The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


U.S. Army Countermine Capability Is "Broken"
CSC 1992
Title:  U.S. Army Countermine Capability is "Broken"
Author:  Major John H. Ruehe, United States Army
Thesis:  Although combat operations in Desert Storm were highly
successful, the U.S. Army's countermine capability was shown to
be deficient.
Background:  CINCCENT's ability to dictate the strategic battle in
Desert Storm and defeat the Iraqis with few casualties depended
on his ability to breach minefields to maintain the offensive
initiative.  Although countermine operations have proven decisive
in the past, the U.S. Army was ill-equipped to perform countermine
missions when it arrived in Saudi Arabia because of equipment
deficiencies and a lack of combined arms training.
Is our countermine capability broken?  It is when we consider
that we are not providing the combined arms commander
the means to maneuver on the battlefield unimpeded by modern
mines.  This puts modern U.S. forces at a decided disadvantage
and constrains us to fight according to the enemy's plan and not
our own.  At any level of conflict which we are called upon to
fight in the future, this will portend disaster against a more
determined or stronger foe.
Because of the ineffective barrier system the Iraqis built in
Kuwait, Desert Storm was an aberration in modern countermine
warfare which did not test our capability.  A mutually supporting
barrier system with effective covering fire would have dramatically
impeded or stalled our offensive operations before
they began.
Recommendation:  The leadership of the Army must focus on finding
solutions to our deficient countermine capabilities.  Because of
equipment and training deficiencies, the U.S. Army's countermine
capability is broken and needs a fix.
Thesis Statement:  Although combat operations in Desert Storm
were successful, the U.S. Army's countermine capability was shown
to be deficient.
I.	Introduction
	A.	The success of Desert Storm in perspective
	B.	The use of mines in the future
II.	The Challenge to Army Engineers
	A.	Maintaining the combat initiative
	B.	Engineers in the combined arms team
III.	Countermine Technology Deficiencies
	A.	Lack of combined arms training
	B.	Maneuverability and employment
	C.	Technology deficiencies
IV.	The Solution
	A.	The combined arms team: maintaining the initiative
	B.	Technology advances and fielding
	C.	Engineer force structure changes
	D.	Getting the Army leadership to focus on the problem
     Although combat operations in Desert Storm were very
successful, they underscored the fact that the U.S. Army's
countermine capabilities have not kept pace with the growth in
lethality and mobility of other U.S. weapon systems and the
sophistication of modern mine warfare technology.  CINCCENT's
ability to dictate the strategic battle and defeat the Iraqis
with few U.S. casualties depended on his ability to breach
minefields to maintain the offensive initiative.  The U.S. Army
was ill-equipped to perform countermine missions when it arrived
in Saudi Arabia because of equipment deficiencies and the lack of
sufficient combined arms countermine training.
     The seriousness of this tactical deficiency is apparent when
we realize that it has taken the initiative and flexibility away
from our maneuver commanders.  This puts modern U.S. forces at a
decided disadvantage and constrains us to fight according to the
enemy's plan and not our own.  If the U.S. Army faces an enemy
with greater technological strength or more tenacity in future
conflicts, we may find ourselves without the ability to maintain
the combat initiative and ultimately be defeated.
     The success of Desert Storm should not lull us into a false
sense of security concerning our countermine capability.
Countermine operations took on secondary importance as the focus
became the dazzling tactical speed and maneuver of the operation
and the overwhelming military victory.  In Desert Storm's
aftermath, few recognize the fact that if the Iraqis would have
built an obstacle system supported by effective covering fire, it
would have seriously impeded or even stalled the offensive
operation before it began.
     Mines have been described as a modern day poor nation's
weapon of choice because of their relative low cost and proven
effectiveness.  That U.S. forces will encounter mines in future
conflicts is inevitable, given their availability on the world
arms market, their low cost, and their historically-proven combat
     Mine warfare was a significant tactical advantage to the
Germans at the outbreak of WWII; they led the world in mine
development in the interwar period.  They worked hard to produce
an effective countermeasure to the speed and mobility of tanks
because of their decisive defeats to Allied armor during WWI.  A
parallel to Desert Storm was the North Africa Campaign (1940-
1942) where both the British and Germans used mines in the desert
on a larger scale than in any other theater during the war.  The
Germans used mines extensively in huge defensive zones called
"Devil's Gardens" to offset the technological and tactical
advantage the British enjoyed.  Using mines, the Germans were
able to shift quickly from maneuver to static in-depth defenses,
thereby effectively reducing British tactical mobility.  The
ultimate key to victory in North Africa was the ability to create
gaps in minefields to afford the attacker the ability to gain the
initiative.   U.S. forces initially introduced in North Africa
learned these lessons and would incorporate them throughout the
remainder of the war. (2:14-92)
     Our countermine capability shortfall was clearly recognized
25 years ago in Vietnam where the bulk of U.S. vehicle combat
losses and a major source of personnel losses were attributed to
enemy nuisance mines.  During the North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
Easter Offensive in 1972, mines employed near the DMZ by the U.S.
Marine Advisors to the South Vietnamese proved to be one of the
most effective methods to stop NVA tanks.  Tanks had not been
used by the NVA before in the war and were a tremendous
psychological weapon against the South Vietnamese Army in the
     Based on their experience during the Iran/Iraq war, Iraq
employed millions of modern sophisticated mines made worldwide
(including some made in NATO countries) in their defense of
Kuwait.  Other present day examples of the effective use of mines
abound throughout the world - along the DMZ on the Korean
peninsula, in Northern Ireland as an effective terrorist weapon,
along the former Warsaw Pact border in Europe, and in Africa and
South America.  An advance team of U.N. observers in Cambodia
recently estimated that there are still seventeen million mines
throughout the country left by both government and rebel forces
during years of civil war.  Because of our deficiency in
countermine operations, mines will continue to be used by
potential enemies in future conflicts as an effective measure to
further their national objectives through military means.
     The challenge to U.S. Army combat engineers, as the member
of the combined arms team responsible for countermine operations,
is to enhance the combat power of maneuver forces by allowing
them the freedom to fire and maneuver unencumbered by the terrain
or man-made obstacles on the battlefield.  The modern battlefield
is characterized by extended time and distances, lethal weapons
systems, and effective obstacles which require lightning-like
speeds of execution.  This puts a premium on the ability to
maneuver forces rapidly to enable a commander to mass forces,
attain surprise, reduce vulnerability, exploit successes, and
preserve freedom of action to defeat the enemy.  Mobility is
essential for the combined arms commander.  Without it, the
commander can not take advantage of the speed and lethality of
modern weapons systems and is forced to fight on terms dictated
by the enemy.
        Engineers make mobility possible by reducing obstacles on
the battlefield, allowing freedom of maneuver.  Engineers are
integrated into the combined arms team to ensure mobility
whenever and wherever it is needed.  Maintaining the freedom of
maneuver by engineer mobility operations, counter-obstacle
operations, and minefield breaching has an even greater
importance on the modern, lethal battlefield than in the past.
     The Army's countermine capability suffers in three ways.
First, although the combined arms team has the doctrine, it does
not train sufficiently to build the confidence and technical
skills to execute minefield breaching quickly and decisively to
retain the initiative in combat operations.  In training
exercises, countermine operations are usually executed as a
combat support operation to be accomplished solely by the
engineers.  Home station training relies heavily on dummy mines
and simulation and rarely incorporates the entire combined arms
team.  The breaching of minefields is inherently a very difficult
battle drill which requires confidence, synchronization, and a
sole focus of effort by all members of the combined arms team.
     Secondly, the engineer's present countermine equipment is
not survivable from the effects of covering fire and does not
keep up with the speed of our modern maneuver forces.  Current
U.S. Army countermine equipment is moved to the obstacle in
either wheeled vehicles or trailers, which are susceptible to
enemy fire, or on obsolete M60 or M48 tank chassis, which can not
move as fast as modern mechanized brigades.  In Desert Storm,
modern, state-of-the-art maneuver forces were led into battle
with engineer countermine equipment which in some cases has not
changed since WWII.
     Lastly, our present equipment does not provide stand-off
identification and can not defeat the modern mines available to
our enemies.  The technology is available, but has not been
fielded to the Army combat engineer.  Modern mines are
predominantly non-metallic, blast resistant, or have double
impulse characteristics which, when complemented with
sophisticated anti-handling devices, defy identification and
neutralization with present U.S. equipment.  Scatterable mines -
those which are delivered by indirect fire, aircraft, or ground
means - are a special problem because of their availability to
potential enemies and the speed and depth at which they can be
delivered. They constitute a tremendous threat to our lines of
communications (LOCs) and rear area operations.
     The solution must focus on countermine operations as a
critical and indispensable skill of the combined arms team. Once
it becomes a high priority to the maneuver commander, the
technology and training will follow.  History has shown that
today's maneuver commanders are tomorrow's leadership of the
Army.  Notwithstanding, the present leadership of the Army must
recognize the deficiency in countermine capability as a problem
which desperately needs a solution now.
     Desert Storm reaffirmed that breaching modern minefields is
a difficult combined arms maneuver even though the Iraqis did not
build an effective obstacle barrier in their defense of Kuwait.
Army doctrine describes combined arms breaching operations as
suppression of covering fires, obscuring the minefield so that
engineers can get to it, securing the minefield, and reducing it
to facilitate follow-on missions.  Minefield breaching is a
complicated tactical maneuver which requires close coordination
among the maneuver elements to be effective and retain speed and
ultimately the combat initiative.  Well trained combined arms
teams are able to do this because realistic training has
instilled confidence and instinctive battle drills which can be
executed in the chaotic conditions of combat.
     As we transitioned from defensive to offensive operations in
Saudi Arabia, considerable time was spent in rehearsals using
mock-ups of enemy defenses.  Because of this train-up, the
combined arms team developed the confidence and proficiency for
deliberate minefield breaches.  This had not been practiced
sufficiently at training areas in CONUS and Europe because of
resource limitations, training deficiencies, and the tactical
defensive mind-set in Europe.  As a result, most engineer and
maneuver elements were untrained in countermine operations when
they arrived in theater.
     In Kuwait, friendly maneuver forces were able to suppress
obstacle covering fire, and once the engineers had effected the
breach, were able to secure the far side and maneuver to retain
the initiative.  The Iraqi intent appeared to be to build an
impenetrable obstacle system, much the same as the French Maginot
Line was intended before WWII.  Unfortunately for the Iraqis
during Desert Storm and the French during WWII, the plan did not
     Countermine mobility equipment needs to be modernized to
keep pace with modern mechanized weapons systems such as the M-1
tank and the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.  Mobility of the
combined arms team was eroded considerably in Desert Storm by
countermine equipment.   The speed of mechanized forces requires
synchronous movement of all combat arms forces.  Engineer forces
are still using WWII-vintage combat engineer vehicles to support
mechanized forces equipped with M1's and M2/3's causing a large
disparity in speed and survivability.
     One of our main countermine assets, the trailer mounted
rocket-projected mine clearing line charge (MICLIC) (based on a
WWII field expediency, the M-2 Demolition Snake, used by the U.S.
in Italy) was not survivable from covering fire and could not
keep pace with the mechanized force.  As a field expediency,
MICLIC's were mounted on Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges
(AVLB's) which gave the crew the survivability, but the M-60
chassis did not have sufficient speed.
     The newest engineer mobility asset in the U.S. Army, the
Armored Combat Earthmover (ACE), was fielded to the combat
engineers in Southwest Asia.  Although ACEs are not intended to
be a countermine asset, they proved surprisingly capable in
breaching the obstacle berms and suppressing covering fire by
collapsing individual Iraqi fighting positions.
     Engineers and their equipment must have the mobility and
survivability to be at the point of attack if in-stride minefield
breaching is to be effective.  Engineer countermine equipment
should be mounted on the same modern M2/M3 chassis as the
maneuver force they support.  To be successful as a combined arms
battle drill, all the components have to be at the breach area
simultaneously and with the necessary means.  The maneuver
commander will lose the initiative if he is forced to wait for
his engineer countermine assets.  In the MARCENT area during
Desert Storm, individual Marines, exposed to enemy fire, breached
minefields using bayonets and grappling hooks in some cases so as
not slow the offensive operation.
      In this era of the declining defense budget, resource
limitations will continue to hinder realistic combined arms
training which incorporates all the team members.  Proper
facilities to allow the full combined arms team to train has
always been and will continue to be a problem without the amount
of maneuver area to support our modern weapons systems.  Safety
factors also inhibit the use of live demolitions exercises to
provide realistic training to the engineers.  The Army continues
to pursue buying training areas for realistic training such as
the National Training Area in California, the only area in CONUS
which provides enough maneuver room to employ a modern armor
brigade.  Clearly, training areas where rehearsals can be
executed with all the players, under conditions which replicate
combat are the key to effectiveness of mine breaching operations.
      A current Army force structure change, to be finished in the
next few years, replaces the combat engineer battalion with a
full regiment for each heavy division. This engineer regiment,
which can be task organized to provide an engineer battalion to
each maneuver brigade, will do much to provide the appropriate
engineer assets to the division commander to breach minefields.
As the division primary engineer, the regimental commander also
becomes a spokesman for more combined arms training incorporating
the engineer effort needed for the proper execution of
countermine operations.  This new engineer force structure was
validated in Desert Storm where the VII Corps Commander
structured his forces with an engineer regiment in each division
prior to deployment by taking all the available engineer
battalions from Europe.
      During Desert Storm the deficiency of countermine equipment
caused a rash of quickly fabricated solutions which cut through
years of research and development.  Some of these solutions were
successful while others were not.
      The highly publicized test of B-52 bombing to neutralize
minefields was an example of one that was not successful.  Not
only were the bombs ineffective in neutralizing all the mines
during the tests, but the resulting large bomb craters and
unexploded ordnance caused a mobility problem for the breaching
force.  It also disrupted minefield patterns, making mines hard
to find and neutralize.  Even though the Russians and their
surrogates have doctrinally planned for the use of bombs or
artillery to breach minefields, Desert Storm proved that there
are some significant drawbacks to the use of bombing or indirect
fires to neutralize mines.
      A successful solution was the Armor Battalion Countermine
Sets which consisted of track width mine plows, rollers, and
marking sets which could be attached to the tanks.  Units also
constructed field expedient magnetic mine clearing devices by
placing turns of wire in a box attached to the plows to defeat
magnetic mines.  Another development was the full-width mine rake
which, when mounted on the front of the Combat Engineer Vehicle
(CEV), could clear a full-width lane or expand the lane created
by the track plows and rollers through the minefield. (1:26)
However, based on combat experience, the Battalion Countermine
Sets used during Desert Storm should be improved and developed
for continued fielding to armor units.
      The technology exists to identify and defeat modern mines,
but it must be developed and made available to the maneuver
commander.  Presently, in the aftermath of Desert Storm, civilian
contractors are clearing and neutralizing minefields in Kuwait
with standoff minefield detection systems using infrared and
radar technology.  During Desert Storm, identification of
minefields relied heavily on photo imagery.  The maneuver
brigade's present ability to identify mines on the move is almost
nonexistent.  The only exception is a vintage WWII hand-held
metallic mine detector which can set off modern magnetic mines
and is similar to what is used by scavengers looking for
valuables on beaches.  Obviously, this puts the individual combat
engineer in peril and is very slow.
      Outfitted with the proper countermine equipment, the
combined arms team should then develop and use battle drills
which stress minefield breaching as an important mobility
      Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Desert Storm and in the
beginning of the doctrine and force structure analysis for the
future Army, the leadership seems to have relegated our
countermine capability to a low priority in modernization
efforts.  This is difficult to fathom because CINCCENT and the
JCS put the countermine capability deficiency on top of the list
of critical Desert Storm operational issues to be resolved.
      Because of the ineffective barrier system the Iraqis built
in Kuwait, Desert Storm was an aberration in modern mine warfare
which did not test our countermine capabilities.  As the HQDA
After Action Report (Desert Shield/Desert Storm) stated,
"Initially, our ability to counter Iraqi obstacles in Southwest
Asia was severely limited.  Limited capability breaching
equipment, slow fielding of the Battalion Countermine Sets and
inadequate training all contributed to the shortfall.  Because of
extensive rehearsals and efforts of the U.S. Air Force removing
the Iraqi covering fires, breaching of Iraqi obstacles was little
test of our capability."  (5:147-148)
      The Army Staff's official publications concerning Desert
Storm, which I helped to develop, tended to be self-
congratulatory with shortfalls in training and equipment only
addressed as they became public.  The Department of Defense TITLE
V. Report to Congress on the conduct of the war cautiously
states, "Breaching minefields under enemy fire proved demanding.
Requirements for countermine and engineer equipment should be
reviewed carefully."  Recognizing the political nature of some of
these issues, this is a fairly bold statement.  However, as
Desert Storm proved, the U.S. Army countermine capability is
deficient and we must be very self-critical in finding solutions
as lives of individual soldiers are at stake.  The ultimate
success of the operation depended on the ability of the CINC to
maintain the initiative and dictate combat operations to the
Iraqis and, in the end, defeat them with very little friendly
loss of life.
      The loss of offensive speed and the possible heavy
casualties inherent in clearing the minefields around Kuwait with
our present inadequate countermine capabilities undoubtedly were
major factors in planning and employing the deep "Hail Mary"
tactical movement our forces executed to destroy the Republican
Guards.  This long sweep to avoid the obstacle zones stretched
logistical lines of communications to the maximum.  A more worthy
opponent might have been able turn this to his advantage and
counterattack us when we were so vulnerable.
      Our success in Desert Storm was due to the ability to
accomplish the mission while overcoming tremendous countermine
training and equipment deficiencies.  Time and again, the morale,
ingenuity, and combat effectiveness of the individual U.S. combat
engineer proved to be the decisive edge.  Mine detection and
countermine technology deficiencies must be corrected, and
countermine operations must be incorporated into combined arms
team training to insure effective combat operations.  We owe Army
maneuver commanders and combat engineers the best countermine
equipment and combined arms training to accomplish the tactical
military missions of the future.  In the end, winning on the
battlefield is the U.S. Army's measure of success in supporting
National Security Objectives.
1.	Donald Constantine, CPT, U.S.  Army, "Sappers  Forward,
Preparing Engineers for Desert Storm,"  Military Review, March 1992,
2.	Vernon Lowrey,  "Initial Observations by Engineers in the Gulf
War,"  Engineer, October 1991, PP42-48.
3.	Russel  H. Stolfi,  "Mine and Countermine Warfare in Recent
History, 1914-1970,"   Ballistics  Research Laboratory Report No. 1582,
1972, PP14-92.
4.	FM 5-100, Engineer Combat Operations, Headquarters, Depart-
ment of the Army, 1988.
5.	FM 100-5, Operations, Headquarters, Department of the Army,
6.	HQDA After Action Report (Desert Shield/ Desert Storm) undated

Join the mailing list