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Chapter 1

Operational Challenges to Army Engineers

Engineering in the theater of operations (TO) builds the foundation for decisive operations, reconstitution of the force, and development of conditions favorable for early withdrawal of United States (US) forces. When military forces of the US are called upon to support our national interests, we must have the capability to project elements of power from the continental United States (CONUS) or from overseas bases into the area of operations (AOs). Projecting and building up forces require such infrastructure as airfields, ports, roads and bridges, water sources, electrical power, and much more. The buildup of forces requires either adequate preexisting infrastructure, upgrading existing infrastructure, or construction of new facilities.
 Mr. James Stewart
Military Engineer Development Analyst


The Army faces a wide range of potential enemies; it is prepared to fight under diverse conditions, climate, and intensity levels with its sister services and its coalition partners. The range of military operations that are neither precise, clearly defined, nor exclusive of themselves includes the diverse environments of peacetime, conflict, and war. A distinct and/or unique point in time or geography does not exist to mark the separation of one category of conflict from the next. Recent challenges to national security interests showed that the Army employed engineers on the full range of military operations. Figure 1-1 shows the relationships of the range of military operations.

Figure 1-1. Strategic spectrum of military operations.


From initial mission receipt through deployment, operations, and transition to follow-on operations, engineers will execute their missions through a deliberate set of patterns of operations. These patterns are not phases, nor are they sequential. They serve to focus the many tasks that the armies have always performed in war and other military operations. The patterns of operations are—

  • Project the force. Deploy tailored forces directly into operations.
  • Protect the force. Incorporate organizational, material, and procedural solutions to protect soldiers, information, and equipment across the full spectrum of operating environments.
  • Gain information dominance. Create a disparity between what the Army knows about its battlespace and the operations within it and what the enemy knows.
  • Shape the battlespace. Create windows of advantage by setting conditions in terms of what the Army does to the enemy and how it postures its force and takes advantage of the operational environment (terrain, weather, and infrastructure).
  • Conduct decisive operations. Execute military operations that force the enemy to give in to the Army's will by destroying its means and will to fight.
  • Sustain the force. Maintain the dominant tempo of operations over time, and reinforce the existing infrastructure by integrating material and operational and organizational capabilities. This is an ongoing effort throughout the entire patterns of operations.

Regardless of the operational categories in which the Army becomes involved, the degree of engineer participation in the contingency response is likely to be high. In our modern force-projection Army, the insertion of US forces requires the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I) of the force. Engineers are key agents of this RSO&I mission. Operational challenges include support for intermediate staging bases (ISBs) and support for lodgments such as ports and airfields.

Beyond the RSO&I, engineers are integrated into the overall Army service component mission. Figure 1-2 shows engineer activities that are integral to the patterns of operations. Each pattern serves to focus the many tasks that engineers have always performed.

Figure 1-2. Engineer activities within the strategic spectrum.

In peacetime, the US Army and other engineers are strategically engaged worldwide in activities that promote national-security objectives by improving the host-nation's (HN's) infrastructure. Examples are products of the Exercise-Related Construction (ERC) Program, the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) Program, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Support-for-Others (SFO) Program. These activities provide military training and support facilities and undertake civic projects such as—

  • Building schoolhouses, farm-to-market roads, and health clinics.
  • Drilling water wells.
  • Building and maintaining infrastructure such as major bases, training areas, ports, and airfields.

These construction activities aid the geographic combatant Commander in Chief (CINC) in demonstrating his support within a particular region while maintaining presence within his area of responsibility (AOR). An aggressive exercise program within a particular AOR is also a fundamental tool the CINC uses to maintain presence and to foster strong military-to-military cooperation.

National and international disasters caused from hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires threaten the local populace and leave millions without necessities for life. The engineer response may include—

  • Erecting temporary shelters and clinics.
  • Removing debris.
  • Performing temporary construction to bolster weakened superstructures.
  • Reestablishing transportation right of ways.
  • Constructing diversion or protective structures to counter lava flows.
  • Constructing levees to contain rising floodwaters.
  • Creating flood-prediction models for the mapping of disaster effects.
  • Fighting fire.

Peace enforcement entails life support and force-protection facilities or may entail constructing physical barriers to ensure separation of combatant forces. During a major theater war (MTW), all of the above may be added to the engineer's combat operations in support of the combatant commander's mission.


The current trend of military operations has increased the US involvement in global responses. Operations Restore Hope and Continued Hope in Somalia, Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, and Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia are all examples of the expanding role of the Army. Couple this trend with the global trend toward quantitatively smaller but technologically and qualitatively better military forces and the need for relevant doctrine becomes apparent. Engineer integration into staff planning, therefore, requires increased emphasis, since synchronizing the operation or battle is increasingly complex.

Engineer command and control (C2) must function rapidly to be responsive to the dynamics of an ongoing operation. Terrain analysis and its products assist in faster planning and are unique perspectives of the AOs. Requirements for fortifications and protective shelters and the Army's standards for the quality of life (QOL) for its soldiers have gained importance. Obstacle systems retain their importance, while our aggressive doctrine within FM 100-5 places greater emphasis on operational mobility, obstacle breaching, and rapid gap crossing.

The five primary engineer functions in the TO are mobility, countermobility, and survivability (M/CM/S); general engineering; and topographic engineering. Figure 1-3 shows the types of engineer missions by battlespace function.

Figure 1-3. Engineer battlespace functions.


Mobility enables the force commander to maneuver units into advantageous positions. The Army commander relies on mobility to achieve surprise, mass at the critical time, and maintain momentum. Operation Desert Storm provides an excellent example of operational mobility. As it became apparent that Iraqi forces were content to occupy Kuwait and brace for the coming attack, CINC planners formulated the offensive plans for the sweep north that included two Army corps. The end run around Kuwait required displacing the XVIII Airborne Corps from their defensive positions in Central Saudi Arabia to the northwest on the Iraqi border. Marshaling areas to upload tracks and road enhancements allowed for the rapid displacement of the corps into tactical assembly areas without providing the Iraqi force with even a hint of the Coalition's intentions. Army engineers aided in breaching the elaborate Iraqi defensive system, thereby allowing divisional engineers to remain integrated with the maneuver force.

In a similar vein, the bridge across the Sava River into Bosnia (and the accompanying crossing-site support areas) displayed the criticality of operational mobility during Operation Joint Endeavor.

The Army Service Component Commander (ASCC) designates the routes for ground forces, well in advance of their intended use, so that engineer units can upgrade the routes, as necessary, and keep them open or repaired. (See FMs 5-100, 5-430-00-1, 90-13, and 90-13-1 for more information on techniques and procedures for mobility.)


Countermobility augments natural terrain with obstacle systems according to the commander's concept of operations. This adds depth to the battle in space and time by attacking the enemy's ability to maneuver its forces. With its movement disrupted, turned, fixed, or blocked, the enemy is vulnerable to our forces. Engineers ensure obstacle integration through the proper exercise of obstacle C2, focusing on obstacle-emplacement authority and obstacle control.

Obstacle-emplacement authority is the authority that a unit commander has to emplace reinforcing obstacles. The ASCC usually has the authority to emplace obstacles. Generally, he delegates the authority to corps commanders who may further delegate it to division commanders. Obstacle control ensures that obstacles support current and future operations. The ASCC's control mechanism to ensure that subordinate commanders do not emplace obstacles which will interfere with future operations is establishing obstacle zones and obstacle-free restrictive areas. The nature of obstacle integration from the ASCC level to company and/or team level leads to echelons in obstacle planning. At each lower level, engineers conduct more detailed planning. Operational planning consists of developing obstacle restrictions and granting obstacle-emplacement authority to subordinate elements. Obstacle planning requires engineers at each level to provide subordinate units with the right combination of positive control and flexibility. The engineer is also an important advisor/partner in deep-targeting discussions and the coordination focal point concerning obstacle barriers and mines for joint managers and coalition forces.

Timely, accurate reporting of obstacles from the emplacement unit all the way to the ASCC—

  • Reduces the risk of fratricide.
  • Allows for dissemination as boundaries change or units pass through areas occupied by others.
  • Provides critical information in planning the forward passage of lines (FPOL).
  • Enhances demining operations at the conclusion of contingency operations.

(FM 90-7 is the primary reference for countermobility planning; however, for more information on tactics and techniques for countermobility, see FMs 5-100 and 20-32.)


Survivability provides cover and mitigates the effects of enemy weapons. Engineers may be called on to mass their skills and equipment, augmenting combat units in developing defensive positions into fortifications or strongpoints and in improving defensive positions. More often, however, engineers participate in and provide staff advice on camouflage, concealment, and deception (CCD) measures and the hardening of facilities to resist the destruction of C2 facilities (as part of integrated plans), air-defense weapons systems, and support structures within the COMMZ. Within a missile-threat environment, engineers provide field-fortification support to harden key assets against missile attacks. Force protection entails survivability engineering applications to HN facilities and US-operated facilities as protective measures against terrorist or extremists groups that threaten US forces or national interests. (See FMs 5-100, 5-103, and 5-114 for more information on techniques and procedures for survivability and force protection.)


General engineering establishes and maintains the infrastructure that is required for conducting and sustaining military operations in the theater. General-engineering tasks include—

  • Constructing and/or repairing the following:
  • — Existing logistics-support facilities.

    — Supply routes, airfields, and heliports.

    — Railroads.

    — Ports.

    — Water wells.

    — Utilities (electric, heat, and water) and sanitation (sewage, hazardous waste, and solid waste).

    — Power plants.

    — Pipelines.

  • Providing electrical distribution expertise.

General-engineering support—

  • Begins with the supporting requirements for the initial reception of the force-projection Army (receiving equipment and soldiers).
  • Is maintained throughout the operation, providing the infrastructure for the logisticians to sustain the force.
  • Provides the support structure to redeploy the force.
  • Ends with environmental restoration and the return of the facilities that were used by the deployed forces to HN control.

As the force advances forward on the battlefield, the corps's rear boundary will be continually drawn forward. General engineering also invokes force protection through operations such as clearing mines after the tactical breach and assisting explosive ordnance teams in clearing battlefield clutter within the expanded COMMZ to the extent necessary to conduct military operations safely.

At times, the military strategy may be to extend general-engineering support to restore facilities, power, and life-support systems within the infrastructure of the combatant countries. This effort aids in the recovery and the transition to preconflict conditions. Central to planning and executing these tasks are construction standards. The challenge is in establishing measures of success and conditions for transition to civil support. Within the modern framework of operations, all these efforts will likely be performed by a combination of joint engineer units, civilian contractors, and HN forces. These efforts require that large amounts of construction materials and specialized resources be planned and provided for in a timely manner. (See FMs 5-100 and 5-104 for more information on general-engineering techniques and procedures)

Army leadership in protecting the environment can only be achieved if environmental stewardship is integrated into the Army's decision-making process and their activities. Planning for all Army operations and strategies should include efforts to minimize releases of hazardous substances into the environment, protect cultural and natural resources, and prevent pollution. By maintaining environmental stewardship, relations with the HNs are enhanced and clean-up efforts in postconflict periods can be minimized. Guidelines on requirements for overseas operations are outlined in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with HNs or the Department of Defense (DOD) Overseas Environmental Baseline Document.


Topographic engineering provides commanders with information about the terrain. Topographic information assists the commander in visualizing the battlespace environment better and aids in employing forces. All engineers are terrain experts and assist others to use the ground effectively. The division staff's terrain teams provide products for division-level planning. At the ASCC level, the topographic battalion and the planning and control detachment integrate echelons-above-division (EAD) support to Army forces, as well as to joint and multinational forces. Their use of digital terrain data to develop a detailed analysis aides the ASCC's visualization of the battlefield, thereby assisting in determining—

  • Avenues and routes for Army forces (as well as likely enemy avenues of approach.)
  • Terrain limitations to enemy capabilities.
  • Obstacle-zone locations.
  • Major engagement areas (EAs).
  • Unit positions.
  • Deep-operation targets and their impact on future operations.
  • Rescue-operation parameters.
  • Flood-prediction models.
  • Water-resources information.
  • Mission-planning and -rehearsal data.

(See FM 5-105 for more information on topographic support to Army systems.) Geospatial information and services (GI&S) support requirements, products, and capabilities are included in the GI&S annex to each contingency plan (CONPLAN), operation plan (OPLAN), or operation order (OPORD). Terrain aspects pertinent to operations will also be found in Appendix 2 to Annex B (Intelligence) of each plan or order.


The operational art employed within a theater is an orchestration of coherent movements and battles (real or threatened) that are distributed over time and space. These operations are characterized by using deep maneuvers and battles according to a common aim. The physical man-made infrastructure, coupled with natural terrain and the waterways of an AO, provides the framework of operational art, facilitating freedom of strategic and operational movement in a campaign. Clever planning and execution of engineer functions manipulate that framework to our advantage and are therefore imperatives of a successful operation.

Figure 1-4 portrays a conceptual theater. Regardless of the size of the projected force or the maturity of the theater, engineers impact within all zones. In the rear (the COMMZ), the first mission is the RSO&I. When soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines arrive at the aerial port of debarkation (APOD), they need a place to sleep, shower, and eat while receiving their equipment. Other soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are responsible for joining crews with weapons systems to repair the systems that are nonmission capable on arrival and generally process these units. This requires real estate; engineers acquire leases for real estate with the USACE contingency real estate support team (CREST).

Figure 1-4. Conceptual theater structure.

Depending on the distance/lines-of-communication (LOC) relationships, the use of an intermediate staging base and the engineer support of that critical operational node are imperative to extending the operational reach of Army forces.

Developing a seaport of debarkation (SPOD) to accept the equipment and the material deployed by the sea may require initial underwater port clearance and waterfront facility inspection and the expansion of the staging facilities. Similar inspection, upgrade, or expansion activities may also be required of the APOD. This construction effort accelerates equipment reception and the equipping and the organizing of the force for operations.

The Army's air dimension of early operations requires the immediate development and construction of rotary-wing aircraft bed-down/operations facilities. The theater C2 structure and the protective systems (air-defense artillery [ADA] and military police [MP]) are employed in the rear and require protective shelters and bunkers.

The theater-sustainment base with stocks on the ground, coupled with a transportation network to get those stocks to the operator, resides within the rear. Training and rehearsals are concurrent activities during ongoing operations. These combatant-force actions, occurring in the rear, often require engineer construction of mock-ups, ranges, or similar facilities. Throughout the operation, many of these functions or the maintenance of these activities remain a focus of the Army's EAC engineers.

Engineers may also be called on to assist in repairing damage to SPODs, APODs, C2 nodes, or other critical assets resulting from missile or bomber attacks. At the cessation of activities, the redeployment of forces, equipment, and unused materials steps up the pace of rear operations as the force prepares for the next contingency.

Constructing facilities and protective measures; establishing the sustainment base; and acquiring, maintaining, and disposing of real estate are all engineer missions that contribute to the overall operations within the confines of the rear. These missions are accomplished with a carefully orchestrated application of engineer units, construction contracting (perhaps managed by USACE assets), or HNS agreements.

In the combat zone (CZ), engineers employ tactical assets. In coordination and concert with division and corps engineers, the ASCC's staff engineer anticipates and plans for the combatant commander's engineer requirements, to include the forward reinforcement of division and corps units. Temporarily using EAC assets for specific missions or time frames allows the ASCC the flexibility to mass engineer assets within the close fight while exercising an economy of force elsewhere for a short duration.

On a more long-term basis, engineer work lines (EWLs) are negotiated far forward to facilitate the forward focus of the corps's engineer assets and to accomplish the myriad of tasks beyond the corps engineer's capabilities. Examples of such tasks are maintaining and/or constructing main supply routes (MSRs), forward landing strips, or forward-positioned medical facilities. Control measures (such as EWLs) delineate general responsibilities, facilitating the EAC engineers' work within the corps's area. Using control measures frees the corps's engineer assets to anticipate and support the close fight while posturing for the offensive momentum that Army doctrine embraces. EWLs are therefore independent of other boundary control measures, such as the corps's rear boundary.

The theater also augments the CZ, assuming responsibility for specific support on a task basis forward of the EWL. For example, in preparation for a counterattack and an exploitation of retreating enemy forces, the concept of operations may include major logistic bases well forward within the CZ to sustain the momentum of tactical units. Constructing these logistic bases will consume the corps's engineer assets and tie them to terrain around these bases. These tactical assets would better serve the combatant forces through integration into planning, rehearsals, and combat drills vice sustainment construction activities.

Deep operations within the CZ have Army-engineer concerns as well. The engineer focuses on future operations, which are shaped by deep operations, and on setting the conditions for tactical success. Future close operations of the land force will traverse and/or occupy this area. Therefore, an engineer analysis of the key terrain, the trafficability, the infrastructure, and the obstacles within the area are important considerations.

The obstacles that impact operations may be natural barriers, enemy-emplaced systems, friendly destroyed LOCs, or interdiction scatterable minefields emplaced deep to separate echelons or disrupt the sustainment flow to an enemy's forward elements. The divisional engineers are focused on close operations; therefore, these concerns are best addressed by the EAD/EAC engineers. They are also important advisors/partners in deep-targeting discussions. With the accuracy of smart munitions, careful selection of targets can render the desired effects on an enemy.

Engineer participation allows—

  • The consideration and the comparison of candidate targets with the knowledge of repair capabilities.
  • A greater perception of the impact of targeting on mobility (both friendly and enemy) or posthostility activity, regarding the restoration effort required.


Just as engineering manifests the principles of war, it also embraces the five essential characteristics of Army-operations doctrine:

  • Initiative.
  • Agility.
  • Depth.
  • Orchestration.
  • Versatility.

Initiative sets or changes the terms of an operation by action and implies an offensive spirit in every endeavor. Theater engineers support the Army's goal of battlespace dominance in seizing the initiative. Initiative comes from understanding the commander's operational concept. This understanding allows the engineer to discern what is important, conduct mission analysis, and weight the efforts in support of the overall objective. Most engineering tasks take time to be accomplished. Initiative mandates gaining control of the situation rather than letting the situation control events.

Agility is the ability to act and react faster than an enemy. Digitization and automation increase agility by enabling engineers to exchange and analyze critical information quickly. Theater engineers anticipate the requirements for a mission and initiate preparatory action before their need is often perceived. Theater-engineer assets are neither quick nor totally self-mobile, so task organization is important to set the conditions for agility within the AOs. While theater engineers retain the flexibility to support operations forward in the CZ, they are postured to support all engineer requirements in the rear of the theater AOR. This allows the engineer commander to maintain the agility and meet unforeseen requirements that occur in the fast-paced operational tempo (OPTEMPO) of modern operations.

Depth is the extension of operations in time, space, resources, and purpose. Depth is served through simultaneous engineer operations by battlespace function. Theater engineers add visualization of the battlespace beyond the ground US forces occupy. They reinforce combat-engineer efforts at the forward edge of the battle, enhancing survivability, accelerating completion of countermobility systems, or providing operational mobility. Additionally, theater engineers support the rear lodgment, providing continued sustainment to all forces within the theater.

Orchestration means to arrange, develop, organize, or combine to achieve a desired or maximum effect. Theater engineers apply the right mix of forces using the right degree of control and operating at the right tempo and intensity level to accomplish the assigned missions. Each of the essential characteristics are valuable applications to engineer employment; however, without orchestration, they would only add value to current operations. The reality of our modern force structure and the competition for strategic lift capabilities in our force-projection Army limits the availability of engineers within the AOR. Orchestration of theater engineers as a limited resource sets the conditions for decisive victory.

Versatility denotes the ability to perform in many roles and environments while conducting the full range of operations. For example, the engineer battalion (combat) (heavy) may establish the sustainment base at the beginning of operations and a month later be engaged in constructing survivability positions to support a committed corps that is bracing for a counteroffensive. Stability operations and support operations require a versatile engineer force. Engineers must be able to transition from peacekeeping to peace-enforcement operations while simultaneously providing support operations with the same degree of success according to the CINC's priorities and strategies.

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