Summary

The biggest challenge we face is that of mind-set, adjusting to the reality of possible conventional high intensity all arms combat after decades of peace enforcement and counter-insurgency. The rest, doctrine development, force generation, training and equipment, should follow.

This first challenge has been addressed.

Clearly.

The British Army is not staffed by idiots, they have recognised the need, instigated additional training and fully understanding of the lessons from Ukraine.

But is it enough, are we going too slow in adjusting?

That is not for me to answer, I suspect the answer lies between two extremes, they often are.

Perhaps a series of self-assessment questions might be asked;

  1. What percentage of the training estate has significant digging restrictions
  2. When was the last time a Javelin was live fired from a trench with overhead cover
  3. What is the G10 stores holdings for picks, shovels and chainsaws per Infantry Battalion
  4. When was the last time a Trojan or Terrier was used for digging vehicle pits, and how often is this done
  5. Do relevant courses have content on felling trees and using logs for overhead cover
  6. When was the last time a Challenger or AS90 live fired from a protective slot
  7. When was the last time an Infantry Battalion dug itself in using hand tools on an exercise
  8. Are holdings of pickets, corrugated steel and sandbags sufficient
  9. How much engineering plant do we hold that is operable in severe cold weather
  10. Do the Royal Engineers hold any equipment for the high volume processing of logs and for their efficient transport
  11. What hydraulic post/log driving equipment is available
  12. Do any courses at the Royal School of Military Engineering include shelter construction using logs

These are just a random collection of questions, but the answers would be most interesting.

As the British Army evolves to the Strike Brigade concept and what is in reality, a light, medium and heavy delineation, with the additional split between the Reactive and Adaptable force, the reality of ‘digging and working with wood’ will not be a one size fits all.

But I think it is an area that needs a lot of thought and a lot of doing, neither of which are easy.

In short, are we doing enough with shovels and logs?

Perhaps the Sappers up at Kinloss, in the heart of the Scottish forestry industry and with access to lots of space and potential for secondments, could take the lead for the British Army?

To end, a treat for those of a certain vintage, with the second video courtesy of our Finnish friends

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Jack Dunster

thank you for this series of articles and, indeed, for all your articles. I was a sapper in the Canadian Armed Forces in the 70’s-early 80’s and what struck me then was the quality of the engineering practices – the dearth of competence. Even in digging in – the slit-trenches/ graves would not stand up to any sort of warfare – our unlined trenches in the sunny clay of Wainwright Alta collapsed when one Leopard 1 tank maneuvered 1.4 km away.Tthere was no ‘sucking of teeth episode, no ‘lessons learned’ follow-up – nor such in any of the exercises. It and damn near everything was amateurish at best. One hopes that professionalism has returned since – your article, alas, seem to suggest otherwise. The problem I see is that the officers are incompetent – the majority of engineer officers especially, but those above have no awareness of the need and activity of engineering resources. Secondly, the individuals of the rank and file are the same – they have little or no training in field engineering practices. How to address this? Perhaps it is best to limit recruiting to individuals who had construction engineering training in civil life, or perhaps it is best to wholeheartedly make this branch of service a reserve occupation. This to me underlines the basic problem: What is the place of sappers in the modern army – and how do we keep such skills alive? By the way, after leaving the armed farces (yes, that is spelled right), I trained in forestry and geology and worked in construction – and saw a world of difference.

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