Throughout history military units used formations to maximize their fighting power in combat, and modern infantry is not an exception.
Fireteam formations serve the following purposes:
- maximize observation and firepower towards (expected) enemy contacts
- allow proper use of cover and concealment
- enable the leader to keep an overview and direct the team efficiently
- allow smooth movement through the terrain with sufficient speed
The following formations are employed for fireteams of 4 operators. While they are easy to extend for more operators, less than 4 operators will often have problems to maintain all round defense and deploy sufficient fire power. Note that all operators are constantly scanning their Area of Responsibility and at the same time keeping an eye on their teammates in order to stay in formation.
About the images: The arrows indicate the moving direction of the team, and the cones depict the AoR for every team member. However the AoRs are often modified depending on the positions of friendly forces and expected enemy contacts.
The Column allows very easy, fast and smooth movement. Cover and concealment along the route used by the pointman can be used by all following operators as well. Except for the pointman everyone just needs to follow the operator in front, hence changes of the direction are pretty smooth and everyone can focus on his AoR. The team can easily maintain all around observation.
The main disadvantage is that the firepower is maximized at the flanks while the team is pretty weak concerning front and rear contacts. Hence the Column is mainly used during long transits when enemy contact is unlikely, e.g. during tabbing.
The Staggered Column compensates the main disadvantage of the Column by shifting some operators to one side. This way the firepower to the front and rear is increased. The drawback is decreased control. It’s more difficult to stay in formation or change the direction.
This formation is used when a normal Column doesn’t offer enough security but speed is still the most important factor.
The Line offers maximum firepower to the front. But on the other hand it’s very hard to control. Operators must steadily look to the sides in order to stay in formation. And changing the direction demands a lot of movement for the operators at the edges.
That’s why this formation is preferably used in a stationary, covered position to lay down maximum firepower on a known enemy position.
The Wedge is a compromise between Line and Column. It offers better control than the Line, but not as good as the Column. On the other hand it offers more firepower to the front than the Column, but not as much as the Line. Likewise the firepower to both flanks is better than in the Line, but not as good as in the Column.
Hence it is the preferred formation for movement with expected enemy contact.
The Fireteam Leader will order varying distances between operators depending on factors like visibility and terrain. Usually all team members should stay in shouting range of the Fireteam Leader.
In any case there is no need to keep exact distances. Of course one must stay roughly in the right position and cover the correct area. But trying to keep an exact distance will force the operator to focus more on his teammates than on his AoR and thus result in a dangerous lack of observation. Moreover operators should use nearby cover and concealment, even if this results in a slightly different distance than ordered. After all you are in combat, and not in a military parade or a beauty competition.
There are more possible formations for a fireteam, like Echelon Left/Right, Vee and Diamond. Moreover SOPs concerning formations often determine a certain position for a team member within the formation, e.g. the Automatic Rifleman takes #2 in the Column. And different units usually use similar terms but modify the actual formations slightly or swap the positions of certain team members. Hence there is a huge variety of formations used in real life. Furthermore greater unit like squads and platoons use similar formations, but with consideration of additional factors.
Note that leaders must combine a proper movement formation with a proper movement technique (i.e. Travelling, Travelling Overwatch or Bounding Overwatch) based on METT-TC to be successful.