Combat engineering

Combat engineering

Combat engineering is a combat service support role of using the knowledge, tools and techniques of engineering by troops in peace and war, but specifically in combat. A combat engineer, in many armies also called pioneer or sapper, is a military specialist in using the tools and techniques of engineering under combat conditions, who may perform any of a variety of tasks.

Such tasks typically include fortification, bridge and road construction or destruction, laying or clearing landmines, neutralization of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and general engineering tasks under fire. More generally speaking, the combat engineer's tasks involve facilitating movement and support of friendly forces while impeding that of the enemy.

Usually, a combat engineer is also trained as an infantry rifleman, and combat engineer elements often have a secondary role fighting as formed infantry. Beyond self-defense, combat engineers, infantry and assault troopers from Armored Corps units are generally the only troops that engage in the assault whilst dismounted. This role is limited by a lack of organic fire support (such as that obtained by Infantry units from their mortars), however combat engineers typically do have extensive anti-armored capability in their infantry fighting role.


A general combat engineer is often called a "Pioneer" or "Sapper" (the word itself is derived from the French and British armies, and refers to the origin of combat engineering). In some armies the term "Pioneer" or "Sapper" is a professional term and indicates a specific military rank and level of training.

For example:
* Sapper- is term that is used for soldiers in the United States Army that have gone through and graduated sapper school (a highly advanced combat engineer training school.) These soldiers can be identified by a small patch either on their left or right sleeve that says sapper.
* In the Israeli Defence Forces, Sapper 07 ( פלס 07 ) is a professional-rank denoting a combat engineer who has graduated basic general engineering training.
* In the Finnish army, "pioneeri" is the private equivalent rank in the army for a soldier who has completed the basic combat engineering training. Naval engineers retain the rank "matruusi" but bear the "pioneeri" insignia on their sleeves.

Also to note is that the term combat engineer is different from field engineer in the United States Army. The latter usually denotes a mechanic of the Ordnance Corps who is skilled in field maintenance of equipment, weapons and armored fighting vehicles. In the British Army's Royal Engineers, however, the terms are synonymous, with a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers tradesman being designated a mechanic or technician.

The term Military engineer encompasses both combat engineers and construction engineers. In some armies the two are allocated to different Corps, such as the former Soviet Army. Geomatics, or surveying and cartography is another area that sometimes is integrated into military engineering, and in other cases is a separate responsibility, as was formerly the case in the Australian Army.

The design and development of military equipment is generally not the province of the military engineer, although they can be involved in such design engineering when the technology in question has a military engineering application.

In the British, Canadian, and Australian armies, an assault pioneer is an infantry soldier with limited combat engineer training. As well as clearing obstacles during the assault and light engineering duties, until recently assault pioneers were responsible for the operation of flamethrowers.


In ancient times, combat engineers were responsible for siege warfare and building field fortifications, temporary camps and roads. The most notable engineers of ancient times were the Romans and Chinese, who constructed huge siege-machines (catapults, battering rams and siege towers) and were responsible for constructing fortified wooden camps and paved roads for their legions. Many of these Roman roads are still in use two thousand years later.

In the Middle Ages combat engineers focused on siege warfare. They planned castles and fortresses. When laying siege, they planned and oversaw efforts to penetrate castle defences. When castles served a military purpose, one of the tasks of the sappers was to weaken the bases of walls to enable them to be breached before means of thwarting these activities were devised. Broadly speaking, sappers were experts at demolishing or otherwise overcoming or bypassing fortification systems.

When cannon first appeared, combat engineers were responsible for maintaining them while planning counter-artillery fortifications.

By the 18th century, regiments of foot (infantry) in the British, French, Prussian and other armies included pioneer detachments. In peacetime these specialists constituted the regimental tradesmen, constructing and repairing buildings, transport wagons etc. On active service they moved at the head of marching columns with axes, shovels and pickaxes clearing obstacles or building bridges to open the way for the bulk of the regiment to move through difficult terrain. The modern Royal Welch Fusiliers and French Foreign Legion still maintain pioneer sections who march at the front of ceremonial parades, carrying chromium plated tools intended for show only. Other historic distinctions include long work aprons and the right to wear beards.

"For more information about combat engineering before the modern era, see: Military engineer."

At the end of World War I, the standoff in the Western Front caused the Imperial German Army to gather experienced and particularly skilled soldiers to form "Assault Teams" which would breakthrough the Allied trenches. With enhanced training and special weapons (such as flamethrowers), these squads obtained some success, but too late to change the outcome of the war. In early WWII, however, the Wehrmacht "Pioniere" battalions proved their efficiency in both attack and defense, somewhat inspiring other armies to develop their own combat engineers battalions. Notably, the attack on Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium was conducted by Luftwaffe glider-deployed combat engineers.

The need to defeat the German defensive positions of the "Atlantic wall" as part of the amphibious landings in Normandy in 1944 led to the development of specialist combat engineer vehicles. These, collectively known as Hobart's Funnies, included a specific vehicle to carry combat engineers, the Churchill AVRE.

During the 20th century, combat engineers gained vast knowledge and experience in explosives. They are tasked with planting bombs, landmines and dynamite. Moreover, they are the only units with the clearance to detonate enemy explosive charges and the handling of unexploded ordnance. They share the role of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) with the Ordnance Corps, the delineation usually being that engineers perform this role when the task is below ground level (such as an aerially delivered bomb that has penetrated the earth), whilst ordnance personnel perform the same task at ground level. Another distinction may be that engineers perform the EOD role in the battle zone, whilst ordnance handles EOD in rear areas.

Modern combat engineering still retains the Roman role of building field fortifications, road paving and the breaching of terrain obstacles. A notable combat engineer task was, for example, the breaching of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

Combat engineering role, practices and techniques

The combat engineering role includes practices and techniques of camouflage, reconnaissance, communication methods and enhancement of survival by other troops. Combat engineering also includes construction of roads, bridges, field fortifications and obstacles. In their role, combat egineers use a wide variety of engineer hand and power tools. They are also responsible for construction rigging, use of explosives and causing demolitions, camouflage, field fortifications, obstacle clearance and construction, assault of fortifications, bridge erection, use of assault boats in water obstacle crossings, expedient road and helipad construction, general construction, engineer route and road reconnaissance, and erecting communication installations. Combat engineering employes a wide range of transportation vehicles and equipment, and uses weapons unique to the engineers, including those used in land mine warfare. All these role activities and technologies are divided into several areas of combat engineering:
* Mobility
** Clearing terrain obstacles
** Overcoming trenches and ditches
** Opening routes for armored fighting vehicles
** Constructing roads and bridges
* Counter mobility
** Planting landmines
** Digging trenches and ditches
** Demolishing roads and bridges
* Explosive material handling
** Clearing landmine fields
** Planting landmines
** EOD and bomb disposal
** Detonating booby traps and clearing areas of explosives
** Accurate demolitions
* Assault
** Opening routes during assault
** Demolishing enemy structures (using bulldozers or explosive charges).
* Defense
** Building fortifications
** Building outposts
** Building fences
* Defence against NBC weapon threats
** Disposal of Chemical weapons
** Disposal of Biological weapons
** Disposal of Radiological weapons

Combat engineering tools

Basic combat engineering tools include safe use of: Driving and Chopping tools (hammers, mauls, sledges, screwdriver and bit, chopping tools); Cutting and Smoothing tools (saws, chisels, planes, files and rasps, brush-cutting tools, miscellaneous cutting tools); Drilling, Boring and Countersinking tools; Measuring, Levelling and Layout tools (rules, tapes, marking tools, levels and plumb bobs, squares); Gripping, Prying and Twisting tools (pliers, wrenches, bars); Holding, Raising and Grinding tools (vises, clamps, jacks, grinders and oilstones); Timber Handling and Climbing tools; Digging tools (shovels, posthole diggers, picks and mattocks); Portable Power tools and Trailer-mounted tools (electric tool trailer and generator, portable power tools); Miscellaneous tools.

Combat engineering vehicles

For more substantial work the combat engineers may use a variety of vehicles and their attachments, such as:
* Combat engineering vehicles
** Sapper carriers
** Modified tanks
** Armored Vehicle-Launched Bridges
** M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle
** FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor,
**M9 ACE, Armored Combat Earthmover
* Engineering vehicles
** bulldozers (including armored bulldozers such as IDF Caterpillar D9), front loaders, excavators, cranes, tractors etc
* Reconnaissance vehicles
* Minelayer

Combat obstacle breaching

For obstacle breaching, including minefields, the combat engineers use a variety of vehicles, explosive devices and plastic explosives including:
* Mine breaching devices
** Dozer blade
** Mine rollers
** Bangalore Torpedo
** Antipersonnel Obstacle Breaching System
** Mine Clearing Line Charge(MICLIC)
* EOD robots
* Explosives, mines and bombs
* Field-deployable bridges
**(ex: [ French EFA] ), Bailey bridge

pecific combat engineering corps

The combat engineer role is a key one in all armed forces of the World, and invariably found either closely integrated into the force structure, or even into the combat units of the national troops.

Canadian Combat Engineers

The motto of the Canadian Combat Engineer, UBIQUE means "Everywhere" and
Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in the Canadian Military are Combat Engineers.


In the Israeli Defence Forces the combat engineers are organized under the Israel Engineering Corps ( _he. חיל ההנדסה הקרבית)In addition to IEC sappers, each infantry brigade has an engineer company trained with basic engineering and EOD skills. IEC sappers are often attached to other units (such as armored divisions or infantry) in order to help them breach obstacles and handle explosive threats. The IEC operates advance engineering tools such as Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer, IDF Puma armored CEV, EOD robots and electromagnetic mine-detectors. Their main role is enabling Israeli forces to advance (breach the enemy's obstacles), stop the enemy's movement, handle explosives and perform construction and destruction under fire. The Israeli engineering corps is also responsible for counter-NBC warfare (i.e. defending troops against unconventional weapon and clean infected areas). The IEC has a special unit, called Yahalom (in Hebrew it means "Diamond" but also abbreviation of "Engineering Unit for Special Operations") which handles EOD, commando, engineering recon, advance robotics, tunnel warfare, maritime breaching, counter-NBC and other classified tasks.

The Israeli combat engineer Corps motto is "Rishonim Tamid" _he. ראשונים תמיד, meaning "Always first".

oviet Union/Russia

Soviet engineers were typically armed with the RPO-A Shmel (Bumblebee) rocket propelled flame thrower to destroy fortifications.

United Kingdom

United States

"Main article: United States Army Corps of Engineers."The motto of the US Army Corps of Engineers is "ESSAYONS," from French "Let "us" try."In the United States Army, the four tasks of combat engineer units are mobility, countermobility, survivability, and general engineering.
* Mobility: improving your own force's ability to move around the battlefield. Combat engineers typically support this role through reduction of enemy obstacles which include point and row minefields, anti-tank ditches, wire obstacles, concrete and metal anti-vehicle barriers and wall and door breaching in urban terrain. Mechanized combat engineer units also have armored vehicles capable of laying short bridges for limited gap-crossing.
* Countermobility: building obstacles to prevent the enemy from moving around the battlefield. Destroying bridges, blocking roads, creating airstrips, digging trenches, etc. Can also include planting landmines and booby traps when authorized and directed to do so. Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in the U.S. Army employ ordnance personnel.
* Survivability: building structures which enable one's own soldiers to survive on the battlefield. Examples include trenches, bunkers, shelters, and armored vehicle fighting positions.
* General Engineering: general engineering sustains military forces in the theater through the performance of facility construction and repair, and through acquisition, maintenance, and disposal of real property.

See also the United States Navy's Seabees.

ee also

*History of warfare

External links

* [ German Engineers]

* [ Combat Engineering 2008]

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