Military engineering

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Relief map of the Citadel of Lille, designed in 1668 by Vauban, the foremost military engineer of his age. Grondplan citadel Lille.JPG
Relief map of the Citadel of Lille, designed in 1668 by Vauban, the foremost military engineer of his age.

Military engineering is loosely defined as the art, science, and practice of designing and building military works and maintaining lines of military transport and military communications. Military engineers are also responsible for logistics behind military tactics. Modern military engineering differs from civil engineering. In the 20th and 21st centuries, military engineering also includes other engineering disciplines such as mechanical and electrical engineering techniques. [1]

Military communications military operations and doctrine regarding communications

Military communications or military signals involve all aspects of communications, or conveyance of information, by armed forces. Military communications span from pre-history to the present. The earliest military communications were delivered by runners. Later, communications progressed to visual and audible signals, and then advanced into the electronic age. Examples from Jane's Military Communications include text, audio, facsimile, tactical ground-based communications, terrestrial microwave, tropospheric scatter, naval, satellite communications systems and equipment, surveillance and signal analysis, encryption and security and direction-finding and jamming.

Logistics management of the flow of resources

Logistics is generally the detailed organization and implementation of a complex operation. In a general business sense, logistics is the management of the flow of things between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet requirements of customers or corporations. The resources managed in logistics may include tangible goods such as materials, equipment, and supplies, as well as food and other consumable items. The logistics of physical items usually involves the integration of information flow, materials handling, production, packaging, inventory, transportation, warehousing, and often security.

Civil engineering engineering discipline and economic branch specialising in design, construction and maintenance of the built environment

Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including public works such as roads, bridges, canals, dams, airports, sewerage systems, pipelines, structural components of buildings, and railways. Civil engineering is traditionally broken into a number of sub-disciplines. It is considered the second-oldest engineering discipline after military engineering, and it is defined to distinguish non-military engineering from military engineering. Civil engineering takes place in the public sector from municipal through to national governments, and in the private sector from individual homeowners through to international companies.


According to NATO, "military engineering is that engineer activity undertaken, regardless of component or service, to shape the physical operating environment. Military engineering incorporates support to maneuver and to the force as a whole, including military engineering functions such as engineer support to force protection, counter-improvised explosive devices, environmental protection, engineer intelligence and military search. Military engineering does not encompass the activities undertaken by those 'engineers' who maintain, repair and operate vehicles, vessels, aircraft, weapon systems and equipment." [2]

NATO Intergovernmental military alliance of Western states

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO's Headquarters are located in Haren, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium.

Military engineering is an academic subject taught in military academies or schools of military engineering. The construction and demolition tasks related to military engineering are usually performed by military engineers including soldiers trained as sappers or pioneers. [3] In modern armies, soldiers trained to perform such tasks while well forward in battle and under fire are often called combat engineers.

Soldier one who serves as part of an organized armed force

A soldier is one who fights as part of an army. A soldier can be a conscripted or volunteer enlisted person, a non-commissioned officer, or an officer.

Sapper soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties

A sapper, also called pioneer or combat engineer, is a combatant or soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defenses, as well as working on road and airfield construction and repair. They are also trained to serve as infantry personnel in defensive and offensive operations. A sapper's duties are devoted to tasks involving facilitating movement, defence and survival of allied forces and impeding those of enemies. The term "sapper" is used in the British Army and Commonwealth nations, Polish Army and the U.S. military. The word "sapper" comes from the French word sapeur, itself being derived from the verb saper.

Pioneer (military) soldier tasked with engineering and construction

A pioneer is a soldier employed to perform engineering and construction tasks. The term is in principle similar to sapper.

In some countries, military engineers may also perform non-military construction tasks in peacetime such as flood control and river navigation works, but such activities do not fall within the scope of military engineering.

Flood control methods used to reduce or prevent the detrimental effects of flood waters

Flood control methods are used to reduce or prevent the detrimental effects of flood waters. Flood relief methods are used to reduce the effects of flood waters or high water levels.


The word engineer was initially used in the context of warfare, dating back to 1325 when engine’er (literally, one who operates an engine) referred to "a constructor of military engines". [4] In this context, "engine" referred to a military machine, i. e., a mechanical contraption used in war (for example, a catapult).

Catapult ballistic device

A catapult is a ballistic device used to launch a projectile a great distance without the aid of explosive devices—particularly various types of ancient and medieval siege engines. In use since ancient times, the catapult has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms during warfare. In modern times the term can apply to devices ranging from a simple hand-held implement to a mechanism for launching aircraft from a ship.

As the design of civilian structures such as bridges and buildings developed as a technical discipline, the term civil engineering [5] entered the lexicon as a way to distinguish between those specializing in the construction of such non-military projects and those involved in the older discipline. As the prevalence of civil engineering outstripped engineering in a military context and the number of disciplines expanded, the original military meaning of the word "engineering" is now largely obsolete. In its place, the term "military engineering" has come to be used.


Aerial view of Mulberry harbour "B" (27 October 1944) MulberryB - Piers.jpg
Aerial view of Mulberry harbour "B" (27 October 1944)

The first civilization to have a dedicated force of military engineering specialists were the Romans, whose army contained a dedicated corps of military engineers known as architecti. This group was pre-eminent among its contemporaries. The scale of certain military engineering feats, such as the construction of a double-wall of fortifications 30 miles (48 km) long, in just 6 weeks to completely encircle the besieged city of Alesia in 52 B.C.E., is an example. Such military engineering feats would have been completely new, and probably bewildering and demoralizing, to the Gallic defenders. The best known of these Roman army engineers due to his writings surviving is Vitruvius.

In ancient times, military engineers were responsible for siege warfare and building field fortifications, temporary camps and roads. The most notable engineers of ancient times were the Romans and Chinese, who constructed huge siege-machines (catapults, battering rams and siege towers). The Romans were responsible for constructing fortified wooden camps and paved roads for their legions. Many of these Roman roads are still in use today. [6]

For 500 years after the fall of the Roman empire, the practice of military engineering barely evolved in the west. In fact, much of the classic techniques and practices of Roman military engineering were lost. Through this period, the foot soldier (who was pivotal to much of the Roman military engineering capability) was largely replaced by mounted soldiers. It was not until later in the Middle Ages, that military engineering saw a revival focused on siege warfare. [7]

Military engineers planned castles and fortresses. When laying siege, they planned and oversaw efforts to penetrate castle defenses. When castles served a military purpose, one of the tasks of the sappers was to weaken the bases of walls to enable them to be breached before means of thwarting these activities were devised. Broadly speaking, sappers were experts at demolishing or otherwise overcoming or bypassing fortification systems.

Working dress of the Royal Military Artificers in Gibraltar, 1795 Royal Military Artificers working dress 1795.jpg
Working dress of the Royal Military Artificers in Gibraltar, 1795

With the 14th-century development of gunpowder, new siege engines in the form of cannons appeared. Initially military engineers were responsible for maintaining and operating these new weapons just as had been the case with previous siege engines. In England, the challenge of managing the new technology resulted in the creation of the Office of Ordnance around 1370 in order to administer the cannons, armaments and castles of the kingdom. Both military engineers and artillery formed the body of this organization and served together until the office's predecessor, the Board of Ordnance was disbanded in 1855. [8]

In comparison to older weapons, the cannon was significantly more effective against traditional medieval fortifications. Military engineering significantly revised the way fortifications were built in order to be better protected from enemy direct and plunging shot. The new fortifications were also intended to increase the ability of defenders to bring fire onto attacking enemies. Fort construction proliferated in 16th-century Europe based on the trace italienne design. [9]

French sappers during the Battle of Berezina in 1812 Lawrence Alma-Tadema 12.jpeg
French sappers during the Battle of Berezina in 1812

By the 18th century, regiments of foot (infantry) in the British, French, Prussian and other armies included pioneer detachments. In peacetime these specialists constituted the regimental tradesmen, constructing and repairing buildings, transport wagons, etc. On active service they moved at the head of marching columns with axes, shovels, and pickaxes, clearing obstacles or building bridges to enable the main body of the regiment to move through difficult terrain. The modern Royal Welch Fusiliers and French Foreign Legion still maintain pioneer sections who march at the front of ceremonial parades, carrying chromium-plated tools intended for show only. Other historic distinctions include long work aprons and the right to wear beards.

The Peninsular War (1808–14) revealed deficiencies in the training and knowledge of officers and men of the British Army in the conduct of siege operations and bridging. During this war low-ranking Royal Engineers officers carried out large-scale operations. They had under their command working parties of two or three battalions of infantry, two or three thousand men, who knew nothing in the art of siegeworks. Royal Engineers officers had to demonstrate the simplest tasks to the soldiers, often while under enemy fire. Several officers were lost and could not be replaced, and a better system of training for siege operations was required. On 23 April 1812 an establishment was authorised, by Royal Warrant, to teach "Sapping, Mining, and other Military Fieldworks" to the junior officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the Corps of Royal Military Artificers, Sappers and Miners.

The first courses at the Royal Engineers Establishment were done on an all ranks basis with the greatest regard to economy. To reduce staff the NCOs and officers were responsible for instructing and examining the soldiers. If the men could not read or write they were taught to do so, and those who could read and write were taught to draw and interpret simple plans. The Royal Engineers Establishment quickly became the centre of excellence for all fieldworks and bridging. Captain Charles Pasley, the director of the Establishment, was keen to confirm his teaching, and regular exercises were held as demonstrations or as experiments to improve the techniques and teaching of the Establishment. From 1833 bridging skills were demonstrated annually by the building of a pontoon bridge across the Medway which was tested by the infantry of the garrison and the cavalry from Maidstone. These demonstrations had become a popular spectacle for the local people by 1843, when 43,000 came to watch a field day laid on to test a method of assaulting earthworks for a report to the Inspector General of Fortifications. In 1869 the title of the Royal Engineers Establishment was changed to "The School of Military Engineering" (SME) as evidence of its status, not only as the font of engineer doctrine and training for the British Army, but also as the leading scientific military school in Europe.

A Bailey bridge being deployed in the Korean War to replace a bridge destroyed in combat. Baileys Bridge in Korea.jpg
A Bailey bridge being deployed in the Korean War to replace a bridge destroyed in combat.

The dawn of the internal combustion engine marked the beginning of a significant change in military engineering. With the arrival of the automobile at the end of the 19th century and heavier than air flight at the start of the 20th century, military engineers assumed a major new role in supporting the movement and deployment of these systems in war. Military engineers gained vast knowledge and experience in explosives. They were tasked with planting bombs, landmines and dynamite.

At the end of World War I, the standoff on the Western Front caused the Imperial German Army to gather experienced and particularly skilled soldiers to form "Assault Teams" which would break through the Allied trenches. With enhanced training and special weapons (such as flamethrowers), these squads achieved some success, but too late to change the outcome of the war. In early WWII, however, the Wehrmacht "Pioniere" battalions proved their efficiency in both attack and defense, somewhat inspiring other armies to develop their own combat engineers battalions. Notably, the attack on Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium was conducted by Luftwaffe glider-deployed combat engineers.

The need to defeat the German defensive positions of the "Atlantic wall" as part of the amphibious landings in Normandy in 1944 led to the development of specialist combat engineer vehicles. These, collectively known as Hobart's Funnies, included a specific vehicle to carry combat engineers, the Churchill AVRE. These and other dedicated assault vehicles were organised into the specialised 79th Armoured Division and deployed during Operation Overlord – 'D-Day'.

Other significant military engineering projects of World War II include Mulberry harbour and Operation Pluto.

Modern military engineering still retains the Roman role of building field fortifications, road paving and breaching terrain obstacles. A notable military engineering task was, for example, breaching the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.


Military engineers can come from a variety of engineering programs. They may be graduates of mechanical, electrical, civil, or industrial engineering. [10]


Modern military engineering can be divided into three main tasks or fields: combat engineering, strategic support, and ancillary support. Combat engineering is associated with engineering on the battlefield. Combat engineers are responsible for increasing mobility on the front lines of war such as digging trenches and building temporary facilities in war zones. [11] Strategic support is associated with providing service in communication zones such as the construction of airfields and the improvement and upgrade of ports, roads and railways communication. Ancillary support includes provision and distribution of maps as well as the disposal of unexploded warheads. Military engineers construct bases, airfields, roads, bridges, ports, and hospitals. During peacetime before modern warfare, military engineers took the role of civil engineers by participating in the construction of civil-works projects. Nowadays, military engineers are almost entirely engaged in war logistics and preparedness. [1]

Explosives Engineering

Explosives are defined as any system that produces rapidly expanding gases in a given volume in a short duration. [12] Specific military engineering occupations also extend to the field of explosives and demolitions and their usage on the battlefield. Explosive devices have been used throughout history on the battlefield for numerous operations from combat to area clearance. Earliest know develops of explosives can be traced back to 10th century China where the Chinese are credited with engineering the worlds first known explosive, black powder. [13] Initially developed for recreational purposes, black powder later was utilized for military application in bombs and projectile propulsion in firearms. Engineers in the military who specialize in this field formulate and design many explosive devices to use in varying operating conditions. Such explosive compounds range from black powder to modern plastic explosives. [14] This particular is commonly listed under the role of combat engineers who demolitions expertise also includes mine and IED detection and disposal. For more information, see Bomb disposal.

Institutions & Professional Associations

The American 341st Engineer Company building a ribbon bridge 341st company building ribbon bridge.jpg
The American 341st Engineer Company building a ribbon bridge

The NATO Military Engineering Center of Excellence (MilEng CoE) is co-located with the German Army Military Engineer School in Ingolstadt. Prior to becoming a NATO CoE, the institute was known as the Euro NATO Training Engineer Centre (ENTEC) and it was located in Munich. As ENTEC, the institute was mandated to conduct military engineer interoperability training for participating nations. As the MilEng CoE, the institute's mandate has expanded to include doctrine and NATO standardization agreements (STANAGs) related to military engineering.

Military engineering by country

Military engineers are key in all armed forces of the world, and invariably found either closely integrated into the force structure, or even into the combat units of the national troops.



Canadian Military Engineers


The Danish military engineering corps is almost entirely organized into one regiment, simply named "Ingeniørregimentet" ("The Engineering Regiment").


Pioniertruppe (Bundeswehr)  [ de ]


The French Engineering Arm laying a bridge Slovakia Town Presov 270.jpg
The French Engineering Arm laying a bridge
Engineering Arm, including the Paris Fire Brigade


Indian Army Corps of Engineers


Indonesian Army Corps of Engineers


Irish Army Engineer Corps


The Israeli combat engineer Corps motto is "Rishonim Tamid" Hebrew : ראשונים תמיד, meaning "Always first".

New Zealand
Corps of Royal New Zealand Engineers
Ingeniørbataljonen ("The Engineer Battalion")

South Africa: South African Army Engineer Formation

Sri Lanka
United Kingdom
Corps of Royal Engineers
The Royal School of Military Engineering is the main training establishment for the British Army's Royal Engineers. The RSME also provides training for the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, other Arms and Services of the British Army, Other Government Departments, and Foreign and Commonwealth countries as required. These skills provide vital components in the Army's operational capability, and Royal Engineers are currently deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kenya, Brunei, Falklands, Belize, Germany and Northern Ireland. Royal Engineers also take part in exercises in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Italy, Egypt, Jordan, Canada, Poland and the United States.
United States

The prevalence of military engineering in the United States dates back to the American Revolutionary War when engineers would carry out tasks in the U.S. Army. During the war, they would map terrain to and build fortifications to protect troops from opposing forces. The first military engineering organization in the United States was the Army Corps of Engineers. Engineers were responsible for protecting military troops whether using fortifications or designing new technology and weaponry throughout the United States’ history of warfare. The Army originally claimed engineers exclusively, but as the U.S. military branches expanded to the sea and sky, the need for military engineering sects in all branches increased. As each branch of the United States military expanded, technology adapted to fit their respective needs. [15]

Vietnamese Army Corps of Engineers

See also

Notable military engineers

Related Research Articles

Combat engineer military occupation

A combat engineer is a soldier who performs a variety of construction and demolition tasks under combat conditions.

130th Engineer Brigade (United States)

The 130th Engineer Brigade is an engineer brigade of the United States Army based in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. It provides engineering support to the United States Army Pacific command. The brigade specializes in combat engineering, construction, and bridging operations.

Royal Danish Army land warfare branch of Denmarks military

The Royal Danish Army is the land-based branch of the Danish Defence, together with the Danish Home Guard. For the last decade, the Royal Danish Army has undergone a massive transformation of structures, equipment and training methods, abandoning its traditional role of anti-invasion defence, and instead focusing on out of area operations by, among other initiatives, reducing the size of the conscripted and reserve components and increasing the active component, changing from 60% support structure and 40% operational capability, to 60% combat operational capability and 40% support structure. When fully implemented, the Danish Army will be capable of deploying 1,500 troops permanently on three different continents continuously, or 5,000 troops for a shorter period of time, in international operations without any need for extraordinary measures such as parliamentary approval of a war funding bill.

Israeli Combat Engineering Corps Israeli Army functional combat engineering corps

The Israeli Combat Engineering Corps is the combat engineering forces of the Israel Defense Forces.

20th Engineer Brigade (United States)

The 20th Engineer Brigade is a combat engineer brigade assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps of the United States Army stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Although the brigade was identified as an airborne unit, not all of its subordinate units were airborne qualified—despite the airborne tab as part of the unit patch. Soldiers of the 20th Engineer Brigade provide various supportive duties to other Army units, including construction, engineering, and mechanical work on other Army projects.

Rifleman infantry soldier armed with a service rifle

A rifleman is an infantry soldier armed with a rifled long gun. Although the rifleman role had its origin with 16th century hand cannoneers and 17th century musketeers, the term originated in the 18th century with the introduction of the rifled musket. By the mid-19th century, entire regiments of riflemen were formed and became the mainstay of all standard infantry, and rifleman became a generic term for any common infantryman.

Royal School of Military Engineering British military training institution

The Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) Group provides a wide range of training not only in all the engineering disciplines that are fundamental to the Royal Engineers, but also Military Working Animals; their handlers and maintainers, Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Military Musicians. The scope of training delivered by the RSME Group ranges from combat engineers to Army musicians, chartered engineers to veterinary technicians and bomb disposal operators to heavy plant operators.

The Military College of Engineering (MCE) is an engineering college located at Risalpur in Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It was established by the Pakistan Army. MCE conducts courses for officers which includes combat courses and as well as civil engineering degree for officers, technical gentlemen cadets and for civil students.

The Singapore Combat Engineers (SCE) is one of the combat arms of the Singapore Army. Combat Engineers provide mobility by bridging gaps and clearing minefields to facilitate speedy advance of troops into enemy territory, and counter-mobility by constructing obstacles such as anti-tank ditches to impede the enemy's movement. The Combat Engineers also construct trenches, drainage systems and other related infrastructure to enhance the survivability of troops during operations.

Canadian Military Engineers

The Canadian Military Engineers (CME) is the military engineer branch of the Canadian Armed Forces. Members of the branch who wear army uniform comprise the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers.

South African Army Engineer Formation

The South African Army Engineer Formation is the controlling entity of all South African Army military engineering units. The Formation is currently commanded by the General Officer Commanding (GOC); Brigadier General D.W. Nkosi, as of early 2013.

2 Combat Engineer Regiment is a regiment of the Canadian Military Engineers. It is located at Garrison Petawawa, and is part of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. 2 CER was redesignated from 1 Field Engineer Squadron in 1977.

Tunnel warfare warfare inside tunnels

Tunnel warfare is a general name for war being conducted in tunnels and other underground cavities. It often includes the construction of underground facilities in order to attack or defend, and the use of existing natural caves and artificial underground facilities for military purposes. Tunnels can be used to undermine fortifications and slip into enemy territory for a surprise attack, while it can strengthen a defence by creating the possibility of ambush, counterattack and the ability to transfer troops from one portion of the battleground to another unseen and protected. Also, tunnels can serve as shelter for combatants and non-combatants from enemy attack.

Indian Army Corps of Engineers Indian Army functional command responsible for military engineering

The Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army has a long history dating back to the mid-18th century. The earliest existing subunit of the Corps dates back to 1777 while the Corps officially recognises its birth as 1780 when the senior most group of the Corps, the Madras Sappers were raised.

Engineer Battalion (Estonia) Estonian specialized unit

Engineer Battalion is a combat engineering battalion of the Estonian Defence Forces, based out of Tapa Army Base. The unit falls under the command of 1st Infantry Brigade of Estonian Land Forces.

The United States first formed a military engineering capability on 16 June 1775, when the Continental Congress established an army with a chief engineer and two assistants. Subsequently, on 16 March 1802, the Corps of Engineers was organized by the President. Today, Military Engineers are grouped separately within each of the armed services.

107th Engineer Battalion

The 107th Engineer Battalion is a large unit of the Michigan Army National Guard stationed in Ishpeming Michigan. The unit operates in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and is composed of the Headquarters Company stationed in Ishpeming and 1430th, 1431st, 1432nd, and 1437th Engineer Companies which are stationed across other various cities in Northern Michigan with the battalion headquarters in Ishpeming, Michigan. The 507th Engineer Battalion of the Michigan National Guard is regarded as the sister unit to the 107th due to compromising of the same elements but being headquartered in the lower peninsula. The unit's motto is "Good as Done!"

South African Army Engineer School Mechanical engineer

The School of Engineers is part of the South African Army Engineer Formation, which provides combat engineering corps training and teaching to military officers and personnel as well as other Military Schools throughout the South African National Defence Force. They are currently the only Military School in Southern Africa to formally present IEDD.


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  4. Oxford English Dictionary
  5. Engineers' Council for Professional Development definition on Encyclopædia Britannica (Includes Britannica article on Engineering)
  6. Purton, Peter (April 2018). "The Medieval Military Engineer".
  7. Canadian Forces Publication, A-JS-007-003/JD-001 Customs and Traditions of the Canadian Military Engineers. 30 June 2003 [ permanent dead link ]
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