on an expedition to Greenland, with an organization called the British Schools Exploring Society (B.S.E.S). Excellent fun. They had a tradition that each group would number 12. They said that the number 12 was the ideal number that would all fit round a campfire. So we were in group of 12. They named these groups ‘Fires’ simply because they were literally each a ‘fires’ worth of people. I have come across questions of what to name groups (Oath Keepers spring to mind, having gone operational on the ODA model, with a disaster aid charter as well as a security mission come SHTF) that are planning on helping in their communities come SHTF or natural disaster. ‘Squad’ does not go down well. May I suggest the name ‘Fire’. So, your 12 man squad is known as a Fire, and they can all fit round a fire (not that you would have a fire, or sit round it….grrr!) Within that Fire, each team is not called a fire team, but is called a team. Thus, the Fire has a less aggressive name and is less threatening to civvies.

Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival  Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises


Max Velocity is a tactical self-defense trainer and author providing instruction and advice for those preparing for disaster survival and societal collapse situations.


One thought on “The Squad – Size and Organization

  1. Can of worms and no mistake, I consider that there really is no set minimum but there has to be a kind of set maximum especially in large groups simply because you end up with overkill, groups tripping over each other, even starting a friendly fire conflagration event which is something no one wants.

    I have always been an ardent “Sabre” follower, 4 being the number instead of two in the buddy scheme, each sabre team has a medic, comms, cook, explosives expert, three troopers led by an experienced sgt and many of the skills being taught from one specialty to another so if your medic goes down, he can be treated, a chinese parliament type of learning that covers everything with a 4:4 ratio. It works well too in larger groups because the sabres are still led by the sgt’s but the sgt’s now work together under the umbrella of a senior group commander in coordination with that commander as to more independently under smaller command systems, the sabres still keep the 4 man structure supplying independent fire and trap cover, long watchovers can be divvied down to 2 down 2 up watching and allows for fluid patrolling and scouting and with a rotating scouting pattern, allows too for large group movement as the scout sabres rotate around the moving group.

    Three sabres could give an enormous amount of cover around a central holding point, a buttressed triangle with superior fields of vision, indeed the three by three watch group formation is extremely hard to penetrate as it allows for dedicated narrow killing channels with the outer three teams providing crossfire and the inner three teams providing direct fire through heavy weaponry such as RPG and mortar, communication of course is the true game maker here, preparation of the approaches too with “nasties” also helps, seen it in action where a team plays dead and the bad guys approach to nose about only to find an array of anti personnel weaponry deployed in both the usual and unusual approaches, the playing possum team then finishes off in close quarters what’s left… Leave nothing to chance.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *