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by MSG Forrest Lee Prude, Jr.

Most engineer units in the U.S. Army train annually at the National Training Center (NTC) at Ft Irwin, California. In a typical training rotation, the combat heavy horizontal engineer platoons and combat support equipment (CSE) platoons are normally attached to mechanized engineer battalions to provide survivability and countermobility support to the brigade combat team.

Heavy construction equipment operators are usually highly skilled in the construction engineering tasks that fall into the METL for their particular units. But the NTC is a challenge to these units because of their limited combat engineering training. The challenges faced by CSE platoons:

  • Young operators not experienced in digging fighting positions and anti-tank ditches.
  • Officers and NCOs experienced in horizontal construction, but not in providing support to combat units.

The mission for engineer units at the NTC is to support mechanized and armor units so that these units can survive and win on today's battlefield. The construction engineer is greatly challenged at the NTC when it comes to supporting maneuver units. This article discusses some of the training challenges that face CSE and combat heavy horizontal platoons at the NTC. Some proven techniques are also provided in bold print.


Main Battle Area (MBA):

At an NTC rotation, leaders and soldiers must know the standards for the one- and two-tier M1 tank, M2 Bradley, and M113 positions as stated in FM 5-103, Survivability, June 1985. The challenge for the engineer unit is to dig as many fighting positions as the task force has planned. In order to accomplish this mission, all soldiers must know the standards and train on digging fighting positions at Home Station--both during the day and at night. Operators must be able to accomplish their missions in zero illumination using night-vision goggles or chemlights. Plan for night survivability operations to take twice as long as day operations.

Other survivability missions include digging positions for field artillery Q-36 radars and ground-based sensors for the ADA batteries. As the standards for the positions are not yet published in FM 5-103, some research and training with the supported units on these positions is required prior to deploying to NTC.

Rear Operations:

When the CSE platoons are not preparing for the defense, they should provide survivability support for the brigade support area (BSA) and other critical static nodes. The forward support battalion (FSB) has 5,000-gallon fuel tankers that require survivability positions in the BSA and in forward logistic element areas if they are pushed forward. Recommend special emphasis on getting these assets dug in as soon as possible. The small equipment excavator (SEE) is a great asset for digging crew-served weapon and two-man fighting positions while blades can provide survivability berms for command posts. The FSB OPORD should contain a timeline and priority of survivability effort by vehicle type and unit to maximize blade production.


The rectangular tank ditch is the most common type anti-tank ditch (ATD) used at the NTC, and its effectiveness is measured by how it influences enemy maneuver and disrupts enemy formations. The ditch must be wide enough and deep enough to prevent the tank from running over it. It must be integrated into natural and emplaced obstacles. Among the trends that have been noticed at the NTC:

  • ATDs are not tied in with the terrain or other obstacles.
  • ATDs are not effectively covered by direct and indirect fires.


The Rules of Engagement (ROE) for digging operations must be understood and enforced by all soldiers involved in digging operations. At NTC, units frequently violate the digging ROE by attempting to dig in "No Dig" areas or "Restrictive Dig" areas. These areas are identified on maps issued by the Mojave JTF HQ upon the unit's arrival in theater. Units lose valuable blade time siting in obstacles and battle positions without checking the "No Dig" maps during the task force planning process. Units that dig in "No Dig" areas receive no credit for their effort and may not use the positions. Consequently, the task force loses significant blade time.

Each task force will have the blades for a limited period of time, and it is important to use the blade time wisely. For safety purposes, all survivability positions must be marked IAW the ROE, and valuable blade hours are sometimes lost because the units are unprepared to meet the standard. For a basic load, all combat vehicles need to carry enough U-shaped pickets, engineer tape, and chemlights to mark survivability positions (one picket with chemlight at each corner of the hole connected with the engineer tape). Note that the vehicles being dug in should carry the supplies, not the digging assets.


A negative trend seen at NTC is the unit's inability to conduct effective land navigation and appreciate the effects of terrain. At Home Station, CSE platoon leaders and platoon sergeants must train on route selection based on map reconnaissance and the leader's reconnaissance to ensure efficient and safe travel of heavy equipment in rough terrain. Do not over-rely on the global positioning system (GPS); batteries fail and equipment breaks! Leaders must know the capabilities and limitation of their equipment. An M916 cannot drive the same terrain as an armored combat earthmover (ACE), for example. During the planning phase, identify what equipment you have and then select the most suitable route based on a thorough reconnaissance.


For future operations and training of the equipment platoons, more equipment needs to be deployed from Home Station. At least two CAT 130G road graders and two 621B wheeled tractor scrapers should deploy by rail to the NTC. Both the maneuver unit and the CSE platoon can benefit from having these assets available at the NTC. CSE platoons can train on combat trail upgrade and on maintenance of secondary roads. During the months of heavy rainfall (December-March), some roads are badly washed out and must be repaired and drainage reestablished to prevent further washouts. This work will reduce the chances of having an accident, as many convoys travel during the night using night-vision devices (NVDs).


LOGPAC operations must be thoroughly coordinated and practiced at Home Station to get Class III and IV to CSE platoons on the battlefield. To maintain constant operations, the CSE platoon sergeant must coordinate Class III resupply with the appropriate 1SG based on the support relationship in the brigade OPORD. The CSE section leaders must report accurate locations to ensure timely linkup with the LOGPAC. Trying to get Class III to heavy equipment on the battlefield with zero illumination takes close coordination to ensure that dozers, ACEs, and SEEs do not run out of fuel.


To be successful at the NTC, units are urged to train in a realistic environment at Home Station prior to deploying. Platoon leaders and platoon sergeants must thoroughly review FM 5-34, Engineer Field Data, FM 5-103, Survivability, FM 5-104, General Engineering, FM 90-13-1, Combined Arms Breaching Operations, and FM 90-7, Combined Arms Obstacle Integration. In addition, for defensive operations, a good SOP for conducting link-ups with maneuver commanders is essential. This can be trained at Home Station along with night operations. The more effort units put toward training at Home Station, the better prepared platoon leaders and their platoons will be to execute the mission and be successful at the NTC and in combat.

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