‘Combat-Ready’ SEALs working on new ways to tackle ‘hard targets’

  • US Special Operators adapt to new roles as the military shifts toward competition between major powers.
  • For Naval Special Warfare Command, that means updating tactics, techniques and procedures.
  • Some combat-ready SEALs are now working to resolve “key operational issues,” the senior SEAL officer recently wrote.

The US Navy SEALs are developing new ways to stay relevant and prepare for near-peer warfare against China or Russia.

After two decades of counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, the US Naval Special Warfare Command goes back to the drawing board to come up with new or updated tactics, techniques and procedures to tackle the most difficult of targets.

Naval Special Warfare Command is the naval component of the US Special Operations Command and is composed of Navy SEALs and Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft crews.

Navy Naval Special Warfare Command VBSS Cyprus

A member of the US Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Europe conducts VBSS training with a Cypriot Underwater Demolition Team in Cyprus on September 9, 2021.

US Army/Sgt. Patrick Orcutt


The SEAL component of Naval Special Warfare consists of 10 “regular” SEAL teams – eight active duty and two reserve – two SEAL Delivery Vehicle teams, who control stealthy mini-submarines, and two special reconnaissance teams.

The Naval Special Warfare Development Group – formerly known as SEAL Team 6 – falls operationally under the secretive Joint Special Operations Command.

The SWCC component consists of three special boat teams specializing in maritime direct action, maritime special reconnaissance, the insertion and removal of other special operations forces, and visit, ship, search and seizure operations.

Rear Admiral Hugh W. Howard III, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, described how his Navy SEAL and special boat teams executed this shift in a recent article for the journal Proceedings of the US Naval Institute.

Developing new concepts

Naval Special Warfare Command Howard

Rear Admiral HW Howard III at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, January 28, 2022.

US Navy/Stacy Godfrey


Typically, all available combat-ready Naval Special Warfare units are deployed overseas.

However, the head of Special Operations Command, General Richard Clarke, recently decided to keep about a third of the combat-ready Navy SEAL platoons and SWCC boat detachments in reserve for “experimentation, concept development and high-efficiency implementation for -purpose (DfP) missions.” Howard wrote.

The reserve elements in the “implement-for-purpose” status “increase our agility to respond to crises around the world and – perhaps most critically – provide combat-ready troops to experiment and generate new concepts with lower training risk.” after they complete the mission-critical tasks,” the top SEAL officer wrote.

“By allowing combat-ready troops to experiment with new tactics, techniques and procedures for the most stressful hard targets and environmental conditions, it will help address the major operational challenges facing the Navy and the Joint Forces,” added Howard.

Like the rest of SOCOM, the Naval Special Warfare Command has continued some missions related to counter-terrorism and countering violent extremist groups, but is shifting more focus and resources towards competition between major powers and countering China’s critical systems and capabilities and Russia, such as their command and control systems and their ability to find and track rival forces

Air Force Navy Special Operators Diving Training

US Air Force Special Tactics and US Navy Special Warfare operators conduct joint diving training in Souda Bay, Greece, May 25, 2021.

US Air Force/Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Nelson


As a result of that shift, Navy SEALs and SWCC operators have collaborated more with the conventional “Big Navy” forces, especially with aircraft carriers, and trained to help those troops survive and be more effective in combat.

“We are learning how to integrate our capabilities to complement the F-35 Lightning II, coastal combat ships, Zumwalt-class destroyers, military Sealift Command assets and naval unmanned vehicles,” Howard wrote.

Naval Special Warfare and “Big Navy” are also working together to test new concepts, technologies and tactics to improve the navy’s manned and unmanned capabilities. In recent Congressional testimony, Howard emphasized Naval Special Warfare’s commitment to a closer relationship with its parent branch.

Naval Special Warfare’s closer integration with “Big Navy” promotes technological and conceptual advances, including in “maritime reconnaissance and reconnaissance; strike, mines, submarine and seafloor warfare; strategic sabotage against critical infrastructure; and deception,” Howard wrote.

In addition, Naval Special Warfare is working with the Navy’s Submarine Forces to hone its special underwater capabilities. Howard covered a training event between Navy SEALs and a Virginia-class nuclear submarine in the eastern Mediterranean last year.

Navy Naval Special Warfare Command divers submarine

Naval Special Warfare Command divers train with Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS North Carolina off Oahu, June 18, 2021.

US Navy/MCS2 Alex Perlman


Howard wrote that Naval Special Warfare has had “a special relationship with the submarine force” for decades and that the commando’s clandestine capabilities combined with advanced stealth submarines “create an unparalleled asymmetric advantage.”

The U.S. Army’s first sub-launched commando raid was conducted during World War II, and in the decades since SEALs were formed in 1962, SEAL Vehicle Delivery teams and their unique mini-submarines have often been linked to U.S. submarines to help SEALs. to set targets and carry out underwater operations.

That first sub-launch was performed by Marine Raiders, the special operations force of the Marine Corps. Now, Howard wrote, SEAL and Special Boat teams “are working with the Marine Corps on complementary concepts, expedition maintenance and staging for internal force operations in contested battlespace.”

The changes and initiatives underway reflect the growing concern of the US military about a new competitive environment and possible conflict with capable adversaries who can challenge it at any level – something the US has not had to deal with in the past 30 years. .

Leaders are responsible for understanding their organization’s strengths and weaknesses and the changes in the landscape around them “then boldly and fearlessly lead their organizations to adapt,” Howard wrote.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marines Battalion and Army Headquarters), and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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