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​Building Bridges and Interoperability in a Strong Europe: River Crossing Operation during Exercise Anakonda 16

The U.S. Army Engineer Regiment consists of 90,000 engineer Soldiers in the Active Army, Reserves and National Guard and 32,000 civilians.  The Regiment is led by Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, the 54th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In his position he serves as the principal advisor to the secretary of the Army and other leaders on matters related to general, combat and geospatial engineering; construction; real property; and natural resources science and management.

The following article was originally published in the September-December 2016 issue of the "Engineer" bulletin.  

In June 2016, more than 31,000 military service mem- bers from 23 nations converged in Poland to participate in Exercise Anakonda 16. Among these forces was a multinational military engineer task force that consisted of members from the United States, Germany, the Neth- erlands, and the United Kingdom under the command of the U.S. 18th Military Police Brigade, 21st Theater Sus- tainment Command. For many participants, the exercise marked the first opportunity in recent years for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) engineer bridging units to train together in a large, combined arms operation and to act as part of a multinational engineer bridging task force in Europe.

 

Exercise Anakonda 16 provided a unique training envi- ronment for engineer bridging units to improve interopera- bility among allied and partner nations using similar bridg- ing systems. The exercise provided a venue for multiple nations to mass engineer bridging assets and emplace tacti- cal bridges to demonstrate NATO readiness. It also provided a chance for U.S. Army engineers to work with European allies. Building on these skill sets, a multinational solution was necessary to meet the tactical bridging requirements of the mission since no single nation could fulfill these requirements on its own on the European continent.  Since 2008, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) has possessed no assigned, in theater tactical engineer bridging units. To conduct wet-gap crossing training in Europe for exercises such as Exercise Anakonda 16, a bridging unit with equipment needed to be sourced from outside Europe. This presented some challenges during exercise planning. To solve this capability gap, USAREUR funded participation by the 361st Multirole Bridge Company (MRBC), a subordinate unit of the U.S. Army Reserve  391st  Engineer Battalion, 412th Theater Engineer Command, which is USAREUR's only regionally aligned engineer command. The Total Army emphasis on leveraging all Army components enabled this effort and undoubtedly benefited the unit and the gaining command.

During the exercise, the 361st MRBC participated with bridging units of other armies to con- duct a tactical river- crossing operation at   Chelmno,   Poland. Four countries used two types of tactical bridging systems, the M3 amphibious bridge and the ribbon bridge, to cross the Vistula River there. The U.S. 2d Cavalry Regiment crossed the river on an M3 amphibious bridge on 8 June, while the Polish 1st Battalion, 17th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, crossed on an improved ribbon bridge on 15 June. These operations were the culmination of brigade task force training during the exercise. The river crossings comprised a combined arms operation involving seven countries and approximately 1,200 personnel, including engineer, military police, air defense, cavalry, and aviation units and local municipal authorities. The 18th Military Police Brigade from USAREUR served as the brigade level controlling headquarters. With no engineer brigades stationed in Europe, the 18th Military Police Brigade was the only maneuver support brigade headquarters capable of providing mission command to river-crossing operations during Exercise Anakonda 16. The exercise provided a tremendous training opportunity for military police and engineer Soldiers since their training was integrated into the river-crossing operations. Adding to the complexity of the mission set, this was the first time that the 18th Military Police Brigade had provided mission command of nonorganic multinational and multicomponent engineer and military police soldiers to conduct a combined arms river crossing in Europe.

German Army Panzer Pioneer Battalion 130 task- organized all bridging units under its command, acting as the crossing area headquarters for Task Force 130. There were two company level tactical bridging headquarters, organized by the two bridging systems in use. One of the company headquarters was the M3 Amphibious Bridge Company, a unit created for the exercise, consisting of British and German M3 bridge units. The other company headquarters included the 361st MRBC, with a German improved ribbon bridge platoon and a standard ribbon bridge platoon from the Netherlands. The overall bridging capability pro- vided by the task force was a span of 370 meters with M3 bridging and 400 meters with ribbon bridging.

Also included under the 18th Military Police Brigade were two military police battalions and an air defense artillery brigade. The 175th Military Police Battalion, Missouri Army National Guard, was responsible for movement control during the crossing operations, and the 709th Military Police Battalion was responsible for farside movement and traffic control. A platoon from the 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Ohio Army National Guard, provided air defense to the crossing site.

When soldiers from NATO countries train together, they use NATO standardization agreements as the doctrinal standards for training and assessment. In Exercise Anakonda 16, engineer bridging units used NATO Standardization Agreement 2395, Deliberate Water Crossing Procedures,1 which outlines the doctrinal methodology, terminology, and procedures required to conduct what the U.S. Army calls a deliberate wet-gap crossing.2  While terminology may differ, most of the underlying concepts are the same, which allowed a seamless integration of NATO training standards into the training plans of commanders.  As equipment and personnel converged on Chelmno to train together on the Vistula River, Task Force 130 organized assembly areas and water training areas for the two types of bridges being used. Two locations on the river allowed simultaneous training and rehearsals by both types and gave junior leaders from different armies the flexibility to train their units with other units using the same bridge systems. Soon, junior leaders saw benefits from training with other nations, which led to increased efficiency, faster bridge erection, and improved communication among participating units. For instance, leaders developed a simple yet effective standard operating procedure for hand and arm signals by U.S., German, and Dutch units.  This enabled raft commanders on the water to overcome language barriers and communicate effectively to guide the emplacement of ribbon bridge sections.  

On 8 June, the 2d Cavalry regiment moved from its assembly area to Chelmno, near the Vistula River crossing site.  The previous day, Soldiers of the 82d Airborne Division had jumped into Torun, Poland, with elements from the U.S. Army 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team and allied paratroopers from the United Kingdom and Poland to seize farside terrain ahead of the river-crossing operation. On the morning of 8 June, the M3 Amphibious Company constructed a 350-meter tactical bridge in approximately 30 minutes to facilitate the movement of Strykers and sup- port vehicles for the 2d Cavalry Regiment. Military police Soldiers controlled military traffic on both sides of the crossing area, while local police assisted with civilian traffic. Once sufficient combat power had been established in a tactical assembly area on the farside of the river, 2d Cavalry Regiment vehicles continued movement southeast, toward the city of Torun, where they conducted a forward passage of lines with paratroopers from the 82d Airborne Division and the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

On 15 June, a Polish Army mechanized infantry battalion participated in a second deliberate river-crossing operation at Chelmno. The ribbon bridge units conducted rafting operations to put an assault force across the Vistula River before constructing a bridge. As they did during the 8 June crossing, military police soldiers controlled movement into and out of the crossing area, while air defense and aviation units provided area security. Although ribbon bridge construction took a little longer than construction of the M3 amphibious bridge, the training conducted by the U.S., German, and Dutch ribbon bridge units contributed to a smooth and coordinated river crossing.

The integration of military police and air defense soldiers and other enablers into the river crossing enhanced the real- ism of the training, enabled a combined arms crossing in accordance with NATO doctrinal standards, and achieved the largest river-crossing operation any of the participating units had ever experienced. The interoperability between the participating nations and units greatly enhanced NATO readiness and built cross proficiency in communication systems, doctrinal terms and graphics, mission command, and bridging equipment. Junior leaders implemented creative training scenarios such as nighttime bridging and rafting in blackout conditions to challenge their crews in new ways.  With limited European tactical bridging assets available among our NATO allies and partner nations, the engineer bridging interoperability builds readiness and enables freedom of movement for land forces in training and in responding to real-world scenarios.

Three lessons learned about bridging operations during Exercise Anakonda 16 stand out.  First, the individual learning and training accomplished are significantly enhanced by working alongside engineers from NATO allies and partner nations.  The improvement in unit standard operating procedures and performance gained from multinational exercises cannot be replicated in a typical stateside combat training center rotation. Second, engineer interoperability is critical to U.S. Army and NATO readiness since no single nation can meet the freedom of movement requirements in Europe. We must be able to integrate procedures, communications, and standards anywhere in Europe with allied and partner engineer units. Third, exercises in Europe provide dynamic opportunities for U.S. Army engineers to participate in training not readily available at home station or during combat training center rotations.

In USAREUR, tactical bridging currently requires a multinational solution for exercises and real-world freedom of movement. Tactical bridging training during Exercise Anakonda 16 successfully achieved enhanced interoperability for all units and nations involved and set the stage for future, multinational engineer bridging opportunities.

 

Endnotes:

1Standardization  Agreement  2395  (Edition  3),  Deliberate Water Crossing Procedures, 24 January 2007.

2Army Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures 3-90.4, Combined Arms Mobility Operations, 10 August 2011.

 

Major Kadel served as an engineer planner in the USAREUR Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Engineer. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.

Captain Apata served as an engineer planner in the USAREUR Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Engineer. He holds a bachelor's degree in applied geophysics from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and a master's degree in information systems and services from the University of Maryland.