The first basic task is to dig a hole!
The most basic of hand tools are widely issued; Shovel GS, pickaxe, sandbag, post driver, sledge hammer, 6ft steel picket, wire, corrugated steel (CGI) and post driver (monkey)
Falling into the category of not fixing what isn’t broke, these basic defence stores are enduring and universal.
Mechanical assistance is still worth considering, as are alternatives to sandbags. Because they are likely to be used by everyone but trained combat engineers, ease of use and maintenance of skill is a key consideration. They also have to be space efficient and maintainable within units.
None of this is about making things easier, it is about making them faster.
Vehicle Dozer Blades
Although armoured units will have an attendant Royal Engineers Close Support squadrons to provide engineering support, if armoured vehicles could dig themselves in, it simply relieves the pressure on a scarce resource.
Pearson Engineering make them for both Warrior (Medium) and Challenger 2 (Heavy), and one would hope, Ajax in the future. They are both available with a quick attachment kit so they can be jettisoned or swapped between vehicles as needed.
The previous suggestions have centred on hand portable equipment that could easily be held in unit stores but moving slightly up in complexity, a small piece of mobile engineering plant held at unit level may be worth thinking about.
I think the JCB ultra lightweight excavators were withdrawn from the C Vehicle fleet a few years ago. The ‘Excavator Towed Ultralight’ (JCB 801.8) was only available in small numbers, thirteen in total
This is not necessarily a proposal to reinstate that particular model but instead, a lightweight excavator or skid steer loader that can be operated by non-specialists and maintained in units. As long as they can be carried on a lightweight GS type trailer and pulled by lightweight vehicles like Land Rovers, Pinzgauers, Husky’s and whatever comes through as the MRV-P then mobility issues should not be overly concerning.
Training would also be an issue to overcome, not an easy one.
In addition to excavation, they could also provide hydraulic power export for breakers, cutting tools and post drivers, very useful in difficult or frozen ground. This type of lightweight equipment is of course, quite limited in their digging and lifting capabilities, as ever though, it is a trade-off between portability and capability.
In Ukraine, the Corps of Engineers has recently taken delivery of new specialist armoured trenching machines from Autokraz and the Kryukov Railway Car Building Works. It is designed to work at -40 degrees C and provide rapid trenching for deployed forces.
Russian forces also have a similar capability but on a tracked chassis.
Whilst impressive, these machines are very specialised and we can ill afford to maintain specialist equipment.
There are plenty of Western civilian equivalents available off the shelf, the basics of trenching are well known and equipment used in cable and pipeline laying. An excavator attachment for existing plant may be a more sensible option but these tend to be more slitting than trenching devices, only for small pipes and cables.
For these reasons, it is probably better to simply rely on existing plant for mechanical digging.
The hydraulic attachments shown above, such as grapples and shears, could be supplemented with specialist equipment such as pulverisers, drum cutters and rippers for greater efficiency, especially in hard or frozen ground.
We should also not assume that field defences need to be in virgin ground; urban and semi-urban terrain will have plenty of concrete, tarmac and compacted ground that can be exploited. Frozen ground is especially difficult, as shown in the video below.
Digging faster and in more challenging ground conditions with the aid of excavator attachments means a wider range of C vehicles can be used.
A few selected additional hydraulic attachments could make a big difference but only in a number of selected instances, for challenging terrain, such as mountainous or heavily forested, there are also a couple of additional machines of interest.
The first is the Menzi Muck walking excavator.
The Menzi Muck is designed for working on steep inclines whilst retaining all the flexibility of a standard excavator, it really is an exceptional machine. They are available in a number of sizes and capacities and with the usual wide range of attachments and accessories, including those for forestry. They are also designed to be broken down and transported by very light helicopters, those commonly found in mountainous areas.
It is difficult to explain the mobility and flexibility benefits of the Menzi Muck, so probably best just to show a few videos.
Terex and one or two others also make similar machines.
The second piece of equipment is a tracked version of the conventional JCB backhoe loader called the 1CXT. A new machine, it has a number of advantages over wheeled models, although of course, it is less mobile over a wide area. For use in heavily wooded areas, the narrow width of the 1CXT, at 1.8m, compared to the 3CX and 4CX, 2.3m and 2.4m respectively, may offer a number of mobility advantages.
At just over 4 tonnes, the 1CXT, is also within the sling load limits for a Merlin helicopter. The cab is too tall to be carried internally on a Chinook but if a foldable or open frame cab were designed, the 200mm of excess height could be mitigated.
The 1CXT is easily carried by C-130, A400M and C17, and is air-droppable on standard Type V platforms. It can also be lifted by the in service Iveco truck Mounted Loader and Terex cranes.
The smallest Menzi Muck’s, the A20 and A40, can be slung load by a Merlin, the smallest is also sling-loadable by Puma. The A20 can also be fitted with a demountable roll cage instead of a full cab and this would enable it to be internally carried onboard a Chinook or even a Merlin.
For any US readers, the A20 could even fit within the confines of the V-22 cargo hold by virtue of its folding wheel legs and demountable roll cage.
All models are transportable by C-130, A400M and C-17. Also, all models can be air dropped using the Type V platform, with the smaller A20 and A40 models capable and being air dropped two wide on a standard platform.
The smallest Menzi Muck models can be lifted by the in service Iveco truck Mounted Loader but the larger models would need the Terex crane. All can be loaded and unloaded using DROPS/EPLS type flat racks.