Combat engineering is the practice of using the knowledge, tools and techniques of engineering in combat. A combat engineer is a military specialist in using the tools and techniques of engineering under combat conditions, who may perform any of a variety of tasks. Such tasks typically include bridge and road construction, laying landmines, or detecting and clearing hazards. Generally, the combat engineer's tasks involve facilitating movement of friendly and allied forces while impeding enemy movement. Usually, a combat engineer is also trained as an infantry rifleman and has general combat-engineering training as well as special expertise.
A general combat engineer is often called a "Sapper" (the word itself is derived from the French and British armies). In some armies the term Sapper is a professional term and indicates a specific military rank and level of training.
- Sapper (abbreviated "Spr.") is the Royal Engineers' equivalent of Private.
- This is also the case within the Royal Australian Engineers, where referring to a Sapper as a Private is considered an insult and can result in disciplinary charges being laid.
- In the Israeli Defence Forces, Sapper 07 ( פלס 07 ) is a professional-rank denoting a combat engineer who has graduated basic general engineering training.
Also to note is that the term combat engineer is different from field engineer in the United States Army. The latter usually denotes a mechanic of the Ordnance Corps who is skilled in field maintenance of equipment, weapons and armored fighting vehicles. In the British Army's Royal Engineers, however, the terms are synonymous, with a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers tradesman being designated a mechanic or technician.
A Military engineer is an engineer specializing in military applications such as construction, fortification design, weapons design and more. The difference between a military engineer and a combat engineer is that a combat engineer usually operates during battle and under fire, while a military engineer is mostly not directly involved in the fighting. A military engineer is also usually a commissioned officer, whereas a combat engineer can hold any rank.
In the British and Australian armies, an assault pioneer is an infantry soldier with some combat engineering training. As well as clearing obstacles during the assault and light engineering duties, until recently assault pioneers were responsible for the operation of flamethrowers.
- Explosive material handling
- Counter mobility
- Planting landmines
- Digging trenches and ditches
- Demolishing roads and bridges
- Opening routes during assault
- Demolishing enemy structures (using bulldozers or explosive charges).
- Defence against NBC weapon threats
- Combat engineering vehicles
- Engineering vehicles
- Reconnaissance vehicles
- Mine breaching devices
- Dozer blade
- Mine rollers
- EOD robots
- Explosives, mines and bombs
- Field-deployable bridges (ex: French EFA)
In ancient times, combat engineers were responsible for siege warfare and building field fortifications, temporary camps and roads. The most notable engineers of ancient times were the Romans, who constructed huge siege-machines (catapults, battering rams and siege towers) and were responsible for constructing fortified wooden camps and paved roads for their legions. Many of these Roman roads are still in use two thousand years later.
In the Middle Ages combat engineers focused on siege warfare. They planned castles and fortresses. When laying siege, they planned and oversaw efforts to penetrate castle defences. When castles served a military purpose, one of the tasks of the sappers was to weaken the bases of walls to enable them to be breached before means of thwarting these activities were devised. Broadly speaking, sappers were experts at demolishing or otherwise overcoming or bypassing fortification systems.
For more information about combat engineering before the modern era, see: Military engineer.
During the 20th century, combat engineers gained vast knowledge and experience in explosives. They are tasked with planting bombs, landmines and dynamite. Moreover, they are the only units with the clearance to detonate enemy explosive charges and the handling of unexploded ordinance. They are in charge of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) department and train specialists to defuse bombs.
Modern combat engineering still retains the Roman role of building field fortifications, road paving and the breaching of terrain obstacles. A notable combat engineer task was, for example, the breaching of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.
Specific combat engineering corps
Main article: United States Army Corps of Engineers.
In the United States Army, the three tasks of combat engineer units are mobility, countermobility, and survivability.
- Mobility: improving your own force's ability to move around the battlefield. Combat engineers typically support this role through reduction of enemy obstacles which include point and row minefields, anti-tank ditches, wire obstacles, concrete and metal anti-vehicle barriers and wall and door breaching in urban terrain. Mechanized combat engineer units also have armored vehicles capable of laying short bridges for limited gap-crossing.
- Countermobility: building obstacles to prevent the enemy from moving around the battlefield. Destroying bridges, blocking roads, cratering airstrips, digging trenches, etc. Can also include planting landmines and booby traps when authorized and directed to do so.
- Survivability: building structures which enable one's own soldiers to survive on the battlefield. Examples include trenches, bunkers, shelters, and armored vehicle fighting positions.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal EOD units in the U.S. Army are manned by ordnance personnel.
Main article: Israeli Engineering Corps.
In the Israeli Defence Forces the combat engineers are organized under the Israel Engineering Corps (Hebrew: חיל ההנדסה הקרבית). In addition to IEC sappers, each infantry brigade has an engineer company trained with basic engineering and EOD skills. IEC sappers are often attached to other units (such as armored divisions or infantry) in order to help them breach obstacles and handle explosive threats. The IEC operates advance engineering tools such as Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer, IDF Puma armored CEV, EOD robots and electromagnetic mine-detectors. Their main role is enabling Israeli forces to advance (breach the enemy's obstacles), stop the enemy's movement, handle explosive and perform construction and destruction under fire.
See: Royal Engineers.