Are we losing the art of digging?

A member of 9 Parachute Squadron 23 Engineer Regiment keeps watch during the construction of the next phase of Route Trident in Helmand, Afghanistan. A digger is pictured moving the foundations of the road in the background.

In the last decade or more of operations in the Middle East, the enemy’s that British forces have faced had not had a great deal of indirect fire capability. Although Iraqi forces in 2003 certainly did have them and used them, they were relatively few in number. In Afghanistan, the majority of indirect fire threat was from mortars and recoilless rifles. To counter, investments in Counter Rockets and Mortars (C-RAM) capability were made; Base-ISTAR, EXACTOR, ground mounts for Phalanx CIWS and lightweight mortar detection radars for example. In addition to the active means of defending fixed locations against sporadic indirect fire, force protection engineering enjoyed a resurgence; HESCO, Defencell and Expeditionary Elevated Sangars for example.

Because operations were conducted from a fewer number of fixed locations they was no need to ‘dig in’.

Against an enemy with decent artillery in a manoeuvre operation things would be different; those familiar with German or even the potential of Russian artillery, when they stopped, they dug.

Whether that was a simple shell scrape, a gun pit, Milan trench with Chatham arch, Mexe Shelter or even using an IPK as something other than a basha, protection from artillery meant digging.

The reason I ask the question is because in all the media released by the MoD of recent exercises covering the ‘return to contingency operations’ theme, I can’t find any that show personnel in a two man trench, a shell scrape or non Hesco based fortification. Many of the UK training areas do not allow digging, for environmental protection and health reasons, unlike Kenya for example.

This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been of course which is why this post is asking a question, is the IPK still on issue, is digging shell scrapes a common occurrence in Battlegroup exercises, which training areas are personnel not allowed to dig in?

For those of a certain age, drink the nostalgia in!



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