Elements of a Combat Patrol

Military Reference: Multi-Service & Specialty

Military Reference: Service-level

Joint, Strategic, Interagency, & National Security

Threat, OPFOR, Regional & Cultural

Homeland Defense, DSCA, & Disaster Response


Books in Development


There are three essential elements for a combat patrol: security; support; and assault. The size of each element is based on the situation and the analysis of METT-TC.

The squad is the essential fire and maneuver element. US Army squads include two fire teams, while Marine squads include three fire teams made up of a rifleman, automatic rifleman, grenadier, and team leader. A squad with as few as seven troops can be split into two fire teams and a squad leader. (Photo by Lithuania Land Forces.)

1. Assault Element

The assault element is the combat patrol’s decisive effort. Its task is to conduct actions on the objective. The assault element is responsible for accomplishing the unit’s task and purpose. This element must be capable (through inherent capabilities or positioning relative to the enemy) of destroying or seizing the target of the combat patrol. Tasks typically associated with the assault element include:

• Conduct of assault across the objective to destroy enemy equipment, capture or kill enemy, and clearing of key terrain and enemy positions

• Deployment close enough to the objective to conduct an immediate assault if detected

• Being prepared to support itself if the support element cannot suppress the enemy

• Providing support to a breach element in reduction of obstacles (if required)

• Planning detailed fire control and distribution

• Conducting controlled withdrawal from the objective

Additional tasks/special purpose teams assigned may include search teams, prisoner teams, demolition teams, breach team, and aid and litter teams.

2. Support Element

The support element suppresses the enemy on the objective using direct and indirect fires. The support element is a shaping effort that sets conditions for the mission’s decisive effort. This element must be capable, through inherent means or positioning relative to the enemy, of supporting the assault element. The support force can be divided into two or more elements if required.

The support element is organized to address a secondary threat of enemy interference with the assault element(s). The support force suppresses, fixes, or destroys elements on the objective. The support force’s primary responsibility is to suppress enemy to prevent reposition against decisive effort. The support force—

• Initiates fires and gains fire superiority with crew-served weapons and indirect fires

• Controls rates and distribution of fires

• Shifts/ceases fire on signal

• Supports the withdrawal of the assault element

3. Security Element

The security element(s) is a shaping force that has three roles. The first role is to isolate the objective from enemy personnel and vehicles attempting to enter the objective area. Their actions range from simply providing early warning, to blocking enemy movement. This element may require several different forces located in various positions. The patrol leader is careful to consider enemy reserves or response forces that, once the engagement begins, will be alerted. The second role of the security element is to prevent enemy from escaping the objective area. The third role is to secure the patrol’s withdrawal route.

There is a subtle yet important distinction for the security element. All elements of the patrol are responsible for their own local security. What distinguishes the security element is that they are protecting the entire patrol. The security element is organized to address the primary threat to the patrol—being discovered and defeated by enemy forces prior to execution of actions on the objective. To facilitate the success of the assault element, the security element must fix or block (or at a minimum screen) all enemy security or response forces located on parts of the battlefield away from the raid.

SUTS3: The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 3rd Ed.This article is an extract from “SUTS3: The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 3rd Ed. (Planning & Conducting Tactical Operations)” by The Lightning Press. Download a free PDF sample and learn more at: SUTS3: The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 3rd Ed. ( Planning & Conducting Tactical Operations).

Browse additional military doctrine articles in our SMARTnews Blog & Resource Center.

About The Lightning Press SMARTbooks. Recognized as a “whole of government” doctrinal reference standard by military, national security and government professionals around the world, SMARTbooks comprise a comprehensive professional library. SMARTbooks can be used as quick reference guides during operations, as study guides at education and professional development courses, and as lesson plans and checklists in support of training. Browse our collection of Military Reference SMARTbooks to learn more.

Subscribe to the SMARTnews mailing list!

* indicates required