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Polish military engineers during humanitarian aid after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

A military engineer is a soldier who's occupation involves Military Engineering. 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 manoeuvre 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." [1]

The military engineer is primarily responsible for the design and construction of offensive, defensive, and logistical structures for warfare. Other duties include the layout, placement, maintenance and dismantling of defensive minefields and the clearing of enemy minefields and the construction and destruction of bridges. In some cases an engineer may be required to destroy something that that same engineer designed and constructed. In many armies the military engineers are also called pioneers or sappers.[2] There are also many modern armies that use the term combat engineer to describe the military engineer well forward in battle and under fire. For more modern aspects of military engineering and tools of the combat engineering corps, see combat engineering. The construction, management and maintenance of infrastructure is another responsibility associated with the military engineer.

In some countries, the modern military may comprise engineering units in weapon design or procurement, or of non-military civil engineering (e.g. flood control and river navigation works) which are not covered by this article.


Origins of military engineering

The term engineering is derived from the word engineer, which itself dates back to 1325, when an engine’er (literally, one who operates an engine) originally referred to “a constructor of military engines.”[3] In this context, now obsolete, an “engine” referred to a military machine, i. e., a mechanical contraption used in war (for example, a catapult).

Later, as the design of civilian structures such as bridges and buildings matured as a technical discipline, the term civil engineering[4 ] 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.

Military engineering in ancient warfare

Perhaps 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. Roman military engineering was pre-eminent amongst its contemporaries, and the scale of certain military engineering feats, such as the construction of a double-wall of fortifications 30 miles (48 km) long in total (both walls combined total) in just six weeks to completely encircle the besieged city of Alesia in 52 B.C. 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) and were responsible for constructing fortified wooden camps and paved roads for their legions. Many of these Roman roads are still in use two thousand years later.

Military engineering in medieval warfare

In the Middle Ages military engineering focused on siege warfare. They planned castles and fortresses. When laying siege, they planned and oversaw efforts to penetrate castle defences. 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.

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 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.[5]

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.[6]

Military engineering in the industrial age

Military engineering in the motor age

The dawn of the internal combustion engine marked the begining of a very significant change for 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 would absorbe a major new role to support the movement and deployment of these systems in war.


Defensive fortifications are designed to prevent intrusion into the inner works by siege infantry. For minor defensive locations these may only consist of simple walls and ditches. The design principle is to slow down the advance of attackers to where they can be destroyed by defenders from sheltered positions. Most large fortifications are not a single structure but rather a concentric series of fortifications of increasing strength. Fortified cities would typically include an inner "old town"' within walls. Should the city be attacked, those residing outside the walls would enter the inner city. Within this would be a redoubt, or citadel, to which defenders could retreat should the walls or gates be breached.

The placement of mines to create minefields and their maintenance and disassembly is another defensive task.

When the defender must retreat it is often desirable to destroy anything that may be of use to the enemy, particularly bridges, as their destruction can slow the advance of the attackers. The retreating forces may also leave booby traps for enemy soldiers, even though these often wreak their havoc upon non-combatant civilians.


In ancient times, fortifications were assaulted by siege engines. These could be projectile throwing devices or simple moving towers that could allow attackers protection while positioning them above the top of the fortification's walls.

The undermining of the defender's walls by tunneling is called mining. With the military use of gunpowder this explosive could be placed in tunnels to explode directly under the walls. The most spectacular use of this technique in the 19th century was during the United States' Civil War.

The clearing of enemy minefields is another offensive task.

Often the defender in retreat will destroy bridges to impede the attacker. These must be quickly replaced by the attacker in order to retain offensive mobility. In World War II a short portable bridge called the Bailey bridge could be quickly placed by a specialized transporter vehicle. Pontoon bridges have long been used as temporary replacements for destroyed river crossings.

Famous Military engineers

Multinational military engineering institutions

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

Royal Australian Engineers
Canadian Military Engineers
Corps of Engineers, Indian Army
Irish Army Engineer Corps
Israeli Engineering Corps
New Zealand
Corps of Royal New Zealand Engineers
United Kingdom
Royal Engineers
United States

See also

Some military engineering projects of World War II
Other types of engineering in the military


  2. ^ Bernard Brodie, Fawn McKay Brodie (1973). From Crossbow to H-bomb. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253201616.  
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  4. ^ Engineers' Council for Professional Development definition on Encyclopaedia Britannica (Includes Britannica article on Engineering)
  5. ^ Museum, Royal Engineers. "Corps History - Part 2". Retrieved 12 Jan 2010.  
  6. ^ Langins,Janis. Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press. 2004.

External links



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