Small Wars Journal

The 13 Marine Rifle Squad: Why the Marine Corps Ditched the Best Offense in History

The 13 Marine Rifle Squad: Why the Marine Corps Ditched the Best Offense in History by Sam Walker – Wall Street Journal

The most brilliant tactical formation devised by any team in the last half-century isn’t football’s Packer sweep, basketball’s triangle offense or anything else relating to sports.

It’s the rifle squads of the United States Marine Corps.

No matter what hard-bitten corner of the world they’ve deployed to, the Marines have organized themselves into divisions, regiments, battalions, companies and platoons. The tip of this tail—the last infantry formation of substance—is a squad of 13 Marines composed of a leader and a dozen riflemen grouped into three “fire teams” of four.

Opposing commanders knew what these squads looked like and how they operated. They also knew the Marines had honed their battle tactics to a lethal degree in fields, forests, mountains and deserts—often with live ammunition in the dark…

On a recent morning at the Pentagon, I asked Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller about these iconic squads of 13. He began by saying they had taken on “an almost mythical lore and status.” Then he placed his elbow on an impeccably polished conference table and addressed the question many Marines can’t wrap their heads around: why he wants to scrap them…

When it came time to re-examine rifle squads, the Marines conducted a number of experiments and tests—but Gen. Neller didn’t believe there was time for exhaustive study. The battlefield intelligence pouring in from new forms of technology was enormously valuable, but it needed to be collected and analyzed. Traditional squads lacked the bandwidth to do this without losing focus in combat…

Gen. Neller concluded that each rifle squad needed two additional billets—an assistant squad leader and a squad systems operator focused on technology. Adding two people presented a problem, however: Marine squads were already unusually large. When Gen. Neller asked squad leaders if they thought they could manage 15 Marines at once, they said no…

Read on.