Military Engineering

Military Engineering
U.S. Navy

Having tossed together a brief history of the Seabees and the Army Corps of Engineers, we thought that we could expand that a bit, and briefly cover Military Engineering in general, then split out to the branches of service. We went about it backward; doing individual branches first, then the general overview.

Military Engineering is pretty much any engineering activity undertaken, regardless of component or service, where the intent/goal/plan is to shape the physical operating environment in support of maneuvers of the force as a whole – rephrased, it’s the practice of designing and building military works and maintaining lines of military transport and communications. The heritage of military engineering reaches back to the earliest beginnings of organized armies - on the battlefields of ancient Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome, skilled military engineers laid the groundwork for the role of their modern descendants. The Ancient Romans are considered to perhaps be the first civilization to have a dedicated force of military engineering specialists. Military engineering is the oldest of the engineering skills and was the precursor of the profession of civil engineering.

Three Main Tasks of Military Engineering

  1. Combat engineering - engineering on the battlefield.
  2. Strategic support - providing service in communication zones such as the construction of airfields and the improvement and upgrade of ports, roads, and railways communication.
  3. Ancillary support - provision and distribution of maps as well as the disposal of unexploded warheads.

The prevalence of military engineering in the United States dates back to the American Revolutionary War when engineers would carry out tasks in the Army. During the war, engineers would map terrain to and build fortifications to protect troops from opposing forces. These first military engineers became the Army Corps of Engineers.

Military engineers are responsible for protecting the troops either by using fortifications or by designing new technology and weaponry. Military engineers construct and repair bases, airfields, roads, bridges, and hospitals as well as clearing routes, harbors, and ports.

Military engineers constructed airfields for heavy bombers, launch facilities for intercontinental ballistic missiles, and radar installations to increase communication. They also built many of the facilities for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Originally in the United States’ history of warfare, the Army claimed engineers exclusively, but as the Armed Forces branches expanded to the sea and sky, the need for military engineering in all branches increased. Accordingly, as each branch of the United States military expanded, technology was invented or adapted to fit their respective needs.

Offices of Military Engineering

The United States Air Force’s military engineering needs are provided by several offices: 

  • Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency
  • Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (RED HORSE): These squadrons are the United States Air Force's heavy-construction units. Their capabilities are similar to those of the U.S. Navy Seabees and U.S. Army heavy-construction organizations. There is even an Airborne RED HORSE.
  • Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force (Prime BEEF): As the name states, this is a rapidly deployable, specialized civil engineer unit of the United States Air Force.
  • The United States Army’s military engineering needs are provided by the Army Corps of Engineers.
  • The United States Coast Guard’s military engineering needs are provided by their Engineering and Logistics Directorate.
  • The United States Navy’s military engineering needs are provided by the Construction Battalion Corps (better known as the Seabees) and Civil Engineer Corps (CEC). The CEC is a staff corps of the United States Navy. CEC officers are professional engineers and architects, acquisitions specialists and Seabee Combat Warfare Officers. They are responsible for executing and managing the planning, design, acquisition, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Navy's shore facilities.
  • The United States Marines’ military engineering needs are provided by the Marine Corps Combat Engineer Battalions.

A Related Note

Out of the experiences of the US Military in WWI, there was concern that the collective knowledge and the cooperation between the public and private sectors that proved vital to combat success would be lost – a valid concern, considering how the military was demobilized (or “downsized”) after the conclusion of the war. 

In 1919, Maj. Gen. William M. Black, USA, the Army's Chief of Engineers, appointed a nine-officer board to consider the formation of an "association of engineers" that would preserve and expand upon connections formed in war and promote the advancement of engineering and its related professions. Out of this formed The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), the premier professional military engineering association in the United States, which unites architecture, engineering, construction (A/E/C), facility management and environmental entities and individuals in the public and private sectors to prepare for—and overcome—natural and manmade disasters, and to improve security at home and abroad.