Militaries around the world, as well as in ArmA games, operate on fixed command hierarchies. No professional military would operate as unorganized group of armed men. Instead, several of these men are grouped together in a fashion that is logical and practical with a leader. Some of these small groups are again made into a larger group with a higher leader. This process continue on all the way up until it makes the entirety of the armed forces. These groups are known with names such as squads, platoons, companies, and so forth. It is from these collection of units that an army function and achieve their objective (or fail to).
This article will deal primarily with small-size units common to ArmA series from the infantry perspective. While the ArmA games technically can, with modification, create massive, army-sized scenarios, it is usually impractical and unplayable due to the complexity and the high technical demands of the game.
As mentioned, the structure of any army is based on successively grouping groups. The smallest group most armies have is a fireteam, sometimes known more simply as team, or cell, consisting of several soldiers. Two or more fireteam makes a squad. Two or more squad makes a platoon. Two or more platoons makes a company and companies makes a battalion. Battalions can be organized into regiments, but such organization can vary from army to army, or even within the same armed forces.
The ArmA series can effectively model the hierarchy up to platoon size using the High Command function in mission editors, although squad-sized groups are by far the most common and easiest to set up. As such, platoon-sized engagements are the largest most scenarios would provide.
Real-world hierarchy Edit
While not every army is organized the following way, most of the advanced militaries in the world are. Note that size of each group can vary greatly between countries (e.g. USA and Russia) or even within the same country between different service branches. In wars, casualties can make the units smaller than what is described here. This is sorted in ascending order; from the smallest unit.
The smallest unit in most armies is the fireteam. It consist of around four soldiers, although three (China) and two (Canada) soldiers are possible. It is usually built around a machine gun, one of the most powerful weapon the infantry can hold. In a four-soldier fireteam, there would normally be a team leader, usually a non-commissioned officer such as a corporal or a junior sergeant, a machine gunner, an assistant machine gunner (carrying spare ammunition and supplies for the machine gun) and a rifleman.
Often, the team leader is armed with underslung grenade launcher in his/her rifle, making him/her the grenadier. The machine gun is central to the fireteam, and should the machine gunner is killed or incapacitated, the machine gun is wielded by other junior members of the fireteam, and to the fireteam leader as last resort.
Squads are made up of multiple fireteams and a squad leader, most often a sergeant or corporal. In the US Army, a squad has a strength of 9 soldiers, two complete fireteams and a squad leader. In the US Marines, a squad has 13, three fireteams and a squad leader. In some armies, such as the British and Commonwealth armies, the squad leader is also the leader of one of the fireteams. A squad may also be equipped with even more powerful weapons such as anti-tank rocket launchers. In mechanized infantry units, the squad may be allocated an armored vehicle, such as a BMP or Stryker.
Even armies that do not recognize the fireteam concept is built on squads. Each squad carries formidable fire power with several machine guns and anti-vehicle weapons (if included) but is flexible enough to readily adapt to changing battlefield situations rapidly.
Platoons can be said the most general basic units in armies. Squad-sized formation may not be suitable for more specialized branches such as armor or aviation. As such, there are many names for a platoon, such as 'Flight' for an Air Force unit. A platoon is normally led by a warrant officer or a junior-grade lieutenant. In some cases, a senior sergeant may even command a platoon. Platoons would also have a platoon sergeant and a medic.
As with other lower units, a platoon is made up of squads. While fireteams in a squad is usually 'generic', a platoon may have a weapons squad (heavy weapons specialists) and a command squad. The size of these two squads may vary with conditions.
Vehicle-based formations tend to have three or four vehicles in a platoon, the leader usually having his/her own vehicle. US tank platoon, for example, consist of four vehicle, whereas a Soviet tank platoon has three. Similarly, in an air force, a flight consist of four aircraft.
A company is a large unit consisting of 100 or more soldiers. It is usually formed from three or more platoons. At this level, a company commander is most often a middle-grade officer such as a Captain. Companies are usually the smallest regular unit that can operate independently in an army, having its own supporting units (such as heavy machine guns and mortars) and sometimes attachments such as sniper teams.
As companies are relatively large and complex organization for a person to manage, company commanding officers do not usually go to the front to fight with their soldiers. The platoon leaders are expected to do so instead.
Battalion and higher Edit
Battalion and higher sized units is organized in similar fashion as companies and below, although the exact detail can vary even within the same army according to the situation. Battalions are usually commanded by a major or colonel. A regiment is usually composed of several battalions or is actually a reinforced battalion with a full colonel in command. Brigades may also be interchangeably used with regiment, or may be made up of several regiments with a general in command. Brigades made up a division and divisions make an army. Even higher orders such as 'Armies' and 'Fronts' that can consist of millions of soldiers are normally reserved for large-scale wars, the last of which was in World War 2.
In ArmA series Edit
As noted, the ArmA series usually depicts battles of platoon order or lower, due to several technical limitations. Multiplayer battles technically allow multiple platoons or larger to be formed using the Warfare scenario, although commanding at such scale is impractical.
The Higher Command function allow players to coordinate large-scale troop movements at platoon level. It works in similar way as the more common squad command, except instead of individual troops, the player commands entire squads.
The rank order and unit sizes in reality is not necessarily reflected in the ArmA series, as the game uses more simplified ranks and allow for squad formation of any kind. It is entirely possible to make a 'squad' of 20 men with Stinger missiles, although predictably such a squad will be powerless against a 'proper' infantry squad. However, the default squads from the mission editor give realistic depiction of squad size and composition.
The ArmA series do not give great autonomy below squad level. Organic fireteams is only possible if it is wholly composed of human players or as 'squads', with the squad leader using the Higher Command function. That said, it is possible to group a squad into four smaller teams designated by color, although the communications menu is cumbersome and is therefore not usually used by squad leaders.