WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eighteen years ago today, on Oct. 1, 2003, Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) became responsible for managing Navy shore installations worldwide. However, the history of the Navy’s shore enterprise stretches back 179 years.
The Bureau of Naval Yards and Docks, was the Navy’s first organized shore enterprise and oversaw installations from Aug. 31, 1842 to March 5, 1966. Regardless of its name, the shore enterprise has always upheld the enormous responsibility of repairing, maintaining and modernizing Navy installations and delivering necessary services to naval operating forces.
The shore enterprise was founded in conjunction with the U.S. Navy’s shift from wooden ships to iron-hulled warships with coal-fueled steam engines in the mid-19th Century. The technologically advanced fleet required a more complex support infrastructure, including a consistent coal supply chain. To support ongoing missions, the Navy developed a strategic infrastructure of shore installations and coaling stations throughout the Navy’s area of responsibility.
That infrastructure became essential to U.S. naval forces during future conflicts, beginning with the Spanish-American War of 1898. Though Spain’s Pacific fleet was swiftly defeated during the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, Spanish Caribbean forces proved more challenging. Key West Naval Base, located 105 miles north of Havana, Cuba, was a strategic asset to the U.S. during the blockade of Cuba’s Havana Harbor. It offered a staging area from which the Navy and Marine Corps deployed to seize Guantanamo Bay, where the Navy then established a secure naval installation for coaling, maintenance and resupplying ships. The ensuing destruction of the Spanish Caribbean fleet was largely possible because of shore infrastructure in close proximity to enemy forces. At the end of the conflict, the U.S. had two new territories, and the shore enterprise expanded to the Philippine Islands, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the shore enterprise assumed responsibility for planning and building naval hospitals, Marine Corps construction and Navy public works. Then came the urgent need for extraordinary shore expansion to support allied forces during World War I and World War II. During World War I, the shore spent $347 million (approximately $7.1 billion in 2021 dollars) on public works projects, more than the Navy had spent on all yards and naval stations up to that time. Among the Bureau’s expenditures were the construction of aviation facilities in France, England and Ireland; oil storage facilities and communication towers in France; 35 training facilities; and numerous emergency hospitals.
When the U.S. entered World War II after the Imperial Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy embarked upon a $9 billion ($150 billion in 2021 dollars) construction campaign. Shore expansion began within the continental U.S. and quickly moved to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America and islands in the Caribbean, North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The Navy’s shore infrastructure in the Pacific Ocean later provided essential logistical support for United Nations troops during the Korean War, 1950-1953. During the conflict, the shore enterprise constructed its largest project ever undertaken -- Cubi Point Naval Air Station on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Constructing the air station required relocating a village, cutting a mountain in half, moving soil to fill in Subic Bay and creating a 10,000-foot-long runway. It was one of the largest earthmoving projects in the world and is the largest ever undertaken by the U.S. Navy.
During the Cold War era, the shore enterprise continued to evolve technologically in order to support the Navy’s fighting forces this time to accommodate the nation’s nuclear and missile hardware. Examples of the sophisticated construction needed: Pacific Missile Range at Point Arguello, Calif.; facilities for the development, construction and servicing of the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile System; and the nuclear reactor plant at Naval Air Facility McMurdo Sound in the Antarctic.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Cuba repeatedly demanded the surrender of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. In an attempt to pressure the Navy to acquiesce, Cuba cut the water supply to the base in February 1964. The naval base began a major construction project to become self-reliant for energy and water, building a dual seawater desalinization and electric power plant. The first of three dual desalinization and power plants went online in 176 days, and the entire project was completed within a year.
When the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, the Navy supported the military enclave strategy, a counter-insurgency concept where U.S. forces were concentrated in Vietnamese population centers and coastal bases, freeing up the Army of the Republic of Vietnam - the military ground forces for the South Vietnamese - to carry the brunt of the fight against the communists. Operationally, the enclave strategy called for sophisticated construction and long-term support for U.S. bases using fixed and rotary wing aircraft and their support facilities.
On March 5, 1966, the Bureau of Navy Yards and Docks was abolished as part of the Department of the Navy’s reorganization. Many of the commands functions were then assumed by what is now the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command on May 1, 1966.
During the 1970s, the nation became conscientious of the toll human activity was taking on the environment. The Navy shore enterprise embraced its responsibility to protect the environment from adverse effects of mission operations by implementing numerous environmental conservation programs, which continues today.
In September 1980, Iraq initiated a war with Iran that would drag on for eight years. Because the export of oil was the economic cornerstone of both countries, control of merchant shipping routes, destruction of enemy merchant ships and oil assets became key objectives by 1984. Thus began the Iran-Iraq War’s so-called Tanker War. When the Tanker War escalated to threatening free trade, the U.S. Navy stepped in, launching Operation Earnest Will (OEW) to defend America’s interests and allies, and to keep the sea lanes open. At the time, the U.S. military had only one forward-deployed installation in the Middle East, Administrative Support Unit Bahrain, which was renamed Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain in 1992. Located on the Arabian Gulf in the Kingdom of Bahrain, this ready military infrastructure provided a vital strategic and logistic hub for U.S. forces and allies to project sustained naval power, eventually ending the conflict.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. and its allies launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) on Oct. 7, targeting Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces harboring them in Afghanistan. Once again, NSA Bahrain helped sustain naval operations by acting as a command post for strategy development and intelligence analysis, a safe port for ships to refuel and rearm, as well as ensuring security for ships, aircraft and detachments in the region. Long-standing Navy basing in Oman and the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia provided additional logistic support to allied forces. Naval Station Diego Garcia was a vital air hub, port for supply-carrying prepositioning ships and launchpad from where the Navy defended sea lines of communication. OEF air missions were of such long duration, sometimes up to 10 hours at a time, that the short-range Navy strike aircraft had to rely on inflight refueling from Air Force and Royal Air Force tankers, which in turn were based out of Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Following years of analysis and evaluations, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark decided to realign the functions and resources of the shore enterprise, previously spread across multiple commands, under a single Echelon II command. As a result, on Oct. 1, 2003, CNIC was established to unify Navy installation programs, policies, funding and ensure consistency in oversight. Today, the shore enterprise is comprised of 10 regions and 70 installations, helping prepare every ship, submarine and aircraft for deployment and providing support for all Sailors and their families.
The Navy’s shore enterprise has never been more operationally relevant and vital to the defense of our nation. Our fleet support infrastructure, the global network of bases and stations, generates naval power from the shore. Forward-deployed Navy installations secure strategic footholds in the shoreline, providing longevity of regional influence with allied nations and consistency in power projection. Robust basing across the globe facilitates free navigation of the seas, surveillance, deters enemy activity and, if needed, provide foundational infrastructure from which to launch American naval lethality.