Have we lost of the art of digging in and building field defences?
An odd title for a post, I know!
The past decade or more of operations has seen the British Army largely operating from fixed locations against enemies with relatively limited indirect fire capabilities. Force protection engineering has evolved to be mostly ‘above ground’, concrete blast walls, Hesco Bastion, Defencell and the Expeditionary Elevated Sangar for example.
All these need substantial quantities of fill material and a not insignificant amount of time.
These collective protection developments have contributed to reduced casualties from direct and indirect enemy fire but as the British Army gets into gear with its ‘return to contingency’ approach, rediscovering neglected conventional manoeuvre skills for example, it strikes me that digging in and working with wood are essential skills that reside in the same category.
Field defences are constructed along a timeline, it may be a quick stop hasty defence as part of a wider manoeuvre operation or stop, or, a more substantial construction as part of a planned defensive position.
The tools, techniques and technologies will change depending on this timeline, some will be applicable to a particular application and some will not.
What might be suited to a light infantry unit may not be appropriate for an armoured infantry unit, and vice versa.
Each technology should, therefore, be evaluated for its intended use, owning unit, likely location and training requirement.
The basics don’t change of course; wriggly tin revetment, driven pickets, defensive wiring, sandbags, chainsaws and lots of earth, there is no need for any research and development programme from DSTL. That said, whilst there is some merit in not fixing things that aren’t broken, this would not be a Think Defence post if it didn’t have at least a nod to some technology improvements that might be worth considering.
Small increments and modest investments can often yield disproportionate gains.
I want to look at this from two angles, non-specialist and specialist, in a nutshell, non-Royal Engineers and Royal Engineers. Formations will have attached Royal Engineers Regiments and Squadrons but individual sub units will also need to be able to do their own digging and construction of field defences. Generally speaking, wherever there is engineering plant (C Vehicles) required, the Royal Engineers will use them.
There are training and safety issues, but in general, the more we can push out of the specialist domain, the better.
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