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Jan 14 2021

Military Engineering in the Baltic Sea Region. No business as usual!

"I can have all the divisions and brigades in the world, I can have all the tanks and infantry; but without proper Long-Range Fires, without proper Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Recnnaissance (ISTAR), without proper logistics and without proper Military Engineering capabilities, it doesn't really matter." – said Lieutenant General Sławomir Wojciechowski, the Commander of Multinational Corps Northeast (MNC NE), at the Combat Engineer Conference held in Kraków in 2019. Such a strong statement really sets the bar high.

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Bridge crossing, BISON DRAWSKO'17 / Photo by Hille Hillinga, Mediacentrum Defensie (MCD)

HOW IT BEGAN

High expectations were meeting big challenges. Someone had to successfully face, synchronize and coordinate all requirements related to Military Engineering (MILENG). Multinational Corps Northeast's Joint Engineer Division (JENGR) was created in 2015 for this exact purpose. As the NATO Wales Summit of 2014 focused on Article 5 operations and NATO's reassurance measures in its north-eastern region, the natural consequence was that military engineers – after about 25 years of being engaged in Out-of-Area Peace Support and, later on, counter-insurgency operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan – had to reinvent the long-forgotten principles for the Military Engineering Support of Article 5 operations, i.e. high-intensity warfare.

WHAT MAKES US DIFFERENT

As a consequence, some prominent keywords like Mine Warfare, Wide-Gap River Crossing, Reserved Demolitions, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), along with many other combat support skills and operational MILENG factors that used to be routine during the Cold War, have taken centre stage again. In the new security environment, all of these requirements must be considered and in place in order to build up and achieve a credible deterrence.

This article will shed light on the challenges and achievements of MNC NE's engineers since the division's establishment and assumption of the new role. For sure, a major milestone was reached with the Combat Readiness Evaluation during Exercise SABER STRIKE 2017, when the whole staff including JENGR performed at a very high level and achieved an outstanding final result. The big exercises that followed, e.g. the ANAKONDA series or the VJTF deployments executed during NOBLE JUMP and BRILLIANT JUMP, guaranteed that the necessary skills were preserved and developed.

THE CHALLENGES

Although there are Engineers in each of the nine High-Readiness Force Land Headquarters, what is it that makes the Engineers of MNC NE different to all the others? It is our distinctive mission and clearly defined Area of Operations (AOO) with borders that amount to over 1000 kilometres in length, just like the complete former Iron Curtain. We have the responsibility to assess and shape one of the most challenging terrains with, for example, more than 67,000 bridges to be taken into consideration in every operation. A combination of road and rail systems creates a special need for detailed coordination and synchronization of forces' movement. In addition, there is a significant number of on-the-ground Engineer troops under our command and control, such as those from Multinational Divisions North and North-East (MND-N and MND-NE), NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU) and enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups (eFP BG). It is on us to ensure coordination and synchronization of all our MILENG activities in highly developed, independent and sovereign European States. This also entails facilitating alignment with the Host Nations' Engineer units and Staff Elements in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. As the main MILENG information hub for all incoming troops, we keep Engineer intelligence related to our AOO ready at hand.

HOW WE MANAGE IT

Obviously, the above list could be continued. Yet, at this point, it becomes clear that it is the combination of all these factors that makes our task unique. To satisfy the needs of this special role, JENGR is organized in principle in a three-pillar structure encompassing the Operations, Plans and Infrastructure/Resources Branches. Each of them is designated to assist the respective MNC NE staff section – Operations, Plans and Support.

Whilst the Engineer Operations Branch naturally focuses on executing an operation and maintaining the Recognized Engineer Picture, Plans and Infrastructure/Resources have their defined roles as well. The Engineer Plans Branch synchronizes the overall Military Engineering efforts. It ensures integration and coherence with the operational level as well as with subordinate units and staffs in the assigned AOO. In order to achieve this, JENGR organizes the annual Regional Engineer Conference. This symposium aims at improving the coordination of planning and preparation between operational- and tactical-level headquarters in the NATO's North-East. In 2019, this very event was hosted in Riga by NATO Force Integration Unit Latvia and the Latvian Joint National Armed Forces Headquarters. The conference saw 40 high-ranking participants representing engineers from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCBS), Allied Land Command (LANDCOM), NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs), Multinational Division North East (MND-NE), Multinational Division North (MND-N), NATO enchanced Foreward Presence Battlegroup Lithuania (eFP BG LTU), all Host Nations, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR), DEU Army Concepts and Capabilities Development Centre, MILENG Centre of Excelence, and Multinational Division Central (MND-C). Additionally, our Plans Branch provides expertise for the operational planning process of the Land Operations Planning Group and contributes to all MILENG-related tasks, concepts, procedures, projects, training, exercises and assessments.

Although all military operations require the consideration of their impact on the civilian population, perhaps none of the possible determinants is as significant as infrastructure. With finite resources available, it is a true challenge to balance these – sometimes conflicting and sometimes intersecting – requirements. Civilian infrastructure often lacks redundancy, while military operations seek it. Being a link between national and Allied resources, JENGR provides analysis and advice to higher headquarters regarding the potential impact on the mission and the civilian population concerning all infrastructure-related matters. Infrastructure belongs to a constant life cycle of construction, maintenance and repair. JENGR provides assessments, evaluations and recommendations to ensure that civilians and militaries across the Baltic Sea Region have the infrastructure they need for daily life and operations. Through channelling our efforts in the areas of repair, protection, improvement and new construction, MNC NE Engineers stand ready for current and future operations as well as for supporting those who we serve and guard.

Story by Lieutenant Colonel Henning Wilkens, JENGR, Multinational Corps Northeast

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