Small Wars Journal

Marine Corps experiments with a new rifle company design

Tue, 12/08/2009 - 3:53pm
Those who have read the December 2009 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette should already be familiar with The Rifle Company Experiment, written by Col. Vincent Goulding, USMC (ret). (Goulding is the Director, Experiment Division, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.)

For those who have not, Goulding's article (h/t Potomac Institute for Policy Studies) shows how the Marine Corps is applying lessons learned from stabilization operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to the broad set of rifle company tasks and to amphibious landing force operations.

Key points:

1) The experiment will test whether a rifle company (specifically, a company landing team (CoLT)) can be an effective independent unit of action. Previously, the battalion landing team was organized to be the smallest such unit.

2) The experiment envisions distributed operations as a standard technique.

3) Applying experience from Iraq and Afghanistan, the experimental rifle company TO adds operations/intel/logistics personnel to the CoLT HQ element. It also adds two five-man scout/recon teams to the company.

4) The experiment will use unmanned ground and air vehicles controlled by the CoLT for ISR and logistics support purposes.

5) The experiment will attached a platoon of 155mm howitzers to the CoLT.

6) The experiment will occur as an over-the-horizon surface and helicopter-borne amphibious assault into the rugged Kahuku Infantry Training area on the north shore of Oahu. I can report from personal experience that this training area - with its many steep compartments and thick vegetation -- provides an unusual challenge for movement, communications, and control of subordinate units.

The CoLT experiment indicates several positive trends. First, the Marine Corps is applying lessons it has learned in other contexts (the requirements needed for independent company operations in a COIN environment) to a broad set of other missions. Second, even while COIN operations in Afghanistan ramp up, the Marine Corps is working on other mission requirements. Third, that the concept of distributed operations lives on. And fourth, that in spite of the growing technological ability to micromanage subordinates, the Marine Corps is designing TTPs that push more responsibility down to lower levels, and not just for COIN operations. The CoLT experiment with distributed operations appears to illustrate these positive trends.



Fri, 10/12/2012 - 10:06am

In reply to by Morgan

Morgan, this is similiar to the "H" Series MTOE for a Light Infantry Company which held a Captain as the commander. However, the 81MM platoon had a FDC and the Marine variant appears not to have one, which may be problematic with the demise of the M16 Plotting Board with a computer.

However, I think that the Recon team should have at least one if not two sniper teams embedded into the organization. The incorporation of these sniper teams (under the control of the Commander) would provide a critical asset, especially in light of the increasing likelihood of urban combat.

The company design sounds similar to a Cav troop from the late 80's (at least the way it was described to me from an old Cav NCO). As I understood it, a Cav troop, even a Cav platoon, had not only their Cav scouts in Bradleys but tanks, air assets, indirect fire assets (artillery, not just mortars) and all of it organic to the unit.

Should the Army follow this model and look at pushing more assets down to company level? Would doing so require a change in the rank of the company from CPT to MAJ given the amount of assets being managed and the expanded area being covered?

Thanks, You are correct. I'll admit that your comment drove me to take a closer look at the article. For as much as USMC company & below organization has remained the same over the past decades, it is also always a fertile ground for discussion. Opinions and perspectives range widely based on expected operating environment , surrounding support structure, and threat. I was always a fan of the US Army WWII Infantry Division, as stripped down as it was, because it could be adapted to both the European and Pacific theater. Obviously, an organization that is adaptable for different situations will never be optimal for any single situation. What makes good sense at the higher organizational level because it works well enough across a range of operations, looks screwed up at the tactical level because it doesnt fully meet the particular company commanders specific needs.

Back to this version, while the company overall size does not increase, this appears to be an externally levied constraint (the article notes the size issue but recommends an overall increase in future updates). What really struck me, however, about this experiment was that they are going to attach a M777 howitzer platoon (assume two guns?). That creates a wholly different dimension of capabilities and limitations on the companys operations as a whole. My question is whether we are operating with certain assumptions of mobility and terrain, especially as the article indicates that the experiment will focus on a seabased vertical (helo) movement for initial insertion (and I assume sustainment and succeeding longer range maneuver)?

I support the article's statements that these are experiments--in that regard it is the correct thing to be doing. Ill be interested in the results.

jcustis (not verified)

Tue, 12/15/2009 - 11:32am

Phil, it looks at first glance that there is no net increase made be taking from elsewhere. All the changes come from simply restructuring the rifle company.

I'd be curious on whether this is intended to have an effect on battalion organization. Does the company gain at the battalion's expense, or is this a "top-line" increase? Is there anything written on how this company should operate (recommended AO size, etc.)?

I think its interesting to note that the Marines underwent at least 3 tactical re-organizations in WWII, begining with the D-series and ending up with the G-series tables of organization as the war closed out. In each case the rifle company increased strength, beginning with 183 personnel in 1942 and ending with 242 at the end of the war.

There is probably a natural progression where organizations built for flexibility prior to a conflict, pooling resources at higher levels to support focusing where needed, tend to stabilize into the "most frequent" commitment of those resources during the conflict. Maybe the upshot is that we finally get the organization correct for the war we are fighting at the end of that war--which doesn't necessarily mean we're best positioned for the next conflict.

jcustis (not verified)

Sun, 12/13/2009 - 12:35am

You have to be able to read the full Gazette article in print or online to see the figures, but the proposed organization calls for restructuring the assault section of 6 x two-man teams out of the Weapons Platoon and into the platoons, which lose a fire team apiece of men, as well as the messenger billet (structure-wise) to serve in either the new scout section of 2 x five-man teams under a section leader, or in the beefed-up Co HQ of 12 men (including the normal CO/XO/1stSgt/Co GySgt slots).

The Assault Section Leader and Weapons Plt Sgt are also out of the mix and moved to either the HQ or scout section, from what I can tell. The scout teams remind me of Army Combat Observation Lasing Teams (COLTs). It all makes for interesting stuff, since there is no net increase away from the current T/O.

The HQ is very interesting, and I'm curious what the experimenters are aiming at with adding 2 x Ops NCOs, 3 x Ops Clerks, and a Log NCO. Great stuff for running a COP as part of a distributed operations envelope, but I'm not so sure I see the utility for light infantry operations beyond utilizing embedded micro-UAV assets. With more men at one's disposal, the tendency may be to pack more trash to take on operations.

This structure does, however, at least give the HQ enough teeth to provide for its own security for limited durations, or maybe longer, allowing for more forces afield and saturating specific areas.


Wed, 12/09/2009 - 7:51pm

Very interested to see how this develops...I think that the big win is the decision to add the additional functions into the CoLT/combat team headquarters element to actually give the commander the staff he has needed for some time to manage all the moving parts of the complex environment AND separated from the battalion from whence that support might usually come.

Regarding the lack of other functions listed by David Ucko above, I see this in the same box as the platoon of 155s attached to the combat team: task-organised mission-specific support elements that blister on as required. Over time if the same support is regularly being attached then maybe it is added to the team TOE.

While reachback does provide some perhaps timely supplementary advice and information, I'm not sure it is realistic to expect rear-based experts to be on call 24/7 and I'm not sure which on the 4 billion or so experts on the internet you might want to rely on...

AlexM (not verified)

Wed, 12/09/2009 - 5:04pm

I'll vouch for the Army company level intelligence teams, as I'm on one. Company Intelligence Support Teams (CoIST) being the technical term. And while I was initially skeptical as to how much we'd be given in terms of resources, responsibilities, and respect, after our JRTC rotation and the weeks that followed, I was more than convinced enough to extend my enlistment to head up our team (and trust me, leaving was pretty darn tempting - dating's a lot easier on the outside).

One of our current projects is an attempt to utilize social networking tools to give commanders on the ground the ability to reach back and collaborate with development experts from around the world. We'll never really be experts in education, medical, and other social projects, honestly. But those people are out there and I see no reason not to use the internet to tap into that wide body of knowledge and expertise. And if it helps create better institutional memory of such activities while demonstrating a more thoughtful side of the Army to the general public, that's just icing on the cake.

I am sure this is good news in all sorts of ways, but beyond the focus on decentralisation, is it really "applying lessons learnt from stabilization operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In 2007, USMC Captain Scott Cuomo wrote what I consider to be a great analysis of Marine Corps force structure and training and education and how it does not reflect lessons learned from ongoing campaigns.

He noted, for example, that "at the company level, we have no organic intelligence capability, information specialist(s), media (television, radio, and Internet) liaisons, non-lethal units, money handlers, general engineers, human terrain experts, or linguists and possess limited communications expertise."

I don't see how the proposed changes in this article respond to these capability shortfalls.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 12/09/2009 - 10:10am

Actually, the Marine Corps and the Army have formed company level intelligence teams - in the field (Iraq and Afghanistan) and found them quite useful. So it is not just "an academic exercise" and Capt Cuomo's analysis is based on his combat experience, not the conventional classroom.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 12/09/2009 - 9:13am


"He noted, for example, that "at the company level, we have no organic intelligence capability, information specialist(s), media (television, radio, and Internet) liaisons, non-lethal units, money handlers, general engineers, human terrain experts, or linguists and possess limited communications expertise."

And you do not always have that at Battalion and sometimes not even at Brigade or Regimneet. Add up all those "specialists" and you no longer have a company. Think aboot the size of the Army and Marine Corps it would take to resource all those "specialists" at the company level. It is so nice to be creative in an unconstrained academic exercise but fiscal reality is about to set in on the US military.