Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 3 – Section I – Overview

Section I — Overview

3-1.        Movement refers to the shifting of forces on the battlefield. The key to moving successfully involves selecting the best combination of movement formations and movement techniques for each situation. Leaders consider the factors of METT-TC in selecting the best route and the appropriate formation and movement technique. The leader’s selection must allow the moving platoon to—

– Maintain cohesion.

– Maintain communication.

– Maintain momentum.

– Provide maximum protection.

– Make enemy contact in a manner that allows them to transition smoothly to offensive or defensive action.

3-2.        Careless movement usually results in contact with the enemy at a time and place of the enemy’s choosing. To avoid this, leaders must understand the constantly-changing interrelationship between unit movement, terrain, and weapon systems within their area of operations. This understanding is the basis for employing movement formations, movement techniques, route selection and navigation, crossing danger areas, and security (Figure 3-1).

Figure 3-1. Basics of tactical movement.

3-3.        Leaders executing tactical movement have three primary goals:

– Avoid surprise by the enemy.

– When necessary, transition quickly to maneuver while minimizing enemy effects.

– Get to the right place, at the right time, ready to fight.

3-4.        Units moving behind enemy lines seek to avoid enemy contact. They choose the movement that allows them to retain security and control. To avoid loss of surprise and initiative, casualties, and mission failure, platoons normally—

– Avoid chance enemy contact, if possible.

– Move on covered and concealed routes.

– Avoid likely ambush sites and other danger areas.

– Practice camouflage, noise, and light discipline.

– Maintain 360-degree security.

– Make contact with the smallest element if enemy contact is unavoidable.

– Retain the initiative to attack at the time and place of the unit’s choice.

– Take active countermeasures such as using smoke and direct and indirect fire to suppress or obscure suspected enemy positions.

3-5.        Infantry platoons primarily move on foot. However, there are circumstances when they will move, and even fight, mounted. Because their units may operate with vehicle support, leaders must be comfortable employing tactical movement with a variety of vehicle platforms.

3-6.        In selecting formations and movement techniques, leaders must consider other requirements such as speed and control as well as security. When conducting tactical movement, leaders must be prepared to quickly transition to maneuver and fight while minimizing the effects of the enemy. This requirement calls for the leader to determine which formation or combination of formations best suits the situation.

Movement Formations

3-7.        Movement formations are the ordered arrangement of forces that describes the general configuration of a unit on the ground. They determine the distance between Soldiers, sectors of fire, and responsibilities for 360-degree security. Movement formations are used in combination with movement techniques (and other security measures), immediate action drills, and enabling tasks. Movement techniques define the level of security one subordinate provides another within a formation. Immediate action drills are those combat actions that enable the unit to quickly transition to maneuver during unexpected enemy contact. Enabling tasks facilitate transitions between other combat tasks. See Section II of this chapter for more on movement formations.

Movement Techniques

3-8.        Movement techniques describe the position of squads and fire teams in relation to each other during movement. Platoons and squads use three movement techniques: traveling, traveling overwatch, and bounding overwatch.

3-9.        Like formations, movement techniques provide varying degrees of control, security, and flexibility. Movement techniques differ from formations in two ways:

– Formations are relatively fixed; movement techniques are not. The distance between moving units or the distance that a squad bounds away from an overwatching squad varies based on factors of METT-TC.

– Formations allow the platoon to weight its maximum firepower in a desired direction; movement techniques allow squads to make contact with the enemy with the smallest element possible. This allows leaders to establish a base of fire, initiate suppressive fires, and attempt to maneuver without first having to disengage or be reinforced.

3-10.     Leaders base their selection of a particular movement technique on the likelihood of enemy contact and the requirement for speed. See Section III of this chapter for more on movement techniques.

Route and Navigation

3-11.     Planning and selecting a route is a critical leader skill. One of the keys to successful tactical movement is the ability to develop routes that increase the unit’s security, decrease the Soldier’s effort, and get the unit to the objective on time in a manner prepared to fight. Good route selection begins with a thorough terrain analysis and ends with superior navigation. Planning and preparation are worthless if a unit cannot find its way to the objective, or worse, stumbles onto it because of poor navigation. See Section IV of this chapter for more on route and navigation.

Danger Areas

3-12.     When analyzing the terrain (in the METT-TC analysis) during the troop-leading procedures (TLP), the platoon leader may identify danger areas. The term danger area refers to any area on the route where the terrain would expose the platoon to enemy observation, fire, or both. If possible, the platoon leader should plan to avoid danger areas. However, there are times when he cannot. When the unit must cross a danger area, it should do so as quickly and as carefully as possible. See Section V of this chapter for more information on danger areas.


3-13.     Security during movement includes the actions that units take to secure themselves and the tasks given to units to provide security for a larger force. Platoons and squads enhance their own security during movement through the use of covered and concealed terrain; the use of the appropriate movement formation and technique; the actions taken to secure danger areas during crossing; the enforcement of noise, light, and radiotelephone discipline; and the use of proper individual camouflage techniques. See Section VII of this chapter for more on security.

3-14.     Formations and movement techniques provide security by:

– Positioning each Soldier so he can observe and fire into a specific sector that overlaps with other sectors.

– Placing a small element forward to allow the platoon to make contact with only the lead element and give the remainder of the platoon freedom to maneuver.

– Providing overwatch for a portion of the platoon.

Other Considerations

3-15.     In planning tactical movement, leaders should also consider the requirements for—

– Terrain.

– Planning.

– Direct fires.

– Fire support.

– Control.


3-16.     The formations and techniques shown in the illustrations in this chapter are examples only. They are generally depicted without terrain considerations (which are usually a critical concern in the selection and execution of a formation). Therefore, in both planning and executing tactical movement, leaders understand that combat formations and movement techniques require modification in execution. Spacing requirements and speed result from a continuous assessment of terrain. Leaders must stay ready to adjust the distance of individuals, fire teams, squads, and individual vehicles and vehicle sections based on terrain, visibility, and other mission requirements.

3-17.     While moving, individual Soldiers and vehicles use the terrain to protect themselves during times when enemy contact is possible or expected. They use natural cover and concealment to avoid enemy fires. The following guidelines apply to Soldiers and vehicle crews using terrain for protection:

– Do not silhouette yourself against the skyline.

– Avoid possible kill zones because it is easier to cross difficult terrain than fight the enemy on unfavorable terms.

– Cross open areas quickly.

– Avoid large, open areas, especially when they are dominated by high ground or by terrain that can cover and conceal the enemy.

– Do not move directly forward from a concealed firing position.


3-18.     One of the leader’s primary duties is to develop a plan that links together route selection and navigation, combat formations, and appropriate security measures with enabling tasks that moves the unit from its current location to its destination. This plan must take into account the enemy situation and control during movement.

Direct Fires

3-19.     While moving or when stationary, each Soldier (or vehicle) has a sector to observe and engage enemy soldiers in accordance with the unit’s engagement criteria (see Chapter 2). Individual and small unit sectors are the foundation of the unit’s area of influence. Pre-assigned sectors are inherent in combat formations. When formations are modified, leaders must reconfirm their subordinates’ sectors. Leaders have the added responsibility of ensuring their subordinates’ sectors are mutually supporting and employing other security measures that identify the enemy early and allow the leader to shape the fight.

Fire Support

3-20.     Planning should always include arranging for fire support (mortars, artillery, CAS, attack helicopters, naval gunfire), even if the leader thinks it unnecessary. A fire plan can be a tool to help navigate and gives the leader the following options:

– Suppressing enemy observation posts or sensors.

– Creating a distraction.

– Achieving immediate suppression.

– Covering withdrawal off of an objective.

– Breaking contact.


3-21.     Controlling tactical movement is challenging. The leader must be able to start, stop, shift left or right, and control the unit’s direction and speed of movement while navigating, assessing the terrain, and preparing for enemy contact. Determining the proper movement formations and techniques during planning is important, but the leader must be able to assess his decision during execution and modify or change his actions based on the actual situation.

3-22.     Without adequate procedural and positive control, it is difficult for the leader to make decisions and give orders, lead an effective response to enemy contact, or accurately navigate. Leaders exercise procedural control by unit training and rehearsals in the basics of tactical movement. The better trained and rehearsed subordinates are, the more freedom leaders have to concentrate on the situation, particularly the enemy and the terrain. Leaders exercise positive control by communicating to subordinates. They do so using hand-and-arm signals as a method of communication. They also use the other means of communication (messenger, visual, audio, radio, and digital) when appropriate.

3-23.     All available communication is used (consistent with OPSEC and movement security) to assist in maintaining control during movement. March objectives, checkpoints, and phase lines may be used to aid in control. The number of reports is reduced as normally only exception reports are needed. The leader should be well forward in the formation but may move throughout as the situation demands. Communications with security elements are mandatory. Operations security often prevents the use of radios, so connecting files, runners, and visual signals can be used. Detailed planning, briefing, rehearsals, and control are valuable if there is enemy contact. Alternate plans are made to cover all possible situations.

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