Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Stephane Belcher, NMCB 5
U.S. Navy Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 completed their second Command Post Exercise (CPX-2) onboard Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, Naval Base Ventura County, California, Dec. 11.
This exercise not only measured the battalion’s readiness for deployment but also brought novel technology, dispersed detail sites, and multiple engineering tasks to the table.
When the Seabees deploy for Major Combat Operations (MCO), their mission is to conduct expeditionary engineering while simultaneously manning and defending their camp and equipment. This exercise served as mission-essential training and allowed the Seabees to complete two Unit Level Training and two Unit Level Training Readiness Assessments—an Airfield Damage Repair (ADR) exercise, bridge-building exercises, and the unit’s Chemical Biological Radiological (CBR) exercise.
The traditional CPX, Field Training Exercise (FTX), and even the combat deployment models for a battalion are comprised of the primary location and one large detachment, typically the Air Detachment.
For CPX-2, the battalion set up one Combat Operations Center (COC), with a Tactical Headquarters and a Tactical Operations Center, as well as six other detail sites. This set up resembles how the Seabees deploy, with detail sites located across the Pacific for forward presence and humanitarian aid.
Because the Seabees deploy in a dispersed manner, NMCB-5 is restructuring how they approach field exercises in a dispersed way. It enforces the same small unit leadership and self-sufficiency with the separate detail sites.
“We train for MCOs, but if you look at our peacetime deployments, they are dispersed throughout the Pacific,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Gosch, NMCB-5’s training officer. “We have people spread across thousands of miles of Pacific, many of them on small islands.”
The CPX-2 site locations maintain 360 security with armed sentries, generators, continuous communications with the COC, and logistics functions—the beans, Band-Aids, and bullets—all the things that keep Seabees building in a CBR threat environment. This prepared the Seabees for their upcoming FTX, which will execute similar scenarios with added 24-hour operations, simulated aggressors, and hostile activity.
This CPX-2 training covered some of the same engineering tasks the Seabees have in their peacetime deployments. For example, NMCB-5 had a bridge-building site where they expeditiously constructed a Mabey Johnson Bridge (MJB). Bridge-building capabilities allow the Seabees to operate in theater, and MJBs are constructed in places like Bagdad, Iraq, and other locations throughout the Middle East.
Most of the individual detail sites performed construction projects while maintaining their command post simultaneously.
“In our real-world deployments, there is no going back to the main body to get a spare tool,” added Gosch. “So it helps enforce that mentality that, ‘Hey, you have to be independent. You have to plan well enough and bring the things you need to operate because the spare parts may come, but they may come in a month.’
“If communications go down, they’ll have to operate autonomously. And that’s a challenge that we haven’t always exercised through the field training exercises. This is painful in the short-term, absolutely. It is more work than doing a simpler CPX, but I think it will pay dividends during FTX.”
The Seabees held a detail site at the pier. They executed a pile-driving exercise as part of pier damage repair, an essential element in naval logistics and fleet operations. They also held a detail for ADR, one of their fundamental skills, dating back to World War II.
Layering multiple detail sites, construction projects, and scenarios pushed NMCB-5’s command and control (C2) and ancillary support functions to surpass the typical two detail site driven CPX.
“This exercise really allows us to practice the green-gear communications capability, the high-frequency voice and [Mobile User Objective System], and build our team,” said Lt. William Short, the officer in charge of Detail China Lake.
NMCB-5’s Detail China Lake will perform civil engineering operations such as quarry operations and road construction.
“This is the first time we’ve actually had to do an operation together, and we need to get in the mindset of those operations, which we’ll practice again at FTX, and of course, the Pacific,” adds Short. “We need to operate semi-independently with logistically challenging areas, and still be able to maintain that C2 with higher.”
The Seabees with NMCB-5 have launched a broad range of emerging technologies throughout their short homeport training cycle, specifically during CPX-2, to modernize warfighting and engineering capabilities.
They have integrated improved engineering platforms, such as additive manufacturing, bridge repair, light imaging, engineering reconnaissance, rapid soil densitometry, and automated surveillance. The data collection of these platforms can change the way the military’s expeditionary units approach future operations.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, played a critical role in the battalion’s ability to pass CBR. The Seabees were able to print environmental control unit knobs, essential to the CBR environment.
“We are trying to implement these emerging technologies to enhance the capabilities of the [Naval Construction Force]. What we learn with these innovations can potentially be incorporated into our training pipeline and leveraged to enhance our mission capabilities,” said Lt. Diep Nguyen, NMCB-5’s technology insertion officer. “Most importantly, we want our Sailors to be aware of the emerging technologies and think outside the box. We are constantly looking at ways to improve our efficiencies, and implementing these technological enhancements in smaller settings can transform the big-picture strategy for the future.”
The Seabees employed the new Instrument Set, Reconnaissance, and Surveying kit to survey the width, height, and arch of the bridges they assembled. The equipment was commissioned and vetted by the Army Corps of Engineers, so again, they are improving on required capabilities and the future readiness of joint-force operations.
They became the second tactical unit to use the Gantz-Mountain Technology Automated Surveillance to augment manpower while monitoring their main campsite. They connected high-resolution/low-light thermal cameras, which enabled them to observe enemy movement in real-time, from ground troops to convoys. The long-range camera detects out from four to six kilometers.
This exercise demonstrated the battalion’s integrated power and proved the Seabees at NMCB-5 are trained and equipped with the right capabilities and ready to meet mission requirements. They are working with recently developed technology and integrating them into warfighting requirements.
NMCB-5 is homeported in Port Hueneme, California. During the homeport phase, the Seabees train on high-quality construction, expeditionary logistics, and combat operations. They execute construction and engineering projects to support MCO, disaster response, and humanitarian assistance during deployment.