We haven’t given the Engineers much love here, and that’s an unacceptable oversight on our part. Traditionally, Engineers have had three main roles on the battlefield: 1. Mobility; 2. Countermobility; and 3. Force Protection.
Mobility refers to removing or reducing any obstacles the enemy may have placed in the intended path of movement for our forces. The obvious example would be minefields, though other obstacles may include wire obstacles, anti-tank ditches or abatis, or more frequently, a combination of these.
Countermobility, is of course, just the opposite, placing obstacles to the enemy’s mobility in his path, either to deny a route to him, turn him to a different route, delay him (both for buying time and to make him an easier target) or to channelize him into terrain that can serve as a kill zone. The same techniques are used.
Force Protection refers to building and improving fighting positions, either for vehicles or for dismounted troops. As a rule of thumb, most units actually had to provide their own positions. I’ve spent many an hour digging a two-man fighting position. But sometimes you get lucky and the engineers were able to help out. As for vehicles, some tanks had a dozer blade, or the unit recovery vehicle had a dozer blade, and could at least start a fighting position for the vehicles. But the best positions are dug by real, honest to goodness bulldozers. There’s always a shortage of bulldozers, and never enough time, so you do what you can. Other force protection measures might include building berms, or filling Hesco barriers to provide protection from small arms fire and artillery and mortar fragments.
Engineers also have the capability to fight as infantry when needed. Normally, this is avoided except in emergencies, as there are always plenty of engineering tasks to do. And there’s damn near always a shortage of engineers to do them. In the Army, typically, engineers in heavy units ride in either M113 APCs or in Stryker vehicles in Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. In the Marines, Engineers are mounted in AAV-7 amphibious vehicles.
That’s fine for most tasks, but sometimes, there’s a need for a more specialized vehicle. In the Marines, one of the specialized vehicles will soon be the Assault Breacher Vehicle. Based on the M-1 Abrams tank, the ABV is designed to breach minefields using the Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC) and its plow, and to breach roadblocks either with the plow or a dozer blade.
The MICLIC is a string of high explosives dragged in front of the vehicle and across a minefield by means of a modified 5″ rocket. Once in place, the charges are detonated and the blast overpressure detonates any mines in the path. After that, the ABV plows the ground to push aside any mines that were missed by the charge.
There’s a pretty awesome video below the fold showing some of the testing of the ABV, showing the MCLIC in action, how the ABV integrates with the Navy’s amphibious warfare ships the Marines operate from, and just how handy the dozer blade can be clearing a roadblock. If you ask me, it looks like a lot of the testing was pretty fun.