I already used this picture in a previous blog, it is one of the saddest pictures I saw during the Zamboanga Siege in 2013, and I am using it again here to stress another point:
Now aside from the fact that the soldiers lacked even the BASIC equipment and accessories like Helmets, Load Bearing Vests, etc., another thing I noticed was the lack of VARIETY in the weapons they were carrying. Here you have what looks like a typical REGULAR Philippine Army (PhA) Squad of around ten soldiers, nine of which were armed with what seems like Vietnam War era M16 Assault Rifles (ARs) (identified because of their triangular front stock) while only one of them had a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW).
The one with the SAW was also the only one with the helmet, probably a concession over the fact that he is the one most exposed to enemy fire. Frankly, I initially thought that this might’ve been a Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) unit than a PhA unit, but no, because while these individuals may look pathetic, the CAFGU are even worse off in terms of equipment and arms.
’Variety of Weapons’
I think that one way to help our soldiers do their jobs more effectively would be to improve their FIREPOWER at Squad level. This can be done by increasing the VARIETY of weapons issued to them at that level so it will be at par with the standards used by most modern countries. Now the types of weapons carried by a Squad of soldiers tend to vary a little bit from one country to the other, but in my opinion, listed down below is what I think would be the best combination of Weapons or Roles that a Squad should ideally have:
* Rifleman – Majority of the soldiers in the Squad should be armed with Assault Rifles, and the PNoy Administration is on its way of providing our soldiers with newer and better Remington R4 Rifles, so no issue here.
* SAW Gunner – At least one soldier per Squad should be issued a Machine Gun or specifically a SAW, a weapon with the same caliber as the ARs used by the other members of the unit but is optimized for continuous full auto fire. Over 6,500 Daewoo K3 SAWs were delivered and issued in 2008, so it seems that at least MOST (if not all) of our Squads have this in their inventory.
* Grenadier – At least one soldier per Squad should be issued a Grenade Launcher (GL), whether it be part of a rifle like a M203 GL or a standalone system like the M320 GL. Clearly from the picture our regular soldiers are not armed with a GL at Squad level, and having at least one GL that could lob Grenades at a distance goes a LONG way towards improving the firepower of our Squads.
* Designated Marksman (DM) – At least one soldier per Squad should be assigned a weapon that allows him to shoot accurately at longer ranges than the rest of the Squad, making this basically a “Sniper” role. Such a weapon is usually an accurized rifle with a Scope, a Bipod, a Match-grade Barrel that is “Free Floated” (i.e, not connected in any way to the Front Stock), etc. and is called the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). Like the GL, this is another weapon NOT issued at Squad level among our Regular troops right now.
Just a quick note though on the role of the DM: The initial idea for this role was that it is supposed to be different from a Sniper because the DM is to be armed with an accurized version of the AR that the other members of the Squad are using. This ensures compatibility with the ammunition and magazines used by the rest of the Squad but at the same time allows the DM to shoot effectively at longer distances. However, more and more countries are assigning higher caliber weapons to their DMs that can reach longer ranges and have more “punching power”, thus blurring the roles differentiating a Sniper from a DM.
I estimate that there are currently 74,000 Active Regular Soldiers in the PhA right now that are main Combatants (i.e., excluding the Support groups like Engineering, Signal, Artillery, etc.). Assuming that the standard Squad size is TEN (based on the pathetic picture above), then there are around 7,400 Squads that need to be equipped properly. This means the breakdown of the required number of weapons are as follows:
* 51,800 Assault Rifles – Assuming seven ARs per Squad.
* 7,400 Squad Automatic Weapons – Assuming one SAW per Squad.
* 7,400 Grenade Launchers – Assuming one GL per Squad.
* 7,400 Designated Marksman Rifles – Assuming one DMR per Squad.
The AR requirement has been fulfilled as stated earlier, while the SAW requirement has been mostly if not all fulfilled. If there is still a shortage of the SAWs, it is likely to be around a thousand weapons only based on my rough estimate. This leaves only the GL and DMR requirements to be mainly filled up.
’The Fire Team Concept’
The effectiveness of increasing the variety of weapons in a Squad can be illustrated by the use of the so-called “Fire Team Concept”. This means that a typical Squad is further subdivided to a smaller unit called a “Fire Team (FT)” composed of four to five men. The reason for this is to allow better maneuvering of forces (smaller units are able to maneuver better) and also at the same time increase the firepower of a Squad as each FT now has its own SAW Gunner and Grenadier, so instead of having just one of these weapons per Squad, you now have two. Most of the armies of developed countries like the United States (US) Army have adopted this concept.
The deadliest FT ever (so far) is probably the ones employed by the Chechnyan Fighters during the Urban Warfare that is the “Battle of Grozny” in 1995. The Chechnyans employed “Hunter-Killer FTs” composing of one RPG Gunner, one Sniper, one Machine Gunner and a Rifleman/Assistant Gunner per team. The way they used these teams is that both the Machine Gunner and Sniper would pin down the Infantry units supporting the tanks while the RPG Gunner shoots at a tank themselves. These teams proved to be very effective, causing heavy casualties against the Russian forces. The only way the Russians were able to neutralize the Chechnyan FTs was to come up with a smaller three-men FTs of their own consisting of a Grenadier, a Sniper and a Rifleman.
I think using the FT concept for the PhA would be great, but ultimately would be a little bit too expensive for us to acquire and maintain. At this point in time, I think we will need to just focus first on improving the firepower of each Squad by giving them a least a GL and a DMR. Once we are able to do that, then perhaps only then can we start thinking of raising the bar again to ultimately adopting the FT concept for our Regular Army.
On a positive note, our Special Forces (SF) like the Philippine Marines (PM) have adopted their own version of the FT. Evidence of this is how some former PMs are described as “FT Leaders” in their career summaries, and also some pictorial evidence like the picture below which was taken during the Zamboanga Siege where you have a four-man Marine FT Unit composed of a Grenadier, a SAW Gunner and two Riflemen. But remember though that SF units are a MINORITY in our Infantry units, comprising only of around 15k men by my estimate.
I think it is very important for us to improve the firepower of our Squads for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it will give our soldiers a SIGNIFICANT FIREPOWER ADVANTAGE against the local Insurgents that we are fighting against. Doing so will mean less casualties on our side while providing more casualties on their side, resulting in more chances of victory for us during encounters. The Insurgents of course could go and try to match the variety of weapons that we have, but they will likely have a harder time doing so because of the issue of FUNDS.
Acquiring better weapons is expensive, and so is their ammunition, which means the Insurgents will have to try to SPEND more in order to match our troops. In this case they will be at a disadvantage because our government will always have deeper pockets than they have, and the government also have an easier source of weapons and ammunition compared to the Rebels who will need to get theirs under the more difficult condition of Smuggling.
The second important reason for having more variety of weapons is so that our soldiers can match up better against external enemies like the Chinese Army. A typical Non-Mechanized Squad of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is composed of at least nine men with six Riflemen, one Machine Gunner, one Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) Gunner and one Designated Marksman (DM). Worst is the fact that their Mechanized forces HAVE adopted the FT concept, giving them double the firepower of their typical Non-Mechanized squad. Below is a comparison of the current Squad weapon composition of the PLA and the current and ideal Squad weapon composition of the PhA:
As we can see, with the CURRENT PhA Squad setup, if the PLA invades us tomorrow, our regular soldiers will be at an EXTREME disadvantage on a Squad-versus-Squad level against their Mechanized or Non-Mechanized Squads as they have Grenadiers and DMs while we don’t. With the IDEAL setup where our soldiers have more variety of weapons, we can then at least match up with their Non-Mechanized forces. Of course their Mechanized forces will still have the advantage overall since they have one more Grenadier and one more Machine Gunner, but at least that gap will be NARROWED down significantly especially if we have a DM in our Squad while they don’t.
The first disadvantage of putting more weapons variety to our Squads is COST. A GL and DMR are more expensive than an AR, hence their initial acquisition cost will be a lot more expensive. And not only will it be expensive to buy the equipment, once we start issuing GLs at Squad level you can expect the cost of ammunition to go up also because the Grenades used by the GLs are more expensive than AR ammunition. So BUYING and then MAINTAINING these variety of weapons will be EXPENSIVE.
Another disadvantage is that there will more OPPORTUNITIES FOR CORRUPTION within our military. With such expensive weapons, there will always be unscrupulous individuals who will look for ways to exploit that and gain money from it, like SELLING some of these weapons and ammunition to the Insurgents themselves, or to the Private Armies of Corrupt Politicians, or even to Connected and Moneyed Civilians. Thus the PhA will need to STRENGTHEN its own internal Military Police Organization to be able to go after and prosecute these corrupt individuals in their own ranks.
Others will point out the disadvantage that the Insurgents could just steal these weapons from our dead and wounded troops and use it against them instead, and that is a possibility. However, they will have to steal a LOT of these weapons to make a significant impact in their encounters against our soldiers, and I don’t think that will happen. For one, with our troops being better armed, they will be winning more and losing less, so there will be LESS opportunities for the Insurgents to steal things. Second, even if they get a couple of dozen of these weapons, that still won’t be enough as they will be facing THOUSANDS of these in the hands of our soldiers, so the impact for them will likely be only minimal.
In summary, I think we need to start issuing GLs and DMRs to our Regular Army troops at Squad level to help them have a firepower advantage over Insurgents, and to match up better against external armies like the PLA. Aside from missiles, I think the PhA should also prioritize these as they will have a significant impact on the lives of our soldiers. It is about time to bring the QUALITY of our Regular Army Squads to world standards now that we are facing a grave external threat also.
^ AFP accepts over 40K M4 Remington rifles after US firm corrects over 20,000 units,
^ Daewoo K3 (South Korea),
^ Army Troopers Newsmagazine Vol.2 No.9,
^ M203 40mm underbarrel grenade launcher (USA),
^ Gun Review: H&K M320 Grenade Launcher,
^ FM 3-21.8 The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad,
^ The Russian Experience of Urban Combat – Some Lessons from Central Asia,
^ The Chinese People’s Liberation Army since 1949: Ground Forces,