Breach Drill- Old School Style.

SGT Metra talks about returning to core competencies.

The Bangalore Torpedo is simply a tube  filled with high explosives. Its prime use it in breaching wire obstacles. It is over a century old, but still quite effective.


You’ll see the soldier throw a grappling hook onto the wire obstacle. That’s to allow him to yank the line to ensure there aren’t any booby traps (or more technically, anti-tamper devices). The the various sections of Bangalore torpedo are linked and slid under the wire. And then, pull the time fuze, and boom. Part of the delay at the obstacle is for an important safety reason. BTs are only single fuzed, with one well for a blasting cap. But safety demands that they be dual fuzed. A couple decades ago, at Fort Carson, if memory serves, a Bangalore torpedo misfired. The engineer squad waited the appropriate amount of time, and then went forward to diagnose the misfire. And sure enough, it exploded while they were working on it, killing and injuring several soldiers. And so today, in training at least, BTs are dual fuzed- the actual fuze well, generally by a time fuze blasting cap, and a secondary, safety fuzing, by wrapping det cord at the base of a torpedo, and initiating the det cord via an electrical blasting cap. That’s what you see the squad rolling out from the reel.

While competency in the basics of weapons like the BT are important, it should be noted that in general use, the BT has been superseded by the MCLIC and APOBS, which perform the same function, with less exposure to the Engineer soldiers.

MCLIC Madness

Some of this video you might have seen posted here earlier. The MCLIC is the Mine Clearing Line Charge. Basically it is a tube stuffed with plastic explosives. A rocket drags the tube out of its bin, and across a minefield. The charge is then exploded. The blast overpressure will cause mines in the vicinity to sympathetically detonate. The Marines use a modified M1 tank hull, the Assault Breacher Vehicle, as a launch platform for the MCLIC, though it can be adapted to several other mounts, including a trailer mount towed by a Humvee. The first part of the video is interesting as it shows how the MCLIC is set up on the vehicle, and gives you a decent look at the rocket itself.


The second half of the video shows five or six of a man portable, much smaller version of the MCLIC, known as the APOBS or Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System being used to clear mines/IEDs from an open lot in the village.


Best of all, there’s some great splodey.

Small Emplacement Excavator

An emplacement is one way of saying “fighting position” which is the Army way of saying foxhole.

For my first enlistment, this was a small emplacement excavator.

As you might imagine, digging a hole 6’x3’x6’ by hand with that is not merely unpleasant, but also time consuming. And time is the one commodity no commander can ever receive replacements for.

Now, while the primary responsibility for digging an individual emplacement is always with, well, the individual, the Army also realizes that the three-fold mission of Combat Engineers is mobility, countermobility, and survivability. And nothing improves survivability like a good fighting position. And so the Army sought to field a vehicle that could help the poor grunts dig in faster.

The result was the rather ungainly SEE, or Small Emplacement Excavator. By attaching several hydraulic accessories to the popular German made Unimog truck, the Engineers had backhoe/bucket loader with respectable on road speed, and theoretical off road mobility.

As a grunt, I very rarely saw a SEE, but when I did, it was certainly nice to watch someone else dig a hole for me.

LCPL A.W. Chatman of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion operates the backhoe at the rear of a SEE (Small Emplacement Excavator) as he helps dig protective positions for the vehicles and equipment of Task Force Breach Alpha during Operation Desert Storm, February 1991

But while I liked the SEE, it was, in my experience, pretty much universally loathed by the operators. It was quite top heavy, and aside from plowing snow, the front bucket was next to useless for earthmoving. It did however, aid in stability when using the backhoe.


Entering in service in 1985, and widely fielded within just a couple years, the Army officially phased them out in 2005, th0ugh a few served a couple more years.

The need for a similar vehicle hadn’t gone away, however. So the Army instead turned to the HMEE, High Mobility Engineering Excavator. Made by British tractor company JCB, the “Himmy” fulfills the same role, but on a purpose built chassis. It shares a similar layout to most backhoes, but is much faster on a roadway, while still maintaining good off road mobility.

JCB High-Mobility Engineer Excavator Type I

First fielded in 2007, the Army bought about 800 units.


In the end though, most of the time, the average grunt will still be digging his own position.

M9 Armored Combat Earthmover

The three primary missions of the Engineers in combat are mobility, counter-mobility, and force protection. Rather obviously, this means ensuring our freedom of maneuver, by improving roads and reducing obstacles, both natural and man made; emplacing obstacles to slow, channel or turn an enemy force; and digging or building positions for friendly forces.

As you might expect, a large portion of this can be accomplished by earthmoving. As a mechanized Infantryman mounted on a Bradley, my most common interaction with the Engineers was when we had a D7 bulldozer dig fighting positions for our vehicles.

Merely pushing a berm in front of the position does little to offer protection for fighting vehicles. While it might defeat HEAT rounds, kinetic rounds hardly notice a dirt berm before passing through the frontal armor, engine block, turret basket and troop compartment and then exiting the rear ramp armor. So the position is dug deep enough to fully conceal the vehicle. But the vehicle also has to be able to fight from the position, so there is a step on the front half of the position that the Bradley can drip up on, exposing only the turret, giving it a field of fire. Pop up, shoot, scoot back, scan for the next target. In gunnery terms, this is known as a “berm drill.”

While the D7 bulldozer is very, very well suited for digging said positions, it is not without its drawbacks.

First, it is completely unarmored. If the position isn’t completely secure, the operator is at an unacceptable risk. But failing to construct the positions then places the fighting vehicles at a completely unacceptable risk.

Secondly, the D7 is rather slow, with a maximum speed of around 7 miles per hour. That means it has to be transported from location to location on a heavy equipment trailer. That also means the trailer is restricted to relatively good terrain. The truck and trailer also are unarmored, and add an additional logistical, manning, and maintenance burden.

And so, starting in the late 1980s, the Army began fielding a lightweight vehicle known as the M9 ACE or Armored Combat Earthmover. A relatively lightweight tracked vehicle with a bulldozer blade on front, it was proof against small arms fire and artillery fragments. The driver was protected. The hydropnuematic suspension allowed it to travel cross country, and on roads at a respectable 30 miles per hour or so. Maybe not enough to keep up with Bradley’s and M1 Abrams, but enough that the wait for ACE shouldn’t be too long.

Light weight is a disadvantage for a bulldozer, though. The tracks need significant weight on them to increase the dozing ability. So the M9 can actually also act as a grader/scraper, and load a ballast compartment just behind the blade with earth to improve its earthmoving ability. When it is done, it can also eject that earth. In between missions, that space can be used to carry cargo or engineer supplies.


My experience with the M9 is very limited. I have heard that some dozer operators didn’t like it, and felt it was a rather poor earthmover, especially those who had previous experience with the D7. It has also had a long, long history of maintenance issues, primarily associated with its complex suspension system.

What’s especially interesting is the long development time of the M9. As I mentioned, the Army didn’t start buying the M9 until the late 1980s. But that doesn’t mean it was a new design. Its design actually dates back to the early 1960s.


With a few minor changes, the UET would become the M9. So why the 20 year gap between design and fielding? First, just as the Army was finishing development, Vietnam happened. And the money that would have gone for the UET instead went to fighting that war. In the years after Vietnam, the Army’s funding priorities were on the Big Five, the M1, M2/M3, UH-60, AH-64, and Patriot missile. It wasn’t until those programs were well in hand that other priorities could be addressed.


As World War II loomed, the importance of airpower at the tactical level was forefront in the minds of many folks in our Army. The Blitzkrieg through the Low Countries and France only served to reinforce this school of thought. Accordingly, the Army and the Army Air Forces sought ways to improve US airpower. In many theaters, such as North Africa and especially in the Pacific, the land campaign would serve largely as a means of advancing airfields.

But unlike today, there just weren’t a lot of airfields anywhere. If the Army Air Forces wanted an airfield, chances were, they would have to build one from scratch. The trouble was, AAF didn’t have any capability to build airfields. Enter the Engineers.

The Engineers were in a bit of an odd position during the war. Historically considered one of the Combat Arms, during World War II, they were reclassified instead as one of the services. But it wasn’t as simple as that. The wide range of engineering duties in the war meant Engineer units were to serve with the Army Ground Forces (AGF), the Army Service Forces (ASF), and with the Army Air Forces.  The engineers serving with the AAF were generally assigned to Aviation Engineer Battalions (AEB).

An AEB was a relatively small battalion, primarily tasked with construction duties. Lavishly equipped with construction equipment such as graders, sheepsfoot rollers, bulldozes and scrapers. Dozens of AEBs were activated for service in every theater of the war, and they built hundreds of airfields.

The most obvious task in building an airfield is, of course, the runway. After grading an appropriate strip, many had Pierced Steel Planking  overlaid to help support the heavier weights of aircraft, especially in areas with lots of rain.

But a runway does not a combat airfield make. There were plenty more engineering tasks besides that. Parking and dispersal areas, maintenance areas, bomb dumps, fuel dumps, housing and messing facilities for the aviators, drainage and sewerage for the field, and improvements to local defenses were also prime tasks.  An operational airfield might be build in just a matter of days.

The AEBs also repaired damage to airfields from enemy air raids, and provided limited local defense against ground attack (there’s that secondary infantry role again).

Finally, when they weren’t actively building airfields, the AEBs were used by theater commanders to improve infrastructure. Often this meant building roads from port facilities to airfields.

After the war, when the Air Force gained its independence, it no longer had call upon Army Engineers. The introduction of high performance jet aircraft made the role of AEBs seem superfluous. But experience in Vietnam showed that there was still a role for deployable engineering forces beyond the normal housekeeping capabilities of most Air Force Wings.  Accordingly, the Air Force in 1966 activated the first RED HORSE squadrons.

Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers initially provided repairs to airfields damaged by VC attacks in Vietnam, but have since proven invaluable during expeditionary operations in the Post Cold War era.


When the Air Force deployed huge numbers of aircraft to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, the problem became,where to put them? The Saudi regime had built quite a few bare bones airfields. Consisting of little more than a large runway and ramp space, these airfields were swarmed by RED HORSE squadrons and quickly developed into airfields capable of supporting operations. Similarly, airfields in Iraq, Afghanistan and several other of the ‘stans have been improved by RED HORSE to support operations in the War on Terror.