Support: January 16, 2000

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ENGINEERS REFUSE TO GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT: The US Army Corps of Engineers is outraged that it lost its most cherished new systems, the Grizzly engineer vehicle and the Wolverine Assault Bridge, in the recent round of force restructuring. These two key systems were lost in the search for money to create the new medium brigades.

The Engineers have always been an unusual bunch in the Army, being neither purely combat or purely support units. There have never been enough combat engineers for wartime needs or enough service & support engineers for peacetime needs. Modern mechanized armies cannot move without engineers to clear obstacles and build roads.

During the last years of the Cold War, the engineers finally achieved their greatest victory, doubling the number of engineers in each combat division and creating an engineer brigade headquarters (and jobs for full colonels of engineers). Recent Army moves have been made to disband the brigade headquarters, replacing it with a "control cell" lead by a lower-ranking lieutenant colonel while keeping all three engineer battalions in each division.
The design for the new medium brigades outraged the Corps of Engineers even more, by including a platoon of engineers in each battalion without providing for a company headquarters at brigade level. To the Corps of Engineers, this amounts to stealing their troops (and the jobs for senior engineer officers). Senior Army officers admitted that the shortage of engineers in the Medium Brigades was a serious risk and appear to have agreed to an engineer company headquarters, but not to the full battalion of engineers that a serious brigade would need in any real war contingency. The Chief of Staff of the Army has reportedly decided that there are too many Combat Support and Combat Service Support engineers, and plans to eliminate many of these (mostly in Guard and Reserve units)
But despite all of these travails, the Engineers had managed to win the war to preserve the Grizzly and Wolverine all the way up to CSA (Chief of Staff of the Army) level. They lost the war late on Christmas day in a closed-door session held by the Secretary of Defense. Secretary Cohen, more interested in building a constabulary peacekeeping Army than in maintaining a heavy armored combat force, focused on the two expensive engineer systems. (Because engineer equipment is bought in relatively small numbers -- too small according to the engineers -- it is often exceptionally expensive. And since it does not actually shoot at the enemy, outsiders rarely understand why it is needed.) In theory, the new lighter military force, conducting peacekeeping in already developed areas, would not need the bridges and obstacle breaching vehicles designed to support heavy armored divisions rampaging across Europe or the Middle East. The Chief of Staff of the Army, wanting his new medium brigades and (like many of the warriors) having no love for the engineers, was only too happy to give up Grizzly and Wolverine in order to preserve combat systems. The engineers protested that the cuts made no sense. Without the Wolverine Assault Bridge, the Army would need to pay for expensive improvements to the existing Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge systems, which cannot carry M1A1 tanks with any degree of certainty. The Chief of Staff, noting that the day of tank movements across Europe (where there is a good-sized stream every 10km) was over, denied the need for the improved bridges, noting that the existing bridges would carry his armored cars quiet handily. Ultimately, money to fix the old bridges was provided but only because they are worn out. The engineers insisted that if they were denied their new Grizzly Barrier-Breaching Vehicle, the Army would need a whole host of expensive things. Without Grizzly, the engineers want their squads to be given Bradleys. The CSA rejected this, saying that the engineers would need only trucks for peacekeeping duties. The engineers said they would need a replacement for the Mine-Clearing Line Charge system; the CSA said the days of breaching major minefields were over. Even if such minefields appear, information warfare will provide the medium brigades with the ability to move around them. The engineers said that without Grizzly the new Armored Combat Earthmover must be upgraded; the CSA insisted that the ACE was adequate to the new missions. The engineers noted that they had agreed to remove 57 men and nine armored bulldozers from each combat engineer battalion only because Grizzly was to provide so many new capabilities that these savings could be made. Without Grizzly, the engineers demanded that the CSA return the troops and bulldozers. He refused, citing that the new missions were within the capabilities of the smaller engineer units. 
Organizing for a counter attack on its greatest enemy (i.e., the rest of the Army), the Corps of Engineers is seeking to create a strategic vision that could replace piecemeal rear guard actions (which it has consistently lost). They want Congress to overrule the Pentagon's civilian leaders and restore the engineer brigade headquarters, as well as Wolverine Assault Bridge (or at least put Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges on M1 chassis). Recognizing that the Grizzly battle has been lost due to poor public relations, the engineers are throwing their weight behind the Future Combat System (the new tank) in the hopes of getting an engineer version of it. In the meantime, they want Bradleys, tanks with mine-clearing equipment, and a replacement for the Mine Clearing Line Charge. They will at least try to get enough Grizzlies built for the 4th "Digital" Mechanized Division, hoping that this showcase unit will make the case that such vehicles are critical. --Stephen V Cole

 


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