A section is a military sub-subunit. It usually consists of between six and 20 personnel, and is usually an alternate 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.
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|
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.
Post–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).
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The British Army section now consists of eight soldiers made up of a Corporal as the section commander, a Lance-Corporal as his second-in-command ("2IC") and six privates. Three sections together form a platoon. In conventional warfare, the section is split into two four-man fireteams ("Charlie" and "Delta"), commanded by the corporal and lance-corporal respectively.
The "Rifle Section" of a Second World War Infantry Battalion was generally formed of 10 men; a Corporal as the section leader with six privates with Lee–Enfield rifles forming a rifle group, and a light machine gun group of a Lance-corporal, a gunner with the Bren gun and a "loader" carrying a spare barrel and extra ammunition.
With the switch from .303 to 7.62mm NATO in the 1950s until the introduction of 5.56 mm calibre weapons in the late 1980s, the typical section was armed with and organized around the 7.62 mm L7 GPMG (general purpose machine gun). The section was typically divided into two "groups": a rifle group and a gun group.
The rifle group comprised the Section Commander (Corporal) with an L1A1 SLR, the Anti-Tank gunner with the 84mm Carl Gustav and a 9mm SMG, the Anti-Tank No 2 with spare 84mm rounds and an L1A1 and two riflemen with L1A1s. The gun group was commanded by the section 2IC (Lance Corporal) with an L1A1, and comprised the gunner with the GPMG and the gun No 2 with an L1A1.
All section tactics were basically designed to bring the gun to bear on the enemy and support the gun; once the gun had suppressed the enemy ("winning the firefight"), the rifle group would assault and destroy the enemy position with the gun providing fire until the last safe moment.
This organization was abandoned in favour of fireteams when 5.56 mm assault rifles and SAWs were introduced in the late 1980s. These were the L85 IW and the longer-barrelled L86 LSW ("Light support weapon"). The firepower of the team has now been extended by the L110A1 LMG. The LSW is now generally used as a designated marksman's rifle and the LMG is the belt fed weapon for laying down suppressing fire. Each fire team has two IW, one with an underslung grenade launcher, one LSW and one LMG.
An infantry section now consists of:
Some units operating in Afghanistan reintroduced the GPMG as a section gun, on the scale of one per fire team, meaning that only two L85A2s were carried per section and both are fitted with the UGL. This practice may be altered following the introduction of the L129A1 Sharpshooter rifle[dubious ], bringing 7.62mm weapons back to Section level in recognition that the 5.56mm proved inadequate in Afghanistan. The L86A2 LSW is now almost entirely unused by Infantry Sections, due to the implementation of the L110A1 (FN Minimi) and L129A1 Sharpshooter rifle, LAWs are also an option as a secondary weapon for anti-structure roles, and the Javelin can also be carried for anti-armor. Fireteams can be split into smaller sub-divisions if needed, and these are likely designated alpha and bravo respectively. As of March 2016, the British Army is reviewing the need for the Minimi LMG at section-level in dismounted units.
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 second-in-command or a master corporal in command with a corporal as the 2IC with the absence of a sergeant. The section is further divided into assault groups, which are equivalent to the British fireteams (four soldiers). They are designated Assault Group 1 and Assault Group 2. Assault groups are broken down to even smaller fireteams, normally 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 Assault Group 1, Alpha Team. His 2nd in command will be in command of Assault Group 2, and is assigned to Delta team.
In a normal rifle section, the focus is around the pair of C9 LMGs(Light Machine Gun) that are carried by Bravo and Delta teams, one in each team. This results in a formation of Bravo, Alpha, Charlie, Delta, with Bravo and Delta providing fire support with the C9s, Alpha as the command element and Charlie as the assault team.
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:
Singapore Army's infantry section consists of seven men led by a Third Sergeant and assisted by a Corporal 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 grenade launchers.
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 RAF and other Commonwealth air forces adopted the term section for a formation of three aircraft, while a flight was normally six aircraft.
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.