A section is a military sub-subunit. It usually consists of between six and 20 personnel and is usually an alternative name for, and equivalent to, a squad. As such two or more sections usually make up an army platoon or an air force flight.
However, in the French Army and in armies based on the French model, a section is equivalent to a platoon.
During World War II, a rifle section comprised ten soldiers with a corporal in command and a lance-corporal as his second-in-command. The corporal used an M1928 Thompson submachine gun, while one of the privates used a Bren gun. The other eight soldiers all used No.1 Mk.3 Lee-Enfield rifles with a bayonet and scabbard. They all carried two or three No.36 Mills bomb grenades.
After World War II, and during the Vietnam War, a rifle section consisted of ten personnel comprising: a command & scout group (three people - two sub-machineguns/M16A1 and a L1A1 SLR); a gun group (three people - an M60 machine gun and two L1A1 SLRs) and a rifle group (four people - L1A1 SLRs). The section was later reduced to nine men, and consisted of the section commander, a two-man scout group, the section 2IC and two other men in the gun group, and a three-man rifle group; the section commander would usually move with the latter.
Under the new structure of the infantry platoon, Australian Army sections are made up of eight men divided into two four-man fireteams. Each fireteam consists of a team leader (corporal/lance-corporal), a marksman with enhanced optics, a grenadier with an M203 and an LSW operator with an F89 Minimi light support weapon.
Typical fire team structure:
|Team leader||F88 Steyr|
|Marksman||F88 Steyr w/enhanced optic (e.g. 3.4× Wildcat)|
|Grenadier||F88 Steyr w/M203 under-barrel grenade launcher|
|Machine gunner||F89 Minimi|
The rifle section of a World War II infantry battalion was generally formed of ten men; a Corporal as the section commander, a Lance Corporal as the section 2IC, and eight privates. The Corporal variously carried a Lee-Enfield rifle, a Thompson 'machine carbine', or a Sten 'machine carbine' depending on the year of the war, one private would be the section gunner with a Bren gun, and all other section members were armed with Lee-Enfield rifles (though it was possible for the Corporal's machine carbine to be given to another member of the section). The section was divided into a rifle group consisting of the section commander and six riflemen, and a gun group consisting of the section 2IC and gun controller, the section gunner or Bren No. 1, and the Bren No. 2 carrying a spare barrel and additional ammunition for the Bren gun. Three sections together formed a platoon, with two being forward sections and the third being a reserve.
With the switch from .303 Inch to 7.62x51mm NATO in the 1950s, the typical British infantry section was armed with and organised around the L7A1/A2 7.62mm general purpose machine gun (GPMG). The section had varying manpower depending on the battalion (most battalions would continue to have ten men per section; while mechanised battalions nominally had ten men as well, two of these were detailed as crew for the section armoured personnel carrier, thereby reducing the dismounted strength to eight), but retained the rifle group/gun group organisation; the rifle group consisted of the section commander (Corporal) with an L1A1 7.62mm self-loading rifle (SLR) and six riflemen with L1A1 7.62mm SLRs, while the gun group consisted of the section 2IC and gun controller (Lance Corporal) with an L1A1 7.62mm SLR, the section gunner or GPMG No. 1 with the GPMG, and the GPMG No. 2 with an L1A1 7.62mm SLR and a spare GPMG barrel. A certain amount of 7.62mm linked ammunition was carried by all members of the section (200 rounds per gun group member, 50 rounds per rifle group member), with ammunition held by the rifle group being redistributed to the gun group prior to an assault. In a mechanised battalion, the rifle group would only have four riflemen; two of these could be detailed as a Medium Anti-tank Weapon (MAW) No. 1 with an L14A1 84mm anti-tank gun and a MAW No. 2 with additional 84mm rounds but otherwise continued to act as riflemen (in other battalions, the MAW No. 1 and No 2 were normally part of the platoon headquarters). Rifle-launched No. 95 anti-tank grenades that had been used with the Lee-Enfield rifle continued to be made available for anti-armour defence in lieu of or in addition to the L14A1, with these later being replaced by shoulder-fired L1A1-A3 66mm HEAT rockets. There also were a number of M79 40mm grenade launchers available. Later sections would all consist of eight men (as well as any men detailed as vehicle crew) regardless of the battalion type; the rifle group consisted of the section commander with an L1A1 7.62mm SLR and four riflemen with L1A1 7.62mm SLRs and L1A1-A3 66mm HEAT rockets (though if there was a significant armour threat, two riflemen would be re-roled as a MAW No. 1 with an L14A1 84mm anti-tank gun and either a L2A3 9mm submachine gun or an L1A1 7.62mm SLR and a MAW No. 2 with an L1A1 7.62mm SLR and additional 84mm rounds), while the gun group did not undergo any changes.
Both World War II and Cold War section tactics were designed with a view to bringing the section machine gun to bear on the enemy and providing support to it; once the gun group had suppressed the enemy ("winning the firefight"), the rifle group would assault and destroy the enemy position with the gun group providing fire until the last safe moment.
The introduction of the 5.56mm select-fire SA80 individual weapon or rifle (L85) and light support weapon (L86) to replace 7.62mm weapons and the L2A3 submachine gun in the late 1980s led to the rifle group/gun group organisation being abandoned in favour of fireteams (though the rifle group/gun group organisation would still be in effect until at least 1988, with changes mostly being limited to earlier weapons being replaced by their SA80 equivalents). The British section continued to consist of eight soldiers, but under normal circumstances these were now divided into a Charlie and Delta fireteam. The platoon continued, and continues, to be composed of three sections.
This grouping provided a balanced organisation, with either fireteam being capable of moving to assault or supporting the other fireteam's movement (though doctrine still had the Lance Corporal's fireteam providing covering fire in the initial stages of a section attack). There were two other section groupings; an assault team/support team grouping where the Delta fireteam (consisting of the section 2IC, a rifleman, and both section gunners) was responsible for covering the Charlie fireteam (consisting of the section commander and three riflemen, though this could be raised to four if the rifleman in the Delta fireteam was moved to the Charlie fireteam) during the latter's movement from one position to another, and a modified version of the earlier rifle group/gun group organisation, used if it was felt that the strongest possible manoeuvre force was required, where both section gunners formed the gun group and all remaining personnel formed the Charlie fireteam which acted as the rifle group. There were also groupings devised in relation to specific combat scenarios; sections engaged in trench clearing could either be organised as usual or be split into four assault teams of two men each, while sections tasked with clearing a house were organised into a command group, a covering group comprising both section gunners (and possibly the section 2IC), and two assault groups of two riflemen each. Fireteams could also be split into smaller sub-divisions of two men each outside of these groupings, particularly during fire and manoeuvre. L1A1 94mm HEAT rocket systems (henceforth referred to as LAWs) were part of the standard equipment allocation on a scale of two per section, replacing the L14A1 gun and the L1A3 66mm rockets, and were carried as needed; the normal section grouping had one LAW per fireteam, while the assault team/support team grouping could have a LAW carried by one or both teams depending on the perceived armour threat. It was also possible to have the platoon's reserve section equipped with all six LAWs, leaving the two forward sections unencumbered for fire and manoeuvre and providing them with anti-armour defence. In April 1998 the Rifle Grenade General Service was introduced into service; issue was scaled at twelve L85A1 HE rifle grenades and six L15A1 rifle grenade launcher sights per section, effectively allowing all rifle-equipped members of the section to carry and use two rifle grenades each.
Not all sections consisted of eight men; units mounted aboard the FV510 Warrior consisted of seven men, with one fireteam's second rifleman usually being the section member that was omitted. While the FV432 Bulldog can accommodate a section consisting of ten men, this is in relation to the earlier Cold War section organisation, with sections organised according to the later and post-Cold War organisation remaining at eight men.
Changes were made to the section's equipment during the 2000s in response to operational demands and experience; the L85A1 rifle was upgraded to L85A2 standard between 2002 and 2006, with a further upgrade package consisting of a Picatinny rail handguard and alternative optical sights being introduced for select units in 2007 and more generally from 2009 onwards, the L123A1-A3 40mm underslung grenade launcher (UGL) was introduced as a replacement for the L85A1 HE rifle grenade, the L86 light support weapon was replaced as the section machine gun by the L110A1-A3 5.56mm light machine gun acquired as an Urgent Operational Requirement, and the second rifleman in the fireteam was re-roled as a designated marksman carrying either the L86A2 light support weapon or, in later years, the L129A1 7.62mm sharpshooter rifle. By 2005 therefore, the normal section grouping was reorganised as follows:
The two other section groupings were also modified; the assault team/support team grouping now had the Charlie fireteam consist of the section commander, a rifleman with UGL, and both section gunners, with the Delta fireteam consisting of the section 2IC, both section marksmen, and a rifleman with UGL. The rifle group/gun group organisation was replaced by a fast assault/fire support grouping where the Charlie fireteam consisted of the section commander with UGL and a rifleman, while all remaining personnel formed the Delta fireteam. Trench clearing and house clearing groupings remained unchanged. Some units operating in Afghanistan carried on using the L7A2 GPMG as the section machine gun or included it as an additional weapon on the scale of one per fireteam; in the case of the latter, this meant that only two L85A2s (at least one of which was fitted with the UGL) were carried per section. The 84mm AT-4 (L1A2 or L2A1) and then the 150mm NLAW replaced the L1A1 94mm HEAT rocket as the section anti-armour weapon, though carrying arrangements were essentially unchanged; the Javelin can also be carried for anti-armour capability. The L128A1 12 bore combat shotgun was introduced for use by the section point man, with this position subject to rotation within the section to avoid excessive stress for individual soldiers.
The L85A2 began being upgraded to L85A3 standard from 2018 onwards, while the L86A2 and L110A3 began to be removed from service in 2019, leaving the L129A1 and L7A2 as the standard section designated marksman rifle and standard section machine gun respectively. With section commanders now also being able to tailor equipment formations as needed instead of having to deploy in a pre-set lineup, the current British infantry section is as follows:
The Army Cadet Force and the Army Sections of the Combined Cadet Force also make use of infantry sections; these are equipped similarly to their British Army counterparts (though without heavy weapons or grenades and with substituted small arms - the L1A1 rifle and L7A2 machine gun did not replace the Lee-Enfield No. 4 and Bren light machine gun, while the L85 rifle was initially substituted by the straight-pull L98A1 and then the semi-automatic L98A2 which replaced the L98A1 from 2009 onwards) and, until 2018, used the following section groupings:
L86A2s in Community Cadet Forces use began to be withdrawn from service at the same time as those held by the British Armed Forces, with no direct replacement for the weapon being identified; as such, all members of a Army Cadet Force section would now be armed with an L98A2 rifle.
The Canadian Army also uses the section, which is roughly the same as its British counterpart, except that it is led by a sergeant, with a master corporal as the 2IC. The section is further divided into two assault groups of four soldiers each (equivalent to the Australian and British fireteams) and a vehicle group consisting of a driver and a gunner. Assault groups are broken down to even smaller 'fireteams' consisting of two soldiers, designated Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. Alpha and Bravo make up Assault Group 1; Charlie and Delta make up Assault Group 2. The section commander will have overall control of the section, and is assigned to Fireteam Alpha of Assault Group 1. The 2IC will be in command of Assault Group 2, and is assigned to Fireteam Charlie.
Groupings are as follows:
In the Danish Army, the section consists of two squads, usually commanded by a Sergeant First Class. Sections are usually highly specialized support units providing heavy weapons support, EOD support etc.
In the French Army, a section is equivalent to an English-language platoon and is a subunit of a company, in most military contexts. (In cavalry or armoured units, a subunit of a company is a peloton [platoon].)
A subunit within a modern French section is a groupe de combat ("combat group"), which is divided into:
In the Irish Army, the infantry section consists of one Corporal or Ceannaire as section commander and eight other ranks. Section armament consists of eight Steyr AUG A1 rifles (including versions reconfigured to Mod 14 standard with a Picatinny rail and an ACOG 4x magnification optical sight), with two of these being equipped with an M203 grenade launcher, and one FN MAG 58 general purpose machine gun; two soldiers are additionally armed with AT4 short range anti-armour weapons (SRAAW) for anti-armour defence, while Heckler & Koch USP pistols are available for distribution at the platoon level. Three sections together with a headquarters element form a platoon.
Singapore Army's infantry section consists of seven men led by a Third Sergeant and assisted by a Corporal or Corporal First Class as 2IC. Each section is divided into one 3-man group - including the section commander, and two 2-man groups. Weapons carried by each section include two light anti-tank weapons, two section automatic weapons (SAW), and two M203 grenade launchers.
In the South African Army Infantry Formation (which is responsible for all South African Army infantry), the standard infantry section is divided into a seven-man rifle group and a three-man machine gun group as per the earlier British model; the rifle group consists of a section commander (Corporal) and six riflemen, all armed with R4 5.56mm rifles, while the gun group consists of a section 2IC (Lance Corporal) with a R4 5.56mm rifle, a Machine Gun No. 1 with an FN MAG 7.62mm general purpose machine gun, SS-77 7.62mm general purpose machine gun, or Mini-SS 5.56mm light machine gun, and a Machine Gun No. 2 with a R4 5.56mm rifle. In a mechanised infantry section, the rifle group is reduced to five men for a total of eight men in the section.
Historically, a section of US Infantry was a "half platoon" (the platoon itself being a "half company"). The section was led by a sergeant assisted by one or (later) two corporals and consisted of a total of from 12-24 soldiers, depending on the time period. In the US Cavalry, a section was roughly equivalent to a squad in the US Infantry. In Armor, Armored Cavalry, Mechanized Infantry, and Stryker Infantry units, a section consists of two tanks/armored vehicles, with two sections to a platoon. The platoon leader, leads one section and the platoon sergeant leads the other. Some branches, such as Air Defense Artillery and Field Artillery, use the term section to denote a squad-sized unit that may act independently of each other in the larger platoon formation. (I.e., the Firing Platoon consists of several gun sections, which are the basic firing elements of the unit.) The section is used as an administrative formation and may be bigger than the regular squad formation often overseen by a Staff Sergeant.
The USMC employs sections as intermediate tactical echelons in infantry, armored vehicle units (individual vehicles being the base tactical element), and low altitude air defense (LAAD) units, and as the base tactical element in artillery units. Infantry sections can consist of as few as eight Marines (heavy machinegun section) to as many as 32 in an 81-mm mortar section. In headquarters, service, and support units throughout the USMC (CE, GCE, ACE, and LCE), sections are used as functional sub-units of headquarters or platoons. For example, the intelligence section (S-2) of a battalion or squadron headquarters; the communications-electronics maintenance section, communication platoon, regimental headquarters company; armory section, Marine aviation logistics squadron. In Marine aircraft squadrons, section is also used to designate a flight of two or three aircraft under the command of a designated section leader. Some sections, such as weapons platoon sections are led by a staff non-commissioned Officer (SNCO), usually a staff sergeant. Tank and other armored vehicle sections, as well as service and support sections, may be led by either an officer, usually a lieutenant (or a CWO, in the case of service and support units), or a SNCO ranging from staff sergeant to master sergeant. Headquarters and aircraft sections are always led by a commissioned officer. Rifle squads generally contain 13 marines.
In infantry units, weapons platoons have sections consisting of the squads and teams that man the crew-served weapons.
Weapons platoon, rifle company:
Weapons company, infantry battalion:
In armored vehicle units, platoons consist of sections consisting of individual vehicles and their crews:
In low altitude air defense (LAAD) batteries, the firing platoons consist of three sections, each consisting of a section leader and five two-man Stinger missile teams.
In artillery batteries, the firing platoon consists of a platoon headquarters and six artillery sections, each containing a section chief (staff sergeant) eight-member gun crew with one howitzer, and a driver and prime mover (i.e., a truck to tow the artillery piece and transport the gun crew and baggage). The gun crew consists of a gunner (sergeant), two assistant gunners (corporals), and five cannoneers (lance corporals and/or PFCs).
The United States Air Force uses the term element, as well as section, to designate two or three subunits within a flight.
In the context of British Empire military aviation during World War I, the term half flight or half-flight was used for equivalent formations; at the time a flight was normally four to six aircraft. Hence the Mesopotamian Half Flight, the first Australian flying unit to see action, initially comprised three aircraft. After the war, the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces adopted the term section for a formation of three aircraft, while a flight was normally six aircraft. The Royal Air Force Regiment, the ground-based component of the Royal Air Force, currently employs a section structure similar to that of the British Army.
During the Second World War:
A section is also the name for a shift or team of police officers in various police forces, particularly in the Commonwealth. The term is no longer used in the British police, in which it originated and where it was the group of officers headed by a Sergeant.
The machine carbine is normally the weapon of the section commander. Occasions will arise, however, when it may be advisable to give it to another man in the section.
The section commander normally carries the machine carbine but may nominate another man.
With the introduction of the Light Machine Gun (LMG), the LSW will be used for longer range (600-800m), accurate, suppressive fire. It will become the sharpshooter system of the section to out-range any potential threat.
an (sic) infantry section consists of two four-man fire teams each consisting of IW(2), LSW(1) and LMG(1). One IW has the Underslung Grenade Launcher (UGL).