Small Emplacement Excavator

An emplacement is one way of saying “fighting position” which is the Army way of saying foxhole.

For my first enlistment, this was a small emplacement excavator.

As you might imagine, digging a hole 6’x3’x6’ by hand with that is not merely unpleasant, but also time consuming. And time is the one commodity no commander can ever receive replacements for.

Now, while the primary responsibility for digging an individual emplacement is always with, well, the individual, the Army also realizes that the three-fold mission of Combat Engineers is mobility, countermobility, and survivability. And nothing improves survivability like a good fighting position. And so the Army sought to field a vehicle that could help the poor grunts dig in faster.

The result was the rather ungainly SEE, or Small Emplacement Excavator. By attaching several hydraulic accessories to the popular German made Unimog truck, the Engineers had backhoe/bucket loader with respectable on road speed, and theoretical off road mobility.

As a grunt, I very rarely saw a SEE, but when I did, it was certainly nice to watch someone else dig a hole for me.

LCPL A.W. Chatman of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion operates the backhoe at the rear of a SEE (Small Emplacement Excavator) as he helps dig protective positions for the vehicles and equipment of Task Force Breach Alpha during Operation Desert Storm, February 1991

But while I liked the SEE, it was, in my experience, pretty much universally loathed by the operators. It was quite top heavy, and aside from plowing snow, the front bucket was next to useless for earthmoving. It did however, aid in stability when using the backhoe.


Entering in service in 1985, and widely fielded within just a couple years, the Army officially phased them out in 2005, th0ugh a few served a couple more years.

The need for a similar vehicle hadn’t gone away, however. So the Army instead turned to the HMEE, High Mobility Engineering Excavator. Made by British tractor company JCB, the “Himmy” fulfills the same role, but on a purpose built chassis. It shares a similar layout to most backhoes, but is much faster on a roadway, while still maintaining good off road mobility.

JCB High-Mobility Engineer Excavator Type I

First fielded in 2007, the Army bought about 800 units.


In the end though, most of the time, the average grunt will still be digging his own position.

16 thoughts on “Small Emplacement Excavator”

  1. The big advantage of the HMEE (and other similar kit from JCB like the Fastrac) is they can travel at convoy speed without a low loader

  2. We only had two SEEs in the A&O platoon, but in my considered recollection they were giant pieces of crap. Unlike the ACE, they weren’t seen as as critical to our mission – so didn’t get the same attention or babying. I know the grunts loved when they showed up but they were unstable and somehow something was always breaking on them. I seem to recall having one deadlined for a cracked windshield for an abhorrently long period of time – windshield was custom made and electrically heated and took forever to come in. Glad to see they got a replacement.

  3. Those unimog ones can’t dig for crap when the ground is frozen (of course neither could I). Those new ones look a lot more solid.

  4. The old Personal Excavation Tool had a wooden handle and a “pick” in addition to the shovel. The SEE’s always seemed to have their breakdowns in the attachment package and not so much the UNIMOG chassis. Couldn’t walk by those things in Maintenance Facilities without seeing hydraulic fluid stained ground, or pavement.

    1. I hated the trifold shovel. It simply could not dig as well as the old ash handled entrenching tools. I’ve got an east German tool now for camping. The trifolds are simply too fragile. I haven’t had one that didn’t break.

    2. “The old Personal Excavation Tool had a wooden handle and a “pick” in addition to the shovel.”

      That occurred to me too. I think the current military has spent too long in the desert. Some terrain has trees. Trees have roots. Anyone who has ever tried to dig in hard ground or ground with roots knows you need a pick.

      As for that machine, it seems to have limited utility. It may have off-road mobility, but I doubt it has much off-road functionality. Notice that all the images are on flat, open terrain. There is a reason for that.

      As a moderately well trained and somewhat experienced grunt I do not want to dig in on flat, open terrain. Nay nay I say. Any time and effort saved by having that machine dig a hole for me in other than flat, open terrain will be used to clean up the mess it leaves. I don’t want piles of dirt and torn up brush and trees telling where I am.

  5. Lee came to be called “King of Spades” during the 7 days. Making the troops dig in was troublesome, but it saved a lot of lives. It’s a shame he didn’t listen to Longstreet at Gettysburg, slide to the east and dig in to receive Meade. The outcome would have been far different, I think.

  6. As a PL, I had an Infantry PLT attached to my company. We were prepping the defense, and he had a SEE allocated to him for about half a day. He proceeded to do….nothing with it. Not one of his dismounts was dug in. Clown wound up getting a letter of reprimand on this particular field problem. At one point, I actually had to chase him out of my platoon once where he was whining about how much he hated the army to my Soldiers. Guy was a professional joke. I was also attached to his parent Infantry company once, so I got to watch him twice.

    1. Gotta be ROTC would be my guess, though I gotta say, I talk(type?) a lot of shit about ROTC officers, I never witnessed one perform so poorly as that…

  7. Just noticed, the last image is a British HMEE purchased as part of the Talisman route clearance capability for use in Afghanistan.

    Do US models come with slat armour and armoured glass?

    1. Honestly, I don’t know. I suspect the slat/glass kit is an option for ours, since we’ve up-armored everything else in the inventory such as FMTVs.

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