The term “combined arms” conjures up images of tanks advancing with aircraft screaming overhead and infantry charging in front. While this is one modern, conventional form of a combined arms technique, it is far from the only one. And just because the modern Minuteman has limited types of arms available does not mean that he cannot still adopt a combined arms approach to combat. All that is required is a little creativity, knowledge, and the proper training.
Let’s start with the definition of “combined arms” as defined by the US Army publication ADRP 3-0 Unified Land Operations.
“Combined arms is the synchronized and simultaneous application of arms to achieve an effect greater than if each arm was used separately or sequentially.”
In this sense, the term “arms” means any form of weapon, combat vehicle, or unit. On a large scale your “arms” could be an infantry regiment and a fighter squadron. On a small scale, it could be a machine gun and a grenade launcher. You get the idea.
The way that combined arms works is by employing each “arm” in such a way that if the enemy seeks to protect themselves from one arm they become vulnerable to the other. This creates a devastating effect on the enemy, who finds themselves with few good options. The following are some conventional examples of combined arms in practice:
- Tanks advancing with infantry support in front. Enemy machine gun emplacements which would target the infantry are destroyed by heavy shells from the tank, and enemy anti-tank soldiers must expose themselves to the infantry to fire their weapons.
- A defensive position with machine guns, riflemen, and grenade launchers. Enemy attacking along avenues of approach are cut down by the machine guns. If they attempt to flank the machine gun positions, they take accurate rifle fire from the foxholes surrounding the gun. And if the enemy tries to hide in a ditch where bullets can’t reach them, the grenadier can lob high explosive projectiles into it.
Guerrilla/light infantry use of combined arms
The concept of combined arms is not exclusive to conventional militaries. Scaled down to the small-unit level, irregular forces throughout history have found ways to employ what arms they had in a well-rounded approach to combat.
- In the first Chechen war in the 1990s, Chechen rebels often employed 3-4 man teams with whatever weapons they had available. Whenever possible, each team had 1 sniper, 1 machine gunner, and 1 RPG gunner. The sniper was normally the team leader, and positioned his team such that they could protect him after he got off his sniper shot on an enemy officer/tank crewman/radio operator. The machine gunner would fire at the rapid rate to suppress enemy infantry, and the RPG gunner was there to engage any Russian armor that attempted to maneuver on them. The goal was not a protracted firefight, it was to hit and run. This combined arms approach made these independent, loosely controlled “hunter killer” teams very effective.
- In the 18th-19th Centuries, German and Austrian Jägers fought with 3 sections (called glieds) of troops. The first two glieds had muskets, while the third glied had the experienced marksmen armed with rifles. The riflemen were deployed to inflict casualties in the enemy ranks, while the musketmen held their fire until charged. The musketmen were there to protect the riflemen from close-in fighting, as rifles were slower to reload and could not have bayonets affixed. An enemy who attempted to get down to cover was picked off by the sharpshooters. An enemy who charged was met with (relatively) rapid-firing muskets and bayonets.
Options for the Modern Minuteman
At this point you may be thinking that this doesn’t matter to us as private citizens because all we have is rifles. This is not true, however. There are many different options for “arms” available to us without any special permits or tax stamps. All that is required is a little creativity and different methods of employing our people and their weapons. The following are some different weapons-related roles that we can adopt with what’s currently available to us.
- Designated marksmen: The designated marksman is assigned the role of engaging enemy command and control personnel. This includes enemy leaders and radio operators. If possible, this man is equipped with an accurized rifle and/or quality ammo capable of better accuracy than the rest of the squad.
- Automatic riflemen: The autorifleman lays down a base of fire, rapidly suppressing the enemy through his ability to fire accurate bursts. Despite the title, this weapon does not need to be fully automatic to fill this role. I wrote an article here detailing what an autorifle does and how to set up a rifle for this role.
- Anti-Materiel Rifle (AMR) gunners: An AMR is a .50 BMG rifle designed to target enemy equipment (materiel) as opposed to personnel. I believe that this is a critical tool to have because, at present, it is the only reliable means we have of fighting armored vehicles and hardened fortifications. .50 BMG rifles are big and heavy, and best used in a dedicated 2-man team of shooter and spotter. I wrote one article on the uses of AMRs here and another on tactics and employment here.
- Electronic Warfare specialist: This role is fairly new, but quickly becoming the norm. With both Russia and Ukraine pushing handheld EW weapons to the tactical level and the USMC trying to re-write the structure of a rifle squad to include one EW specialist per squad, it is clear that this sort of role is here to stay. And yes, this counts as “arms” because the military classifies EW effects as “fires” the same as mortar rounds and artillery barrages. The EW specialist is responsible for jamming enemy communications, jamming drones, and monitoring hostile comms. I must note here that it is currently illegal in the USA to actively jam transmissions of ANY kind.
- Drone pilot: While commercial drones are most often used for surveillance, the fact that they are being used by both sides in the Ukraine war right now to drop bomblets or grenades on each other earns them a spot on this list. With this common off the shelf technology, anybody can provide their own air support.
The Combined Arms Squad
So you may be wondering right now how to incorporate these different “arms” into a squad. And the answer is that it depends on the threat that you are facing. I would, however, recommend that every 3-4 man fire team be equipped with an automatic rifle. In the absence of belt-fed weapons, having one guy with a heavy barrel and extended mags who can lay down some hate and discontent can be a real lifesaver.
Everything else is mission-dependent. I would love to lay out a model squad with one of each of the specialists listed above, but the truth is that as a civilian you will almost never have that many people working together at once. You will also not need every form of “arms” on every mission, so it’s best to save weight. The best way that you, the modern Minuteman, can use a combined arms approach is to assess the threat you are facing. Determine what the enemy capabilities are, and plan your loadout accordingly.
The Combined Arms Squad in Practice
Picture a Chinese “Red Dawn” scenario. A group of Minutemen fighting as guerrillas decide to ambush a Chinese supply convoy in the enemy’s rear area. The squad leader sets into a “T” shaped ambush at a bend in the road, deploying his squad in a line formation perpendicular to the approaching convoy. Meanwhile, the security team positioned on the next hilltop stands by with a drone operator, an EW specialist, and two riflemen for security.
The EW specialist sets up his directional yagi antenna facing the approach avenue of the convoy. Past experience has shown him that the enemy would routinely call up a certain intersection as a checkpoint over the radio when convoys passed through it. Lazy planning on their part, and he was happy to exploit it. He didn’t know much mandarin, but by now he could recognize the name of the checkpoint.
Upon hearing the checkpoint call over the radio, the EW specialist notifies the security team leader. The drone pilot, who had been waiting for this trigger, launches his aircraft and flies it towards the oncoming convoy. Simultaneously, the security team leader notifies the squad leader that the enemy is approaching.
In a few minutes, the drone pilot has eyes on the convoy. He confirms the number and type of vehicles and backs off to keep his distance. Meanwhile the EW specialist pulls out his compass, shoots an azimuth to the enemy HQ, aims his directional yagi antenna that way, and waits.
As the convoy comes into view, the squad waits patiently for the lead vehicle to get to within 200m of the ambush. As the lead vehicle, an armored car with a turret, passes a rock on the side of the road, the AMR gunner with his .50 BMG rifle initiates the ambush with a single shot into the driver. It’s an easy shot from head-on. The armor-piercing round easily slices through the “bulletproof windshield”, smashes the steering column, and rips the driver of the lead vehicle in half. The lead vehicle swerves to the edge of the road into a tree, bringing it to an abrupt halt and causing the rest of the convoy to slam on the brakes.
Instantly, a dozen things begin happening at once. The designated marksman with his AR-10 picks off the turret gunner before he can recover from the crash, silencing his DShK heavy machine gun for good. The squad’s two automatic riflemen begin raking fire up and down the sides of the convoy, deterring any dismounts from bounding into the treeline where they would have cover. The riflemen armed with carbines begin placing aimed, accurate fire into the second vehicle’s unarmored cab, and picking off any dismounts as they scramble to get out of their vehicles.
Upon hearing the unmistakable sound of the .50 cal firing, the EW specialist taps the screen of his tablet. His directional yagi antenna, aimed at the enemy HQ, begins jamming the convoy control frequency by blasting “The Star Spangled Banner” into the ears of the enemy radio operator. This active jamming of the receiver ensured that they wouldn’t hear any call for help from the ambushed convoy, and due to the directional antenna, the convoy wouldn’t know that their HQ was being jammed.
Realizing the predicament they are in, the other armored car in the rear of the convoy tries to maneuver around the trapped trucks to provide some covering fire on the automatic rifles. As soon as he drives into view of the ambushers, he catches a round of .50 BMG API to the face, deleting his head. As the vehicle grinds to a halt, the designated marksman places another well-aimed shot into the blue helmet of the turret gunner, silencing him.
As the action starts to wind down, the drone maneuvers closer to watch for clusters of enemy in defilade. He spots a fire team hiding behind the hulk of an armored car, and carefully drops a captured Chinese grenade into the middle of the group. After checking for other survivors, the drone returns to its LZ for recovery. Once the squad leader has determined that the enemy is no longer offering resistance, he sends his maneuver element to sweep through the kill zone and eliminate any last holdouts.
In the example above, every time the enemy attempted to respond to one threat, he exposed himself to another. Staying on the road meant getting shredded by the autorifles. Pushing into the treeline meant getting picked off by riflemen. Hiding in defilade exposed them to air attack from the drone. And maneuvering an armored vehicle into position exposed it to the AMR gunner. This is the heart of combined arms. Giving the enemy no good options to work with by using different weapon systems together in one beautiful, deadly harmony.
If you would like to learn how to use some of these weapons more effectively, my Support Weapons Class will teach you how to employ autorifles and .50 BMG rifles effectively. Whether you own one of these weapons or not, learning how to employ them in a tactical context is valuable knowledge for anyone who might find themselves working with other Minutemen in the future. The next Support Weapons Class is November 19-20, email me or fill out my contact form to register.