Seabees Complete Airfield Damage Repair with New Technology

Story by MC1 Rosalie Chang

Builder Constructionman Heith Wright, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4, uses a jackhammer to break cement around a crater to repair the damage from a simulated airstrike during the battalions’ field training exercise (FTX) May 16. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rosalie Chang/170516-N-DH124-623)

FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. – U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 successfully completed an Airfield Damage Repair (ADR) mission during their Field Training Exercise (FTX) in Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., May 18, testing the battalion’s ability to repair runways following a simulated attack.

 “Our capabilities allow us to move quickly to various locations around the world to repair runways so aircraft can land safely and project a powerful forward force wherever we fight,” said Lt. j.g. Ian Jordan. “We have a distinctive ability to do expeditionary ADR the way we do and we are expanding this ability by adopting new techniques and technologies we have learned from our Air Force counterparts.”

Previous training evaluations include a 12-hour standalone project performed by a team of 104 Seabees. Enhancing interoperability within the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), the revised ADR exercise employs advanced technology in equipment and construction methods. Over a three day period, the integrated team of 154 Seabees from NMCB 4 and Sailors from Costal Riverine Group (CRG) 1 and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 3, searched a runway and filled 79 spalls and nine craters within 16 hours.

“The ultimate goal for the evolution was to improve efficiency by reducing the time it takes to complete airfield repairs; to advance technologies by providing input and recommendations to higher on the different equipment and materials; and to gain a joint operating picture with other units to ultimately establish a tactical training procedure for the Naval Construction Force to utilize,” said Lt. Jeremiah Gill.

Once the simulated attack occurred, members of CRG 1 began the mission with a search of the runway to assess the damage by deploying an RQ020B Pointer Upgraded Mission Ability (PUMA) AE Small Unmanned Aircraft System.

“By using the PUMA, it allowed EOD Sailors to preemptively see what damage and debris was on the field,” said Jordan. “This way, it showed us if there was a serious issue, like unexploded ordnance, and we could take special security precautions to clear the area. Integrating both adjacent units and using the PUMA technology was a first for the command but I feel it helped the evolution run more efficiently.”

NMCB 4’s Damage Assessment Team (DAT) and EODMU 3 Sailors then walked the length of the airfield to plot craters and identify the unexploded ordnance. EODMU 3 Leading Petty Officer, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician 1st Class Joseph Moritz said it was a new experience working with the Seabees, allowing the unit to implement their practices and give sound advice.

“Our role in the ADR mission was to support and assist the Seabees in clearing the airfield of any ordnance left from an attack,” said Moritz. “We supervised the range clearing operation, removed ordnance that needed to be taken care of and developed a plan for moving forward so NMCB 4 could accomplish their mission of repairing the damages on the runway.”

The Minimal Operating Strip (MOS) selection team assessed the damage and, based on the type of aircraft that needed the runway, they selected the area with the least amount of damage so repairs could be accomplished quickly. NMCB 4’s ADR team then worked to repair various craters by installing bolted fiberglass panels over two craters and placing concrete patches over seven.

Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 spread fresh concrete over a crater during an airfield damage repair from a simulated airstrike at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., during the battalions’ field training exercise (FTX) May 16. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rosalie Chang/170516-N-DH124-706)

“This mission was unique because we were able to use different equipment and materials. We had two skid steer saws, giving us the ability to cut through the concrete much faster and speed up our repairs,” said Builder 1st Class Brian Whitsitt. “Once we cut around the upheaval and cleared the debris, we filled the flat square hole with flowable fill and topped it off with a concrete cap. The rapid setting flowable fill is self-leveling and self-compacting so this was another way we were able to complete the tasks and prove we could increase our capabilities within the required timeline.”

Seabees have constructed and repaired airfields throughout their history, beginning in World War II. ADR missions conducted during FTX ensure deployed Seabee units remain proficient in the needed skills to repair damaged airfields.

NMCB 4 provides general engineering, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, and civil support to Navy, Marine Corps and joint operational forces through planned deployments and contingency response.

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