54th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Mechanized) FEMs.
While the current Sapper FEM provides the MIRC or HIRC commander with critical mobility skills in an austere environment, the package has serious shortcomings. In addition to supporting USAREUR's IRF, the 54th Engineer Battalion's relationship with SETAF has generated several new requirements for engineer forces that cry out for rapidly deployable packages of engineer capability not offered by its organic light sapper detachment. The intent of the 54th Engineer Battalion's Engineer Reconnaissance FEM and Countermine FEM is to provide USAREUR's initial-entry force with additional tools greatly needed to facilitate follow-on-force entry into EUCOM's area of operations.
Engineer Reconnaissance FEM. In order to bring heavier forces into the area of responsibility, rapid but thorough recon of transportation infrastructure is essential. As USAREUR found when bringing forces into Kosovo through Albania in 1999, detailed recon of routes, bridges, water crossings, and critical facilities is a first step in heavy-force entry. That kind of recon, with the capability to send data and photos of critical structures back to experts in both EUCOM and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, does not currently exist as a planned package for rapid deployment. The Engineer Reconnaissance FEM provides that capability on one C-130 transport.
The Engineer Reconnaissance FEM centers on a suite of automations and communications equipment known commercially as the Penmap system, which is on hand in the 54th Engineer Battalion. The following features, shown in the photo above, comprise this reconnaissance system.
Laser binoculars, called Vipers, attached to a standard precision lightweight Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver (PLGR), give precise grid coordinates of lased objects. The Viper's internal software package also computes bridge heights, facility widths, road slopes, and a host of other critical measurements. The Windows-based computer, currently loaded with Penmap software and with an associated Sunscreen handheld display, allows the operator to write directly on a digital map of the area while simultaneously recording key measurements on digital forms. Digital still and video cameras capture photographs of facilities and key structural members for reach-back analysis by nondeployed subject-matter experts. All of the digital information thus recorded--the measurements and images--can be transmitted through both a standard Single-Channel, Ground-to-Air Radio System (SINCGARS) using DataBurst or through the deployable Tele-Engineering Suite that will be part of the Engineer Reconnaissance FEM.
Six soldiers, two M998 HMMWVs, and one 3/4-ton trailer make up the base configuration of the Engineer Reconnaissance FEM. An engineer lieutenant leads the team and is focused on coordination with the IRF leadership, tactical employment of the team, and logistics. Two separate recon teams, each led by an engineer sergeant and assisted by a military occupational specialty (MOS) 12B sapper, conduct the actual recon missions. An MOS 31U communications specialist provides the expertise for transmitting the digital data to subject-matter experts and higher staffs. The FEM is expandable to eight soldiers if an MOS 62N30 horizontal-construction supervisor and U.S. Air Force Combat Control Team member are needed for a more detailed assessment of roads and airfields respectively.
The configuration and capabilities of the Engineer Reconnaissance FEM provide a superior intelligence capability for the follow-on-force commander and planners. The Reconnaissance System Suite of electronic tools can be easily adapted to vehicle or man-packed operational recon, if required by the force, in addition to the standard engineer recon of transportation infrastructure and terrain. The compact size of the FEM is also its primary shortfall. It lacks heavy weapons and armor for self-protection and has only minimal sustainment capabilities. However, as part of a larger IRF insertion, this FEM provides the tools necessary for planners to bring in a more robust ground presence.
Follow-On-Force Entry: As the Army transforms to be more deployable and immediately salient to the CINCs, rapid assessment of the existing road, bridge, and airfield infrastructure in places like Albania or the flood-ravaged countryside of Mozambique will be the linchpin to successful heavy-force entry in coming years.
Countermine FEM. While the Engineer Reconnaissance FEM is ready to deploy now with all equipment on hand, the 54th Engineer Battalion's Countermine FEM is an evolving package dependent on fielding countermine equipment to the unit. At its end state, this FEM will consist of a tailored package centered on an enhanced sapper platoon and robotic mine clearers. What makes this package different from the standard Sapper FEM will be the inclusion of the Army's newest countermine equipment, such as the Handheld Standoff Mine-Detection System (HSTAMIDS), the follow-on handheld mine-detection system, and other equipment found in the Countermine Capabilities Set (CMCS). The 130th Engineer Brigade is currently working with the Engineer School to posture a CMCS in Europe as well as procuring other engineering countermine systems.
In July-August 2001, two M1 Abrams Panther robotic mine proofers will be fielded to the 54th Engineer Battalion for training and possible support to the heavy company of the IRF, if needed. With the assets of the CMCS and robotic mine clearers, the 54th is postured to become the countermine center of expertise for contingency operations in EUCOM's area of responsibility.
At present, A Company, 54th Engineer Battalion, possesses and is trained to use the miniflail mine clearer. As shown in the photo on page 56, the miniflail is a lightweight, self-propelled, robotic mine clearer designed to clear footpaths or small areas of antipersonnel mines. Although the miniflail is currently included in the Sapper FEM, long-term training proficiency and subject-matter expertise are prevented by the monthly rotation of units. The 130th Engineer Brigade is currently developing a proposal to align A Company soldiers as the permanent miniflail team inside USAREUR's Sapper FEM.
As more components of the CMCS are procured and fielded to the 54th Engineer Battalion, a more robust, stand-alone countermine package will be created for contingency operations. Eventually, this will become a sapper platoon capable of providing point and lane countermine support to both combat forces like the IRF and contingencies in low-intensity environments, such as embassy support and assistance to humanitarian-relief missions in disputed regions.
Countermine Experts: When the 1st Armored Division Engineer Brigade's task force deployed to Bosnia in the winter of 1996, the 54th Engineer Battalion was one of three engineer battalions to conduct initial-entry operations in the Zone of Separation. Throughout the early '90s, the battalion had served as USAREUR's countermine experts, proficient on several fielded systems that had very unique capabilities not present or trained in the divisional battalions. On countless occasions, small trained packages of unique capability were deployed to perform countermine missions using specially tailored equipment. This FEM reestablishes that subject-matter expertise in a dedicated unit having rapidly deployable, trained teams with unique systems needed to support maneuver commanders.
Lieutenant Colonel Rapp commands the 54th Engineer Battalion, Bamberg, Germany.
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|Author:||Rapp, Lieutenant Colonel Bill|
|Publication:||Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers|
|Date:||May 1, 2001|
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