British Army - Royal Engineers - Combat Engineering Roles - a8a1.2 -Armed Forces



Combat engineer support to military operations may be summarised under the following headings:

  • Mobility

  • Counter-mobility

  • Protection


The capability to deliver firepower, troops and supplies to any part of the battlefield is crucial to success. Combat engineers use their skills to overcome physical obstacles both natural and man-made, ensuring that armoured and mechanised troops can reach their targets and fight effectively.

Combat Engineers employ a wide variety of equipment, including tank-mounted, amphibious and girder bridges, to cross physical barriers. This equipment can be rapidly deployed to any part of the battlefield to ensure minimum interruption to progress.

Combat engineers are trained and equipped to clear enemy minefields which block or hinder movement. All combat engineers are trained to clear minefields by hand with the minimum risk. They also employ a number of explosive and mechanical devices to clear paths through minefields.

Combat engineers are also trained to detect and to destroy booby traps.

Improving the mobility of own and friendly forces may include the following tasks:

  • Route clearance and maintenance

  • Construction and maintenance of diversionary routes

  • Routes to and from hides

  • Bridging, rafting and assisting amphibious vehicles at water obstacles

  • Detection and clearance of mines and booby traps

  • Assisting the movement of heavy artillery and communications units

  • Preparation of landing sites for helicopters


Counter-mobility is the term used to describe efforts to hinder enemy movement. Combat engineers aim to ensure that hostile forces cannot have freedom of mobility. Combat engineers are trained in the use of explosive charges to create obstacles, crater roads and destroy bridges. In this role, the combat engineer may be required to delay detonation until the last possible moment to allow the withdrawal of friendly forces in the face of an advancing enemy.

Combat engineers are also responsible for laying anti-tank mines, either by hand or mechanically, to damage vehicles and disrupt enemy forces. Combat engineers are trained to handle these devices safely and deploy them to maximum effect. Combat engineers are also trained for setting booby traps.

Earthwork defences, ditches and obstacles - one of the earliest forms of battlefield engineering - are also used to prevent the advance of enemy vehicles. Hindering enemy movement may include the following tasks:

  • Construction of minefields

  • Improvement of natural obstacles by demolitions, cratering, and barricades

  • Nuisance mining and booby traps

  • Route denial

  • Construction of obstacles to armoured vehicle movement, such as tank ditches


Construction of field defences is a core task for combat engineers. The capability to protect troops, equipment and weapons is critical. Combat engineers provide advice and assistance to the other parts of the Land Forces and the other services on the best methods of concealment and camouflage, and use mechanised plant to construct defensive positions and blast-proof screens.

Protection for troops in defensive positions may include field defences, minefields, wire, and other obstacles. Because of their commitment to other primary roles, there may be little engineer assistance available for the construction of defensive positions. What assistance can be given would normally be in the form of earth-moving plant to assist in digging, and advice on the design and methods of construction of field defences and obstacles.

Combat Engineers Military Works units have design and management teams that can provide military infrastructure support to all armed services and other government departments. Secondary protection roles include:

  • Water and power supply in forward areas

  • Technical advice on counter-surveillance with particular reference to camouflage and deception

  • Destruction of equipment

  • Intelligence

A major Engineer commitment in the forward area is the construction, maintenance and repair, of dispersed airfields for aircraft and landing sites for helicopters.

Non-Combat Engineering

Combat engineers also perform non-combat tasks during national peacetime contingencies and multilateral peace support operations in foreign countries, including:

  • General support engineering, including airfield damage repair and repair of ancillary installations for fuel and power, construction of temporary buildings, power and water supplies, repair and construction of POL pipelines and storage facilities, and construction and routine maintenance of airstrips and helicopter landing sites

  • Survey including maps and aeronautical charts.

  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal including terrorist and insurgent bombs

  • Traffic Movement Lights for mobilisation and exercises.

  • Postal and courier services for all the Armed Forces

Recent coalition and peace support operations have highlighted the importance of combat engineers in all spheres of military activity. During the period 1993 - 2011, the multitude of tasks for which engineer support has been requested has stretched the resources of the Corps to its limit.

Engineers are almost always among the first priorities in any call for support: tracks must be improved, roads built, accommodation constructed for soldiers and refugees, clean water provided and mined areas cleared. For example during 2003, 22 Engineer Regiment (operating in Iraq) was tasked to supply a quick fix to problem areas along the diesel pipeline for the Oil Security Force (OSF), and to ensure regular supplies of water for the Iraqi population in Basra and the surrounding urban areas.