Urgent problems in military engineering art

Urgent problems in military engineering art

A.B. Shevchuk

The theory of military engineering art took shape in Europe as literary works penned by Sebastian Le Prestre de Vauban, Baron van Menno Coehorn and other West European military engineers got published in the period from the 16th to 17th centuries. Based on the theory and practice of military architecture and castrametation (the art or science of laying out a camp), the main works on fortification appeared first, embracing not only fortification but also military roads, bridges, crossings, and obstacles. As military engineering art developed, these came into their own as its independent branches.

Modern military engineering art is much broader in its structure and includes the following theories: engineer preparation of a state’s territory for war; organizational development and equipment of engineer troops and their use in combat or operation; engineer support in combat (operation); as well as fortification; organization and passing of obstacles; demolitions; preparation and maintenance of routes for movement and maneuver; crossings; engineer camouflage, concealment and deception; water supply, etc. This “tree” of component theories enables deep-going investigation and generalization of tactical experience gained by troops (forces), along with the use of advances in modern science in order to model and outline prospects, ways of development and improvement of both the military engineering art as a whole and its separate elements. Studying interpenetration of these theories and their parametric links helps quite a satisfactory validation of decisions on comprehensive development of all aspects of military engineering art and the Engineer Troops.

First collections of works on military engineering art that generalized experience of organization of engineer support for operations (combat operations) in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 were prepared by the Staff of the Engineer Troops and V.V. Kuibyshev Military Engineering Academy in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Subsequently a number of documents was drawn up, which regulated organization and performance of engineer support missions, specifically, Military Engineering Regulations. A new draft of the Regulations has been submitted lately, and it maximally takes into account the experience of combat operations in present-day military conflicts and counter-terrorist operations. Thus, as we see it, the theory and practice of military engineering art continues developing with success despite problems posed by the military reform.

Yet, far from all military scientists share our views. Obviously this alone can explain the fact that the two latest encyclopedias (1) do not mention the term “military engineering art” at all. It disappeared mysteriously, even though the previous editions did have it. (2) There are attempts to replace it in all uses with the notion “engineer support” on the motive that the term “is not organic” to special forces. We believe that this is a mistaken view because military engineering art is not only a branch of military art but also an inalienable component of the theory of military organizational development of the RF Armed Forces and the weapons theory. In addition, while interacting with the main tenets of engineer support, the theories of military engineering disciplines (fortification, demolitions, organization and passing of obstacles, organization of crossings, etc.), are to a considerable extent applied areas of technical sciences. In our view, therefore, the term “military engineering art” cannot be seen as any innovative thing: it has been with us for hundreds of years, reflecting objectively existing scientific and practical matters. Nor is it due to be forgotten.

The unity of theory and practice of military engineering art is what underlies the vigorous scientific research activities that are pursued by command and control elements of the Engineer Troops, their scientific centers and military educational establishments. Some cases in point are a number of military-scientific and scientific-practical conferences and meetings of the leader personnel of the Engineer Troops, held in the period from 2002 to 2004. The conference on the theme “Engineer Organization of the RF Border Zone for the Period till 2010,” which took place late last year, was of particular importance for enhancing national defense capability. All of these revealed a number of urgent problems that had piled up in the area of military engineering art over the last 15 years. Since it is hardly possible to analyze all of them in one article, we will dwell on the main issues crucial to the state of and progress in military engineering art as a whole.

Problems in military engineering organization of the territory of a state (coalition of states) are due primarily to changes that occurred in this country’s state system in the early 1990s, along with changes in the lay of its borders, military-political situation, and military organizational development. All of that objectively calls for a revision in the system of measures designed for military engineering organization of the national territory as a whole and its separate strategic and operational sectors. The focus in this sense should be on those of them, where a substantial change has occurred in the trace of the state borders and where combat operations are likely to be pursued amid an in-depth isolation of a TO.

As is evident from recent studies, additional planning for the following measures is needed on top of a set of tasks envisaged by the current guideline documents: development of engineering and technical solutions to remove consequences of enemy employment of mass destruction weapons, aftermath of devastating attacks against atomic and chemical industries, of technogenic and natural accidents and disasters; given a real threat of an aggression, timely preparation for demolition and construction of obstacles to protect crucial military and national economic facilities; timely development and prepositioning of required stocks of fortification structures, bridge structural components, bridge trains, engineering munitions, expendable materials, etc.

In parallel, it is recommended that troops and military construction organizations restore and build up the system of fortifications and access roads catering to command and control facilities, position areas, naval bases and naval stations, airfields, etc. The experience of making the maximal use of national-scale economic measures for defense, as formerly practiced by the USSR state governance agencies, should not be lost either. Moreover, it makes sense to settle all organizational and technical matters related to those large-scale tasks well in advance. In this connection, it seems a timely and expedient move that a number of agencies within the RF power structures started monitoring engineer preparation of the national territory.

In the area of organizational development and advancement of the Engineer Troops, much concern is being caused by an intended dramatic cutback in combat-ready units and elements within the ET. The new reform plan envisages their further reduction to 1.5% of the general numerical strength of the RF Armed Forces. As we see it, this approach can hardly give hope for building up a required ET grouping in areas of combat operations. It is also pertinent to say that engineer units alone are capable of high-quality performance of such complex and labor-consuming tasks as engineer organization of command and control facilities and position areas for missiles and SAM troops, installation and breaching of obstacles, mine clearance, organization and maintenance of crossings, preparation and maintenance of routes, etc., even though it has been a policy for years to secure engineer support independence of troops (forces) by giving them engineer munitions and equipment and training appropriate personnel.

Reducing the specific numerical strength of the Engineer Troops within combined-arms large strategic formations and combined units seems a negative tendency too. For example, the Engineer Troops accounted for less than 3% of the joint force in the Northern Caucasus during the counter-terrorist operation there. To compare: engineers made up as much as 18% of the NATO force massed for an aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, and 14% of the coalition force that attacked Iraq in 2003. That this approach is erroneous is also evident from the experience of the Great Patriotic War, when a shortage of engineer combined units and units had to be urgently dealt with in the course of military operations. For example, ten combat engineer armies were formed during the strategic defense period in summer and fall 1941. These were preparing defense positions off Moscow and on other stretches of the Soviet-German front. Several operational obstacle construction groups were raised in July 1941, which operated with success in the zones of the Western and North-Western Fronts (in 1942, at the Stalingrad Front too). Twenty-six assault combat engineer brigades were formed (or reorganized on the basis of other combined units) to take part in breaking through the enemy’s fortified areas and prepared positions, and to secure success of assaults on his strongpoints and centers of resistance in 1943-1944.

Generalized and published in the form of appropriate collections of documents, the rich experience of assault operations contributed hugely to the enhancement of importance and role of the Engineer Troops. In certain measure, this was reflected in the Red Army’s 1942 Field Manual, which described the Engineer Troops as a combat arm in its own right.

During the Great Patriotic War, engineer troops in the Supreme High Command Reserve and those under operational command of a front or an army were characterized by brigade organization and establishment, which, as is evident from war experience, is the most rational thing where organization of combat employment of engineer troops is concerned, its main merit being the capacity to improve the quality of command and control as well as that of combat, technical and logistic support. As is to be regretted, we have very few combined units of this kind left. In the meantime, a number of NATO armies have engineer brigades even at the tactical level as represented by mechanized (motorized infantry) divisions.

The system of engineer munitions and equipment (SEME), which was developed and realized between the 1960s and 1980s, was rather successful and mostly met armed forces requirements. By their specifications and performance characteristics Soviet bridge trains, obstacle-clearing engineer vehicles, pieces of excavating and earthmoving equipment and many other types of equipment were some of the best in the world. Currently, however, we no longer hold much of the same ground. More than 60% of the sum total of engineer equipment in the RF Armed Forces has served for over 20 years. New SEME practically stopped coming from the industry in the early 1990s, something that couldn’t but produce painful results. Regrettably, even measures envisaged by the State Weapons Program for the Period till 2010 (SWP-2010) will be unable to remove the existing problems in full measure. Considering traditional priorities that mark state defense orders (SDO), one should hardly expect considerable infusions of engineer equipment before 2010. By that time, from 30% to 60% of available different models of engineer equipment will round off their service life.

Under these circumstances, we believe it is possible to resolve, at least partially, the contradiction between the progressing ageing of SEME and the negligible chances for their replacement by new (overhauled) models, as well as to meet the requirements for the necessary level of combat readiness in the Engineer Troops by adopting the following main measures: to prioritize stand-by engineer units as recipients of equipment with sufficient vehicle resources; to restore the most valuable models of old equipment with the use of centralized and local material-financial resources; to include in SDO primarily the most promising SEME.

Along with that, the necessity of further R & D on new generation SEME is obvious as well. Despite all difficulties, this work continues to be pursued. Nearly 50 new SEME models were accepted to be supplied in the latter half of the 1990s (a hold-up is over their inclusion in SDO). Currently, advanced and prospective SEME make up respectively 29% and 7% of the total number of model ranges. Given sufficient funding, the available groundwork in R & D will make it possible to flesh out over 24% of prospective SEME, while simultaneously cutting their model range by 40-50%.

Foundations of the theory of engineer support in combat and operation during World War I and before the Great Patriotic War were developed on the basis of works authored by such eminent military engineers as K.I. Velichko, D.M. Karbyshev, G.G. Nevsky, and E.V. Aleksandrov. They progressed successfully enough in the postwar period too. Prominent scientists E.S. Kolibernov, V.A. Zakharov, V.I. Kornev, and A.N. Limno made the biggest contribution to efforts to solve problems linked to supply in a situation characterized by the use of mass destruction weapons, during preparations for and pursuance of high-speed offensive operations to a considerable depth, long-range redeployments, and subsequently defensive and counter-offensive operations.

Current problems in the organization and rendering of engineer support for military operations have been caused by appropriate changes in conditions of their preparation and pursuance. Considering new tendencies in the military-political situation, most attention is concentrated on the study of organization of engineer support for combat operations by troops (forces) in local wars, armed conflicts and counter-terrorist operations, including actions by joint groupings of troops (forces) comprising military units of different power ministries and agencies (Defense Ministry, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, and others), as well as in operations early in a large-scale war. Simultaneously a number of particular issues is under study as well, such as improvement of engineer support for reconnaissance and search operations, aeromobile operations, sealing-off operations, defense (including in dispersed battalion defense areas) in armed conflicts, protection of troops in permanent deployment garrisoning locations, command and control of the Engineer Troops with the use of advanced automated systems, etc.

A particular focus in studies of problems of engineer support for redeployment of large strategic formations from the hinterland to intended areas of operations is on details of a mechanism for forming inter-agency engineer groupings, a methodology for defining their composition and structure, a procedure for reassigning them to new command and for their functioning, as well as organization of coordination and command and control, because the existing recommendations on these matters are largely outmoded.

Latest investigations into problems of engineer support for operations and combat actions mounted by the Joint Force confirm the necessity of creating a unified agency to control engineer and engineer-technical support. Moreover, agencies of this kind should be formed and trained in due time, because it is a very difficult and labor-consuming task. Coordination and control in the interests of engineer support have been exposed to a detailed study as well. Specifically, it has been recognized as expedient to have a unified information support system, including obstacle registration and reporting.

Many problems in engineer support for military operations could be removed during the effort to draw up new combat manuals and regulations, particularly where employment of the Engineer Troops in modern armed conflicts is concerned. The engineer support theory got enriched with new principles and tenets, which were developed by Prof. V.K. Shamshurov and Dr. L.G. Zhukovsky in their works. A number of research papers mapped out the main ways for solving problems connected with the requirements that engineer reconnaissance be conducted to the entire depth of an area engulfed by an armed conflict, that efficiency of the search for engineer mines be enhanced, and that the quality of protection of troops and facilities in the course of fortification organization of positions be improved.

Fortification was for 200 years the titular subject in military engineering art. All outstanding military engineers and scientists in the 18th and 19th centuries, starting from general en chef A.P. Hannibal (the great-grandfather of the great Russian poet A.S. Pushkin), were fortification experts. Emperor Peter I, who knew the Dutch military engineer Coehorn in person, had his works translated into Russian, and supervised the construction of Kronstadt, the naval fortress off St. Petersburg, also “dabbled” in fortification. In some measure, this attitude to fortification reflected the contemporary state of military engineering art in the West and Russia. Contributing to further development of fortification were many Russian military engineers and scientists: F.F. Laskovsky, A.Z. Telyakovsky, E.I. Totleben, K.I. Velichko, and, in the Soviet period, D.M. Karbyshev, S.A. Yakovlev, V.N. Vasilchenko, A.P. Platonov, and others.

Quite a rich experience of fortification organization of defensive positions was accumulated during the Great Patriotic War, but postwar changes in conditions of warfare urged its further improvement. The need emerged for trenches and launching positions for new WME types, hermetically sealable shelters and dugouts for protection against mass destruction weapons, covered stretches in trenches and communication trenches, etc. As to the organizational and technical aspect, there were validated and imposed the sequence of and timeframes for organization of positions, make-up and range of fortified structures and constructions, procedure for using mechanized equipment and engineer munitions, and much else.

Under the modern conditions, it is urgently necessary to validate and develop new assets and methods of fortification organization of terrain for different variants of military operations, such as perimeter defense against the background of a system of dispersed battalion strongpoints and battalion defense areas in an armed conflict zone, or defense in depth with the use of a security area during efforts to repel a large-scale outside aggression. In a generalized form, the available experience of fortification organization, as well as latest approaches and requirements related to its effectuation, including in local wars, armed conflicts and counter-terrorist operations, are present in draft regulations on military engineering affairs prepared by the Military Engineering Academy.

The modern theory and practice of installation and breaching of obstacles are based on the rich tactical experience and scientific works by outstanding military engineers D.M. Karbyshev, M.P. Vorobyov, and others. In the post-war period, new theoretical achievements belong to a group of scientists under T.M. Salamakhin. Under modern conditions, the problems of installation and breaching of obstacles are due primarily to specifics of preparation and conduct of military operations in local wars, armed conflicts and antiterrorist operations. They are mainly connected with development, production and use of better mining equipment that provides for high efficiency of obstacles at a lower cost in forces and assets, specifically new-generation engineer mines which can be laid in a remotely controlled mode and go into self-destruction (after a preset period of time). For example, these mines account for around 90% of all stocks in the U.S. army. In addition, modern mines can be equipped with anti-lift devices, various targeting devices, and even a link with centers controlling troops and weapons.

With the coming into force of international agreements banning the use of certain types of antipersonnel mines, it inevitably becomes necessary to increase efficiency of other types of antipersonnel obstacles and to develop new ones. In this context, it must be kept in mind that controlled antipersonnel minefields are regarded as the most efficient kinds of obstacles in armed conflicts.

The mass-scale use of mined obstacles in modern armed conflicts tends to considerably complicate execution of obstacle-clearing and mine clearance missions. Currently the Engineer Troops destroy nearly one million explosive objects (EO) a year. As is to be regretted, the necessary degree of coordination of efforts in this matter with the civil defense troops is just emerging. In recent years, the problems of obstacle-breaching and mine clearance were being solved via the improvement of engineer reconnaissance and mine clearance methods, along with equipment used for the purpose. Where searching for and identifying EO as well as making lanes in mined obstacles (MO) are concerned, radical changes in this area are being forecasted with an eye to the use of instruments and devices developed on the basis of latest technologies and to their installation on aircraft (including remotely piloted vehicles), something that will vastly increase the capabilities and efficiency of engineer reconnaissance.

Our new induction-type mine detectors, subsurface radars (georadars), interference generators (mine detectors Kornet-7250, MMP, mine-hunting gear INM-M, bomb-hunting gear OGF, and others) considerably increased efficiency of MO reconnaissance. Although in some of their specifications and performance characteristics the said assets are inferior to remotely controlled mine-searching systems that are currently designed in the United States (HSTAMIDS, GSTAMIDS, and others), they are ahead of the latter as to adoption timeframes.

In the area of organization and effectuation of crossings, it is primarily necessary to deal with problems involved in ensuring that forced crossings (crossings) should not slow down the rates of advance (redeployment), in negotiating water obstacles over a wide front, in echeloning bridging and assault crossing units and elements in accordance with a plan adopted by a high commander (commander), etc.

New bridging and assault river-crossing equipment that was adopted at the tactical level in the period from 1960s to 1980s, equipment possessing some of the best specifications and performance characteristics in the world, formed the basis for an improvement in crossing organization methods, including in armed conflicts, and for reconstruction of damaged bridges. Currently new crossing equipment and bridge layers will ensure the crossing of all types of domestic weapons and military equipment.

Russia owes its signal achievements in the area of organization of crossings and bridge-building to scientists S.A. Ilyasevich and M.A. Kozlov. A great contribution to the development of a system of new bridging equipment was made by Yu.N. Glazunov of the Military Engineering Academy. Our bridge train (BT), a modification of the system of new bridging equipment he developed, became a prototype for the West’s RB, FSB and other systems.

In the postwar period, engineer road-building and bridge-building units had their old equipment replaced by the new one, and that considerably increased their capabilities in preparing and maintaining movement and maneuver routes, as well as building and repairing bridges and other road structures. This enables on the whole successful performance of engineer support tasks both where it is necessary to prepare routes well in advance of movements and directly during a march. Nevertheless it is still an extremely difficult thing to prepare and maintain routes during redeployments of large strategic formations over long distances, which necessitate negotiation of barrier lines. Specifically, problems of coordination with troops and C & C authorities in military districts, via which redeployments will pass, need urgently to be addressed. The same applies to local road services and river shipping companies. In armed conflicts, restoration of demolished bridges comes to the fore.

The available practical experience in supporting marches of combined-arms large units over long distances during preparations for and in the course of military exercises and maneuvers makes it possible to model the amounts and time-frames of missions during timely and direct preparations for a movement forward, including in the interests of negotiation of barrier lines, technical protection of bridges and other road structures. Methodologies have been developed to estimate the state and traffic capacity of road networks on forward movement routes. They also help to forecast road maintenance amounts, cross-country route preparation, and engineer performance capabilities. Today a group of young scientists, mathematicians and programmers at the Military Engineering Academy has developed a complex of operational-tactical problems to calculate engineer support for redeployment of troops by a combined method. Notice that it has been created on the basis of a geoinformation system accepted in the RF Armed Forces and is without analogues in the world. Currently work is in progress to adapt and include it in the engineer troops subsystem of the automated command and control system.

A number of works penned by prominent military scientists Yu.P. Dorofeyev, V.P. Gherasimov and others, all of the Military Engineering Academy, investigate problems related to C.C. & D and protection of troops and facilities, specifically develop a methodology to estimate the efficiency of planning, organization and execution of engineer C.C. & D. There are also far-gone studies into how to enhance efficiency of planning and organization of engineer measures of operational and tactical C.C. & D, to improve their theoretical foundations, and to further develop the existing and create new mechanized and automated individual and group (area) assets helping to conceal or simulate military facilities to assure well-timed comprehensive protection of troops against precision weapons. Despite difficulties in having technical assets supplied by the industry and in pursuing the required R & D, on the whole these problems are tackled with success.

High operational-tactical requirements for command and control of the Engineer Troops necessitated a number of scientific investigations into development and introduction of new information technologies in automated subsystems of all command and control echelons. This will make it possible to considerably boost the capacities for collection, handling, storage and documenting of information on the location, state, capabilities and character of activities of engineer combined units and units, the enemy, and conditions of combat operations (state of terrain, facilities, engineer obstacles, etc.). The same applies to well-timed communication of combat documents, commands and signals to lower-level staffs of combined units and units, execution of calculations necessary for situational evaluation and validation of decision-making, receipt of the necessary reference information, and performance of other C & C assignments. The founders of this scientific trend in the Engineer Troops are N.M. Dmitriyev, A.V. Senyukov, and B.N. Yurkov.

In conclusion it is pertinent to note that of all the problems of military engineering art we considered earlier, the priorities, in our view, are the following: to go on developing the theory of engineer support for combat operations in local wars, armed conflicts and antiterrorist operations; to develop and introduce at the tactical level efficient engineer measures for protection against existing and prospective enemy weapons; to study problems in engineer and engineer-technical support for operations at an early period in a war; to validate and develop proposals on military engineer organization of the territory of a state (coalition of states) with account taken of changes that took place in the trace of the state borders and the necessity of supporting military operations pursued amid an in-depth isolation of a TO; to improve the theories of engineer munitions and equipment and engineer-technical support with account taken of progressing ageing of SEME available at the tactical level and in storage and the limited material-financial capabilities for their restoration or replacement; to revise the operational-tactical requirements for the system of engineer munitions and equipment on the basis of the theory of military engineering art with account taken of development prospects in the area of military technologies; to draw up well-justified proposals on problems in the organizational development and advancement of the Engineer Troops and implementation of the State Weapons Program for the Period till 2010 (SWP-2010).

To successfully deal with these difficult tasks, it is necessary to systematize and generalize new knowledge in the area of military engineering art, which was obtained and accumulated in the course of scientific activities of many creative collectives at C & C agencies, universities and research organizations of the Engineer Troops. In so doing, we must take into account to the utmost the experience of organization of engineer support for troops (forces) in present-day armed conflicts and counter-terrorist operations.


1. Voenno-entsiklopedicheskiy slovar, Ripol classic, Moscow, 2001; Voennaya entsiklopedia, Vol. 2, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1994.

2. Sovetskaya voennaya entsiklopedia, Vol. 2, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1976, p. 221; Voennyi entsiklopedicheskiy slovar, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1984, p. 141.


Doctor of Military Sciences


Doctor of Military Sciences

Col. A.M. SLYUSAREV (Ret.)

Candidate of Military Sciences

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