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Airborne engineers and LARP.

The 37th Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB), along with its parent unit, 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, assumed global response force (GRF) responsibility in October 2014. The GRF, supported by a BCT from the 82d Airborne Division, is prepared to deploy shortly after initial notification. The GRF and its enablers will remain mission-ready as long as it is designated as the GRF-1. U.S. Forces Command usually rotates airborne BCTs on a regular basis as a component of this pool of available forces. During its stint, 37th BEB executed three joint forcible-entry (JFE) exercises requiring the repair of a seized landing strip to allow the task force to rapidly build combat power via airlanded forces. To accomplish this task, the battalion built and equipped a light airfield repair package (LARP) consisting of engineer equipment that can be heavy-dropped and used to support airfield damage repair (ADR).

Each mission required different techniques to succeed, but the 37th BEB found a common problem set with each--how can airborne engineers rapidly clear, assess, and repair any type of landing surface and make it ready to accept C-17 cargo planes to allow their task force to rapidly build combat power? The 37th BEB provides a niche capability to 2d BCT to conduct expeditionary airfield repair during JFE operations. Given the austere nature of the environment during a JFE operation and the limited availability of equipment, supplies, and materials, airborne BEB airfield repair is typically an expeditionary, temporary solution to get initial airlands on the objective. The 37th BEB solution to the problem set is to equip and organize the LARP as a scalable and tailorable capability set that can be modified based on the threat and landing surface type.

The ability to conduct a short-notice JFE is a strategic capability for the United States in an increasingly unstable world. JFE provides an opening in any theater by seizing an airfield and opening it to receive airlanded forces. During Operation Serval, French airborne forces parachuted into Mali during the night of 28 January 2013 in response to the seizure of towns north of the Niger River by Islamic militants. The French 2d Foreign Legion was tasked with seizing a damaged airfield in Mali to build combat power. The objective was an airfield outside Timbuktu that had been rendered unusable by parked aircraft, disabled heavy equipment, and dirt berms placed on the airfield. The French forces, including airborne engineer assets, cleared and repaired the runway to allow the buildup of combat power to help Malian forces stabilize the region. Their problem set was the same as the one confronting the 37th BEB. The French determined the engineer equipment that was required to repair the semi-improved field landing strip (FLS). This allowed them to deliver the right equipment without unnecessarily reducing the available combat power during the JFE.

Armed with this historical perspective, the 37th BEB began tackling this problem during two large JFE exercises while on GRF duty. During Combined Joint Access Exercise (CJOAX) 15.1, conducted with the United Kingdom 3d Battalion, Parachute Regiment, 2d BCT was tasked with conducting an airborne assault to seize suspected chemical weapons. The objective consisted of a large semi-improved FLS with an accompanying airfield terminal complex. The 37th BEB planned to execute four key engineer phases:

* Assembly of the minimum force.

* Clearance and assessment of the FLS.

* Repair of the FLS.

* Maintenance of the FLS after repeated airlands.

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets are critical for determining the status and type of obstacles on an FLS and for helping to drive the decision making process for equipment that airborne sappers will personally take into the fight. With maneuver forces providing security, 37th BEB determined the minimum force to be one squad of sappers for clearance and a two-man assessment team. The assessment team would quickly assemble and mark obstacles for clearance, based on the task force time constraint of receiving airlands by parachute hour + 2. Once on the ground, sappers from Companies A and B would assemble and begin preparing the equipment and demolitions needed for clearance. As maneuver forces began clearing the airfield terminal complex and larger area of enemy forces, sappers would begin their systematic clearance of the FLS. The 37th BEB determined through its mission analysis that the full LARP complement of equipment was required to repair and maintain the FLS.

Each piece of engineer equipment played a critical role in the repair and maintenance of the FLS. As aircraft landed and delivered combat power, the FLS began to deteriorate. Working with the British engineers proved that, in the future, ADR will be a combined mission with our allies. Coordinating with U.S. Air Force special tactics squadron personnel, who are responsible for certifying the readiness of the FLS, proved critical since the flow of airlands must cease during maintenance operations. The chemical weapons were recovered after 2d BCT combat power reached a critical mass via airlands, and the mission was a success.

After action reviews revealed a tradeoff of assumed risks and capabilities using a menu of available LARP equipment: for every piece of engineer equipment heavy-dropped, one less maneuver, fires, or mission command vehicle could be dropped. This is because there is a fixed amount of platform space within the aircraft. The greater the ADR capability delivered, the fewer lethal effects could be achieved on the drop zone. This led the 37th BEB to the understanding that LARP requires a balance between initial combat power and ADR capabilities.

Operation Dragon Spear, the second major JFE in which the 37th BEB participated, had a mission similar to that of CJOAX 15.01. The 2d BCT was tasked to conduct an airborne assault in the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. The 37th BEB determined during mission analysis that there were no major repair requirements. Knowing the advantages of increased combat power, the Company A commander determined that only a light airfield maintenance package was needed in order to allow the FLS to sustain airlands.

CJOAX 15.1 and Operation Dragon Spear highlighted the need for a scalable and tailorable LARP based on the mission set. Both missions allowed the 37th BEB to use current equipment. The problem set required 37th BEB to face another challenge: How do airborne engineers repair concrete- and asphalt-paved landing strips that are capable of handling C-17 cargo planes? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) helped provide the answer. In March 2016,

ERDC sponsored training for all BEBs and airborne engineer units on a new ADR kit that includes skid steer loaders with multiple attachments for cutting and paving concrete and asphalt landing strips and matting that supports C-17 airlands. Using the ERDC-recommended crater repair process, ADR kit, and skid steer loaders with the new attachments, the 37th BEB was ready to test a new LARP that was even more scalable than before. During Operation Eagle Talon, conducted in April 2016, the 37th BEB performed an airborne assault to repair a concrete-surfaced landing strip that had crater and spall damage. In low visibility and with minimal training, the 37th BEB paratroopers repaired two craters with the C-17-capable matting and several small spalls in less than 12 hours. Key to the success of this mission was the use of high-mobility earth excavators, with hydraulic and pneumatic attachments, and skid steer loaders, with rock saws that are used to square off craters to be repaired. The 37th BEB rented the skid steer loaders, which are not issued pieces of equipment, to replicate the future LARP recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Skid steer loaders have the added advantage of saving platform space on the aircraft, increasing the initial combat power that a BCT can deliver to a drop zone. Building on the 37th BEB experience on GRF duty, modifications to the list of LARP equipment have been proposed.

2 BCT ended its GRF responsibility in December 2015. Based on two major JFE exercises and several smaller airborne assaults, the 37th BEB solution was to increase the scalability and tailorability of the LARP to increase initial combat power on the drop zone. Over the course of 14 months, the 37th BEB established these key points for any JFE that requires the LARP:

* There is a real-world need for airborne engineer units that can deploy and repair semi-improved, asphalt- and concrete-surfaced landing strips.

* Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets are critical for determining the type and amount of obstacles on, and damage to, the FLS.

* Coordination between Services and allies is increasingly important to maximize the combat effects of engineers on the drop zone.

* Engineer equipment, such as the high-mobility earth excavator and skid steer loader, provide engineers with versatility on the drop zone while maximizing platform space available for maneuver, fires, and mission command equipment.

Captain Massie serves as the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 37th BEB. He previously served as commander of Company B, 37th BEB. He is a senior-rated jumpmaster and a graduate of the Engineer Captains Career Course and the U.S. Army Ranger School. He holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Utah and a master's degree in engineering management from Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla. He is a licensed professional engineer in North Carolina.
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Author:Massie, Nicolas K.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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