Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Navy SEALs.  Who doesn’t love Navy SEALs?  Well, I guess in a show of hands, ComNavOps might be one of the very few who raises his hand as not loving Navy SEALs.  Let me be clearer.  I don’t love what they’ve become organizationally and functionally.

Recall the SEAL’s lineage.  It began in WWII with the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, Naval Combat Demolition Units, and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and evolved over the years into the SEALs of the Vietnam era.  The founding missions were hydrographic surveys of potential assault sites, obstacle demolition, beach reconnaissance, infiltration, etc.  During the Vietnam war, there were two SEAL teams, one based on each coast of the US.

Underwater Demolition Team

There are now 8 SEAL Teams, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10 with Teams 7 and 10 having been formed in 2002.  There are also two reserve SEAL Teams, 17 & 18.

Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC or NSW) was established in 1987 in Coronado, and has responsibility for SEAL, SWCC (Special Boat operators) and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) personnel (1).   The SEAL Teams were designated as such in the mid-1980’s from the previous Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT).

It is difficult to get an accurate count of the number of SEAL and NSW personnel.  No two sources seem to quite agree.  The SOCOM 2018 Fact Book gives the NSW manpower as “approximately 10,000”. (6)

From the Navy’s website,

“The NSW community is organized around eight SEAL teams, one SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) team, three special boat teams and supporting commands which deploy forces worldwide. The community is comprised of approximately 9,200 total personnel including more than 2,700 active-duty Special Warfare Operators, 700 Special Warfare Boat Operators (SWCC), 700 reserve personnel, 4,000 support personnel and more than 1,100 civilians.” (4)


“NSWC is the parent command to a total of 5,400 active duty and 1,200 reserve NSW personnel. It oversees four subordinate Major Commands known as NSW Groups 1-4, and their lower commands: eight SEAL Teams, two SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams (SDVT), and three Special Boat Teams (SBT). All even-numbered Groups and Teams are located on the East Coast, and all odd-numbered ones on the West Coast of the U.S.” (1)


“The total number of personnel in the SEAL teams comes in at 8,195.  Subtracting those assigned to SEAL Team Six, we get a figure of 6,895.  Looking at the total number of soldiers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, we get 3,473. Can we lay this rumor to rest now? There are way more SEALs than there are Rangers.” (2)

Debates about the exact number of personnel aside, I’d like to examine the SEAL’s organizational growth and mission.

NSWC active duty personnel increased from around 5000 in 2001 to around 8100 in 2014 (3).  These are not all SEALs but the numbers provide a feel for the magnitude of the increase.  Funding increased from $260M in 2005 to $576M in 2014 (4).

Even very recently, NSW funding continues to grow.  From the 2016 budget justification document (5), we see that the specific account line for “Ship/Boat Operations”, which is a part of the NSW budget, rose from $87M in 2014 to an estimated $113M in 2016 – a 28% increase even after adjustment for inflation.

From two SEAL teams (and UDT) during the Vietnam War to the 8+ Teams and other NSW groups of today, it is clear that NSW has experienced explosive growth.  Well, there’s nothing wrong with growth if it’s necessary, right?  That leads us into the heart of this post.

What does NSW do? 

Popular impression is that SEALs conduct missions that originate from the sea and return to the sea.  The link to the sea is what distinguishes SEALs from other special forces such as the Green Berets or Rangers.  Of course, this is not completely accurate as we’ve seen SEALs deploy to completely land-locked areas and conduct purely ground actions.

Well, then, what is the official mission of the SEALs?  From the Navy NSW mission web page, we get this,

“NSW is postured to fight a globally-dispersed enemy, whether ashore or afloat, before they can act. NSW forces can operate in small groups and have a continuous presence overseas with their ability to quickly deploy from Navy ships, submarines and aircraft, overseas bases and forward-based units.  The proven ability of NSW forces to operate across the spectrum of conflict and in operations other than war, and provide real-time, first-hand intelligence offer decision makers immediate and multiple options in the face of rapidly changing crises around the world.” (4)

That’s a pretty generic and, therefore, worthless statement although it does offer two tidbits that we’ll come back to.

Setting aside the generic and largely non-specific mission statement, we all understand what SEALs do.  They do small unit, high degree of difficulty, high risk actions.  They attack high value targets, provide surveillance and intel, and the like.  This is admirable.  This is also redundant and counterproductive.

We already have several special operations forces dedicated to land operations.  Why are we using SEALs?  That’s redundant and wasteful.

What should SEALs be doing?  They should return to their roots which is actions on the sea and from the sea and leave the pure land actions to the other groups.

Now, here’s the counterproductive part.  Because of the focus on land operations, SEALs are largely ignoring many vital missions.  Let’s consider some possibilities.

  • Destruction/sabotage of the illegal Chinese artificial islands.  Those islands, especially while they were under construction were ideal targets for sabotage and destruction.

  • Destruction/sabotage of Iranian swarm boats and base facilities.  Iran is long overdue for some serious punishment for its repeated pattern of reckless and illegal behavior toward the U.S. Navy.

  • Seizure of vessels supplying arms and supplies to NKorea and Iran.

  • Sea-launched anti-terrorist surveillance, intel, and stike actions in Africa.

  • Capture and/or destruction of drug trafficking vessels in South America and Mexico.  Clearly those countries are incapable of effectively conducting their own operations.

  • Seizure of Chinese unmanned vehicles operation on, under, or over the ocean.

  • Destruction of NKorean naval vessels such as the SSBN that is being built.

  • Destruction/sabotage of the Crimean shipyards seized from Ukraine and the Russian corvette vessels reportedly under construction there.  Such clandestine efforts would be an appropriate response to Russia’s illegal, militaristic, expansionist activities and send a clear message about our resolve.

And the list goes on.  To be fair, some of these activities may be occurring without public knowledge.  In fact, one hopes they are!  However, nothing I’ve seen even hints at this.  The SEALS appear to be firmly wedded to the land and make no particular effort to hide that fact which makes it unlikely that they are conducting the kind of hidden missions I’ve outlined.

There’s one more aspect to the SEALs that needs to be addressed.  SEALs, along with other military assets, have traditionally been used to take actions that support our national security but which may, on the face of it, appear illegal according to international laws and regulations.  For example, it’s widely believed that during the Cold War we sent submarines inside Soviet Union territorial waters to conduct clandestine operations.  Similarly, it’s assumed that we send SEALs on missions that may violate territorial boundaries.

The justification for this is that the countries in question have, by their own illegal and irresponsible actions, presented a threat to our national security and forfeited their rights to the protections provided by international law.  This is not the point of the post so I’m not going to discuss it further.

Note that in the SEAL mission description quoted earlier, we see this snippet regarding SEAL missions, “enemy …  before they can act”.  This is formally recognizing the pre-emptive nature of special forces missions.  The SEALs exist to take action before an enemy can take action against us.  Thus, the suggested missions list I presented earlier and which some of you are undoubtedly furiously pounding out replies about the illegality of, now become clear for what they are:  pre-emptive and preventative actions.

The SEALs need to return to the sea and leave the purely land operations to the other groups.  Why do we have Delta Force, Rangers, Green Berets, etc. if we’re going to intrude into their responsibilities with SEALs?  Would we think it makes sense to have Green Berets conduct sea based operations?  Of course not and the Navy would pitch a fit if they did, so why do we think the reverse makes sense?

Here’s another tidbit from the mission statement,

“… provide real-time, first-hand intelligence …”

The original purpose of the UDT/SEAL force was to provide intel.  Over the years, that has morphed into active and intentional combat.  The SEAL community has lost its focus or, more likely, intentionally changed the focus in pursuit of a larger budget slice.  We need to return the SEALs to clandestine intel collection and isolated destruction/sabotage rather than wholesale land combat.

The SEALs were never intended for sustained land combat and yet that is what they have become.  They’ve become a naval army.

Let’s cut way back on the size of the SEAL force, return those billets to the fleet, and refocus the SEAL mission responsibility to the sea-based arena that it is supposed to function in.

I love SEALs but I don’t love what they’ve become.


(1)navyseals.com website,

(2)Sofrep website, “Navy SEALs or Army Rangers: Who Has the Higher Numbers?”, Jack Murphy, 6-Aug-2015,

(3)Government Accounting Office (GAO), “Special Operations Forces”, July 2015, GAO-15-571, p.46
(4)ibid, p.55

(4)Navy website, Naval Special Warfare Command,

(5)United States Special Operations Command Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget Estimates, SOCOM-847,


  1. "The SEALs were never intended for sustained land combat and yet that is what they have become. They’ve become a naval army."

    What does our other Naval Army aka the Marines think about this ? The WWII Marines famously disbanded The Raiders since it diluted the Marine force pool.

    Bobs Baradur

    1. Didn't the Marines bring back Raiders in the form of an NCO based MARSOC?

    2. Yes, Raider badges on MARSOC, so Vanilla Marines will be a thing.

      Bobs Baradur

    3. Its unofficial Marine Recon history time. The anecdotal history (the oral history of the ancients) in the Marine Recon community, read Force Recon community, is that the Seal mission was offered to the to the Marines by Kennedy/his administration and it was turned down by top Marine generals at the time who had experience from WWII and Korea and weren't impressed with spec ops mainly because they had actual combat experiences and the clearances to read all of the after action reports of all of the failures of spec ops during WWII and Korea (thats why the Raiders got folded into conventional infantry-not doing anything any better than regular infantry and fouling up when trying to be high speed-see Makin raid). Also, they probably thought they, (the proposed Marine spec ops unit) would get taken away by the Army or the Navy in the end, which they had experienced some with Marine aviation. So, the Seals probably exist because the Marines turned down the original mission and it was offered to UDT who took it.

      Durning the cold war the official mission splint between Force Recon and Seals/UDT for support of amphibious/special operations was at the high water mark on the beach, above it and inland was Forces mission, below it and out to sea was the Seals/UDT, if one was not available or the job was to big to do alone the other unit would do it or supplement the other as needed to accomplish the mission.

      Force has never done the deep recon mission it was set up to do. It has always been done by what ever special operations unit/command that was in existence at the time, ie during Vietnam it was SOG, after that it was Special Operations Command during the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. So Force has only really done the distant (under the Division Artillery fan) or close recon missions that the Division Recon Battalion or infantry unit do respectively during times of actual war. So in essence Force kind of ends up being just another company in the Division Recon Battalion albeit with more insertion, breaching and shooting skills for the direct action/extremis hostage rescue and deep recon skills (which it won't end up doing) for the MEUSOC if SOCOM isn't or can't get there (the far side of the planet) in time.

      MARSOC finally established because one, the great migration of experienced/trained Recon Marines to SOCOM after both gulf wars/Afghanistan because they were not doing their traditional missions, they could see who was. Two, in Afghanistan SOCOM did the deep recon for the Marines who eventually went in and what regular Marines would had done if had been introduced earlier, so in order to play and not be left on the side lines setting on a ship they decided to join SOCOM with MARSOC and used Force to stand it up.

      Seals left the MEUSOC after 911 and never came back as far as I know. The pre 911 MEUSOC had an amphibious recon group consisting of a Force Recon Platoon, Recon platoon, and Seal platoon, so the recon platoon took over the pre assault amphibious recon work of the SEALS-the hydrographic/beach work hence the name change to amphibious recon platoon.

      Thats some of the unofficial recon history as I know it hope it helps.

    4. Fascinating summary. Thanks!

  2. I'd be curious how much of the expansion and universal usage of Special Forces is due to the command structure. Much of the problem might be tasking that has nothing to do with the Navy? They are no longer in charge of SEALS.

    I suggest this because while mission creep seems to have been occurring at the same time that Green Berets have gotten rid of their teaching role and the SEALs don't seem to be needed to prep the amphibian battlefield as much because they can pawn most of that off to the NCO's of MARSOC.

  3. I think the driving force of SEAL growth and expansion is marketing; Hollywood marketing. Think about it. When a script needs a military unit of bad-asses, or a former military bad-ass, it's usually a seal. This has spilled over to the decision making process of bureaucrats and members of Congress. Seals stand out the most, so they have become the "go-to" special operations group, which is good for the navy because it increases the Navy's "market share".

    1. While I think that you're certainly correct about the "Hollywood" appeal of SEALs to the public and Congress, I'd like to believe that our professional military leaders are not influenced by anything other than combat appropriateness and, at the risk of repeating the post, SEALs are being used inappropriately. This also implies that Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, and whatever other special forces we have are being used inappropriately, also, by not being used in their specialty which is land combat.

      The larger question is what role will SEALs play in high end, peer warfare and what numbers will be needed?

      I believe that special forces have little use in high end combat. We kind of saw that in Desert Storm. Special forces desperately wanted in on the action and Gen. Schwartzkopf wanted nothing to do with them. In the end, they played an insignificant role, at least as far as has been publicly acknowledged.

      What do you think about their role, if any, in high end, peer combat?

    2. "and whatever other special forces we have" sums it up quite well. Marine Recon and Air Force Para-Rescue are highly trained professionals but they keep a low profile. Either one of those groups could have pulled off a "Bin Laden compound" style raid just as well as the Seals.

      Maybe I'm getting cynical over time, but I'm convinced that most of the time, being good at politics is a bigger factor in becoming a policy maker than actually knowing anything about the subject. My congressman is on the House Armed Services Committee. When our district switched parties in the last election, the committee position was passed along too.

      In a high end, peer war; special ops will return to a supporting role. They just don't have the relative numbers or HEAVY FIREPOWER to take and HOLD positions critical to winning a high end war.

    3. "Marine Recon ... but they keep a low profile."

      Yes, like when the Corps arranged to have Recon photographed in Somalia? https://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/10/world/mission-to-somalia-tv-army-on-the-beach-took-us-by-surprise.html

      And no, it was not SEALs on the beach, but after the negative press, the Corps let that fact slide...


    4. "I'd like to believe that our professional military leaders are not influenced by anything other than combat appropriateness..."

      They're very much influenced by the competition for budget. Using SEALs is a way to make the Navy look glamorous and powerful, and that matters a lot when dealing with politicians.

  4. You missed one critical and only increasing mission historical mission priority: underwater cable inspection/tapping.

    During the Cold Way, those missions arguably produced the best intelligence we ever got about Russian operations. Today, there are more cables than ever and the world relies on them more than ever before. Russia, also, now probably has the capability to do what we did back then. Having just the 2 Seawolf's modified for this and their handful of SEALS doesnt seem like its gonna cut it, especially if things escalate further with Russia.

    Also, wanted to add that regardless of whether or not I agree with you about the SEALs actually carrying out those missions you laid out, I absolutely think they should be training extensively to carry them out and have ever evolving plans in place if they need to.

    1. Good point about underwater cables. As far as the Cold War cable tapping, my very vague impression is that it was not done with external divers. Do you know if that's true? Regardless, I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities for cable tapping today, whatever the means.

    2. "regardless of whether or not I agree with you about the SEALs actually carrying out those missions you laid out"

      I get the impression you don't agree that those are missions that we should do and I speculate that your reluctance is based on the legalities and perceived risk of escalation. Assuming I'm somewhere in the vicinity of correct, I acknowledge that the listed missions are far more aggressive than has been common for the last couple of decades. The fact that it hasn't been done that aggressively for some time, now, doesn't mean that degree of passivity is right, though. We've ceded our international strength to an alarming degree over the last couple of decades and need to reassert ourselves, to my way of thinking.

      When a third rate terrorist country like Iran can seize our ships and sailors with impunity and harass our warships then we've become far too passive. Just as potential criminals fear the police, so too, should criminal countries fear the U.S.

      To those who would disagree, I would point out that decades of passiveness on the international stage have produced more international lawlessness, not less. China is embarked on a full fledged takeover of the South Pacific, Russian has annexed and invaded countries and routinely harasses our military while threatening the world with nuclear destruction (a form of extortion), Iran funds terrorism, NKorea is moving full speed on a nuclear weapons program, ISIS and terrorism are rampant, etc. Passivity and measured responses clearly are not producing the results we'd like.

      Forgive me if I've attributed an entire line of thought to you that you didn't intend! I kind of used the comment to make a point about why we have SEALs and how we should be using them. Feel free to rip me if I'm way off base as regards your thoughts!

      If you do disagree, I'd love to hear your thoughts in light of the point I just made about recent history.

      Further, if you don't think we should do the missions I listed but you do think we should plan/train for them, when do you think we would ever do them? When war comes? By then, you can accomplish the same thing with a cruise missile and not risk any people!


    3. You are right about my misgivings. However, I think your perception of history is incredibly skewed by confirmation and recency biases. I dont believe any real or perceived passiveness from the West has anything to do with what you described, nor do I think what you described is at all outside of historical norms/trends.

      International terrorism rates are still lower than during the 70s and 80s. And overall sophistication of that terrorism threat is a shadow of what it once was. ISIS is still a problem, but it was absolutely created by US aggression rather than passiveness.

      In the 70s and 80s you had Libya, Iran, Iraq, and NK all pursuing various WMD programs. They were also heavy sponsors, among others (including USSR and US) that were state sponsors of terrorists. China is only exerting itself in the South Pacific because they are finally able to economically (not too long ago they were getting beaten up by Vietnam, remember?). Putin wants to bring back the USSR so he is continuing their history of foreign intervention. Its not like we had the best track record of resisting Soviet aggression back in the day. It tooks us quite a long time to get stingers into AF.

      If our ships and sailors are in such a sorry state that they wander into territorial waters unawares, well, you play stupid games and you win stupid prizes. We should focus on ensuring we dont hang our own forces out to dry. And other countries have been harassing our ships for as long as we have had ships. Its not like every little incident led to an El Dorado Canyon or Prime Chance.

      And I would say that in regards to when the missions you listed would be warranted, El Dorado Canyon and Prime Chance give a pretty good template. Commercial and military ships start getting mined and attacked? International waters are attempted to be closed off and FON missions are responded to with hostile military actions? Bring down the hammer. With regards to NK, I would say that if they start attacking fishing vessels or SK ships or try to pull some Pueblo shit, sinking a bunch of their stuff is totally appropriate.

    4. From what I understand from Blind Man's Bluff and other sources the cable tapping was definitely done by divers.

      Also, one other rumor I just remembered: do you remember that huge rail yard explosion in NK in the late 90s (I think)? A few second and 3rd hand accounts from SEALs said that was either a direct attempt on daddy Kim's life or was intended as warning to him.

    5. "I dont believe any real or perceived passiveness from the West has anything to do with what you described, nor do I think what you described is at all outside of historical norms/trends."

      Very good comment. Reasoned and well presented. Your interpretation of events differs from mine but I have no problem with that. Your comment offers readers an alternative perspective to consider. I like that!

    6. "rail yard explosion in NK"

      You're talking about the Ryongchon incident, I'm guessing? I had never heard that it might be linked to a SEAL operation. The widespread damage and high death toll does not sound like a careful and focused SEAL type mission but who knows?

    7. Thanks CNO, I try reason out stuff as best I can.

      Yeah it was the Ryongchon incident. I wouldnt put a lot of stock into the rumor I heard. I have never seen anything suggesting it since, and given the location inside NK it would have been ridiculously hard to infiltrate a team there.

  5. Impossible. SOF have their own 4 star CINC and many have become Combatant Commanders... That is institutional security for you... During the Cold War when we had 3+ million men in arms globally, SEALs only had one or two , one star Flag Officers for their small but tight 2500 man community, just like the Marine Corps of the Cold War was led by only one three star General... It's called organizational creep...

    The entire SOF community from all services, including SEALs, is on steroids since 9-11 with a huge at the expense of conventional forces. That means more "purple" vice "blue" SEALs are needed... "that's a fact Jack".

    This syndrome feeds itself. The politicians acquiesce to the demand for SpecOps globally and it takes a larger number of them just to fill the roles. It's as simple as that for the civilians/politicians that direct/lead the military, Right? And of course SEALs are there own best PAOs...Who killed OBL? Not Corporal Smith from the 4th Inf Div... "Thank you for your service" from a civilian means more for some warfighters than others. LOL. back during the 80's thru the GW and up to 9-11, flyers were the favorites. The attitude has changed.

    However, who has really killed more bad guys (IE-Islamists)? Aviators flying attack jets/helos/drones or SOF. Hard to tell ain't it? Ask that question and then ask why aviators/pilots are leaving in droves...

    I just hope (hope ain't a strategy..) they don't cut quality of the SOF or force them to be PC like the rest of the conventional forces but the Sen. Guilibrands of this world will never let up until that is so...


  6. It would be instructive to go back to the debate surrounding the Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986, Public law: 99-433, and in particular the Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the 1987 National Defense Authorization of 1987 to understand why the nation ended up with USSOCOM as it stands today.

    The USMC of course bitterly opposed SOCOM, but lost a series of bureaucratic battles (MEUSOC!) as it sought to compete with the organization, and finally ended up joining the club about a decade ago.

    Our apparent endless series of interventions in the Middle East and North Africa, inadequate staff in the intelligence community, and a long-standing issue of conventionalization of SOF (assigning SOF mission sets that could otherwise be assigned to conventional forces) have upset the rough balance of mission sets/forces in SOCOM.

    The conventionalization of SOF was accelerated by the classification levels driving many missions, e.g. a simple "call out", or roundup of an AQ/Daesh/whatever fighter. Sergeant Gish and his infantry squad can probably do the job, but there is no way that the troops all have the clearances and other procedures in place to even look at the target packages , or handle recovered intelligence properly.

    So how busy is SOF? At the height of the Iraq surge, it was common for some units to roll on a dozen targets in a night. That level of employment for deployed units makes it tough to revisit force structure.

    All this is an admission that SOCOM is looking uncomfortably like another Military Department, but the pre-Goldwater-Nichols defense structure was also unsatisfactory. The solutions are not straight forward, but the essence is to stop the endless interventions and focus on *material* threats to the nation. Then we can then focus on force structure. And for 3,000 SEAL operators, NSW is very lean at less than 10k sailors: the USA would love have 9 to 10 support troops for every infantryman.


    1. "And for 3,000 SEAL operators, NSW is very lean at less than 10k sailors: the USA would love have 9 to 10 support troops for every infantryman."

      To amplify on support levels, we tend to think of SOF as a few guys sneaking around doing something - small group, no big effort. The reality is that they consume large amounts of conventional forces to support them. They need transport (helos, an entire submarine!, an amphibious ship, etc.), on-going conventional intel support, possible diversionary actions, some kind of firepower support on standby to bail them out, standby rescue forces, logistical resupply for extended missions, etc. So, while the SOF force itself may not be very large, SOF forces consume large amounts of conventional support. They are parasites on conventional forces, in a sense.

      Even in garrison, they are supported by conventional forces for food, housing, weapons and ammo, training facilities to some extent, transport, etc.

      SOF support does not readily appear in the table of organization but it does exist.

    2. "The conventionalization of SOF"

      Great point.

    3. The military rightly should be focused on high end combat, yet there remain an entire class of military missions that SOF are significantly better suited for than conventional forces. A mech infantry battalion is generally inappropriate for a Non Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO).

      This post is about SEALs, but puts too much emphasis on destruction of targets - in an age of nuclear weapons, we can easily say that all conventional forces are obsolete. In fact this was U.S. policy following WWII - we had the bomb, and they did not... until they did.

      Warfare is not simply about destruction, it is about imposition of will, there is a very real human dynamic that is missing here. Troops in past wars understood that they were at risk of death or dismemberment from a myriad of means,

    4. This post is about SEALs, but puts too much emphasis on destruction of targets - in an age of nuclear weapons, we can easily say that *all* conventional forces are obsolete - in fact we did! U.S. policy following WWII was - we had the bomb, and they did not ... until they did.

      Warfare is not simply about destruction, it is about imposition of will, and there is a very real human dynamic that is missing here. Unless we are willing to commit genocide, we must come to grips with this dynamic – very few armies fight to the last man.

      Troops in past wars understood that they were at risk of death or dismemberment from a myriad of means, but some methods of attack (e.g. snipers) were particularly loathsome and instill fear or panic effects in the enemy disproportionate to the effort required. The infiltration of a handful of men into enemy positions, or rear areas to silently kill a few sentries or other personnel with a knife or garrote and leave silently can be devastating. The loss of a handful of men in a battalion fighting a major war is insignificant, but waking up next to a dead comrade knowing that an enemy crept into your position and intentionally chose him, but not you is a legendary bit of mental stress.

      The military rightly should be focused on high end combat, yet there remain an entire class of military missions that SOF is significantly better suited for than conventional forces. For example, a tank battalion is generally inappropriate for a Non Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO).

      There is also the reality that a nation may need to turn millions of civilians into uniformed killers, but may want to carefully avoid wide distribution of certain skills.


    5. I have no disagreement with the value of snipers, infiltration, and the like. The point of the post is that those missions are generally land missions and, as such, are more appropriate for Army snipers, Green Berets, Rangers, and the like - if not, why do we have them? The point of the post is that SEALs should return to the sea and conduct "water" missions - on the sea, to the sea, from the sea. The SEAL community has become oversized due to "trespassing" into the land arena and, as you so correctly noted, the conventionalization of special forces. I noted a lot of sea-based missions that are going unfilled (at least as far as we publicly know) while SEALs are roaming the land.

      Aside: Has anyone heard of a Green Beret mission lately? They used to be focused on COIN but I haven't even heard of that recently.

    6. I do not see a mission problem, or a numbers problem, I see an intervention problem.

      Commanders will justifiably pull whatever resources to patch manpower and skill shortfalls, SEALs fit into that equation just like Marines, or artillerymen turned into infantry. Stop the interventions, and a lot of the excesses you describe will end.

      NCDU, UDT, and SEALs have *always* been amphibians from day one - it is a question of degree: SEa Air Land!

      Special Forces (Green Berets) were intended to be a European focused force with Unconventional Warfare expertise.

      COIN - you mean Foreign Internal Defense (FID)? The Green Berets do that too, SF has also had a heavy Direct Action capability from early on (MIKE force, MACV-SOG, etc.). DA can and should be a part of COIN.


    7. You might remember that 4 Green Berets were killed in action serving in Niger last October.

    8. "You might remember that 4 Green Berets were killed in action serving in Niger last October."

      A good reminder.

    9. Green Berets are executing combat missions *as you read this and have done so since 911...


    10. List of Special Operations Core Activities from JP 3-05 (includes all services not just SEALs):
      - Direct action
      - Special reconnaissance
      - Countering weapons of mass destruction
      - Counterterrorism
      - Unconventional warfare
      - Foreign internal defense
      - Security force assistance
      - Hostage rescue and recovery
      - Counterinsurgency
      - Foreign humanitarian assistance
      - Military information support operations
      - Civil affairs operations


  7. According to Reference 1, "NSW is a remarkably small, elite force. There are 2,450 active duty SEALs, (just 1% of all Navy personnel), and 600 active duty SWCC. These forces spearhead our global maritime security worldwide. NSW reserves number 325 SEALs, 125 SWCC, and 775 support personnel."

    According to Reference 2, “The total number of personnel in the SEAL teams comes in at 8,195. Subtracting those assigned to SEAL Team Six, we get a figure of 6,895."

    I'm not sure where Murphy got his numbers from, but they don't jive with Reference 1.

    Also, according to Wiki, there are 1,345 military assigned to DEVGRU, obviously not sure how many are SEALS.

  8. I believe that special forces have little use in high end combat….. What do you think about their role, if any, in high end, peer combat?”

    I sincerely believe that SOF/SF have a small but vital role in high end combat as well in low end combat. I do not, however, believe that SF/Raiding forces are a war-winning instrument all by itself which some people seems to think.

    Firstly, as you have stated in your post, SOF can and should provide real-time intelligence to larger conventional forces. The reason for this is that I believe that the conventional surveillance methods (radars, UAV:s, ELINT/SIGINT etc.) will suffer degradation due to maintenance issues (prolonged combat operations), enemy counter-measures, destruction etc. Any intelligence provided by SF-will of course not be directly “war-winning” but should be able to provide advance warning which in the end (probably and hopefully) can avoid giving the enemy the element of surprise.

    Secondly SOF can and should support the conventional forces in degrading the enemy’s command, support and surveillance system (radars, sensors, depots etc.) and by that increase the survival chances of the larger more capable force.

    Thirdly SOF can increase the fog-of-war for the enemy commander by “cluttering-up” or “jam” the situation board by diversion raids, spreading confusion in support areas, forcing dispersion of enemy forces etc.

    That said all this SOF-activities will not by itself win a large conventional war, the primary punch is still being delivered by conventional forces and if they fail the overall campaign will fail regardless of the SOF-contribution. Conventional forces can of course go along, all by itself, and win or lose the fight without any SOF-contribution as have been done before in history. I do believe that SOF-forces can and should support the conventional forces because their effort may help and to some extent simplify the task that the conventional force is facing.

    That said this is a general statement and there is probably any number of scenarios there the above is not applicable. My intention is not to argue about the inclusion of SOF in these scenarios where they “not belong” but rather using the available forces in an appropriate way in order to secure the best possible outcome.


    1. A reasonable analysis, especially the intel collection aspect. Most of the "degrading" (by which I assume you mean destruction), raids, etc. can be done today with a few cruise missiles and no one is put at risk.

      Good comment.

    2. A reasonable analysis, especially the intel collection aspect. Most of the "degrading" (by which I assume you mean destruction), raids, etc. can be done today with a few cruise missiles and no one is put at risk.

      I would also remind everyone that SOF operations are not "free". We tend to think of a few guys sneaking ashore and doing something. No big deal. The reality is that "simple" operation requires disproportionate effort, planning, and support. Those few guys need to be transported, logistically maintained, and have rescue support standing by. In Desert Storm, Gen. Schwarzkopf was opposed to SOF for this very reason. He considered SOF to be not worth the resources they tied up when compared to the results they produced.

      Good comment.

    3. Cruise missiles and bombs cannot deal with (capture/recover) a nuclear weapon.

      And putting men in UBL face had orders of magnitude more impact on Muslim extremists than air delivered ordnance.

      The Son Tay raid had much greater effect on the enemy than B-52 strikes.


  9. The question should be

    What chance would "commando style" raid and sabotage actions have to succeed against a near peer enemy ?

    Here is an example from WWII

    Operation Chariot, or the St Nazaire Raid, was a triumphant British attack from the water. This took place at the dry dock in St Nazaire, Normandy, which was very heavily defended. The combined forces of the Royal Navy and British Commandos undertook this operation on March 28th 1942.

    HMS Campbeltown (destroyer) led this operation, joined by eighteen smaller craft. They crossed over the English Channel to France and smashed into the dock gates. The Campbeltown had been packed full of delayed-action explosive devices that detonated later in the day. This put the dock out of use for up to five years.

    Following this raid, out of the 622 British men involved, 169 were killed, 215 became POW’s and 228 returned home to Britain. German troops lost over 360, killed in action (most upon the explosion of HMS Campbeltown).

    In a modern high end war, could you accept the loss of so many experienced and trained special operation personnel in such a quick period of time?

    1. Any special ops action that results in the destruction of "something" can be done today with a few cruise missiles a lot easier and with no risk to personnel.

      Your example is a classic example of a cruise missile strike today that would have no friendly casualties and could be accomplished in minutes/hours.

      Intel collection remains the one valid use for SOF in a high end, peer war. Anything that results in destruction can be better done by cruise missiles.

    2. To be fair, the personnel on the Operation Chariot were not selected or trained to the standards of SEALs. They were the approximate equivalent of present-day Royal Marines, who are trained as commandos and are more special-operations focussed than the regular infantry of the USMC.

  10. As a side note, the Army runs a 7-week Combat Diver Qualification Course at the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Florida for Green Berets and Rangers. Some of the training parallels the Navy SEALS, like drown proofing with your arms and legs bounded and swimming 50 yards underwater on a single breath.


  11. SOF has expanded into a super size, on steroids, jumbo force (purple w/4 star COCOM) the same way that every federal, state, city and county government has a SWAT Team with mil weaponry and tactical vehicles... Politicians are civilians and civilians are scared...

    Why? Because they can. SEALs even have a secure job future after the service nowadays as fitness and tactical sunglass gurus! LOL. They are Special, right? EX- As soon as they are identified as SOF due to a high profile mission they were on they have a TV talking head job asap. Even if they were petty officers with only tactical experience (very lethal pros) and no idea of maneuver warfare or one end of a ship or aircraft from the other...Except for Tommy Franks what great "real war" operation has been pulled off the last 15 years?


    1. "tactical sunglass gurus"

      That had me laughing! Yeah, I've seen the commercials. I've noticed that you can sell anything and for twice the price if you put the word "tactical" in front of it. Speaking of which, I have to run to the grocery store. I'm out of tactical toilet paper - it's cammo colored, I can use it to start a fire, and it's multi-ply so I can use it as a garrote.

    2. Roger, on the camo t-paper with some ex GB or SEAL NCOs to tout it on TV wearing a 3 day growth of beard, shooting shir,t and that killer look! It sells. McP's in Coronado used to be a jet pilots bar in my day but since 9-11 its a SEAL owned hangout! Its cool/rewarding to be SOF! LOL. We love 'em!
      But seriously though, since "Joint" (Goldwater-Nichols) became "in" after the buffoonery aspects of Grenada/Panama, the US Navy has supplied "blue" SEALS for US Navy and Amphibious warfare Marine business/tasks and "purple" SEALS for the JOINT SOF commander for worldwide business/tasks. Every thing has gotten larger after 9-11 because no one really wants to do another Operation Iraqi Freedom or Desert Storm anymore.. they want small LIC against the worldwide dispersed terrorist enemy.. As you say their (SOF) budget on steroids depletes the maneuver warfare forces budgets for armor, artillery and infantry both, USA and USMC. The 75th RR and SOAR are shock troops, not SOF and in the olden days worked well with/complemented the maneuver warfare forces.. It seems today that SOF (due to being on steroids/TV) has gone from "supporting to supported"... Some of them in SOF might be first to reveal that fact but they are just "riding the wave" while it lasts...


  12. I was thinking and got to the conclusion that the last time SEAL's were used properly was in Vietnam.

    1. IIRC they were used in a diversion on a beach in 1991.
      There may also have been some proper (in the tactical sense) employment on Grenada, though I don't remember it.

  13. I have very different reasons to reject permanent "special forces" units and formations of all kinds.

    They deprive the infantry and other combat arms of good personnel, and the preference of senior leadership for employing "special forces" on missions that were once routinely done by regular infantry causes the latter to atrophy and lose the confidence of senior leadership.

    if I may, I'd like to drop links instead of repeating myself at length:

    1. Important points, but ones that can be managed - if military and civilian leadership have the discipline to limit numbers.

      You cannot get rid of SOF because many of the skill sets required are outside the needs of conventional forces, cannot be introduced in a crisis, or are too expensive to replicate across conventional units.

      Germany has had good success replicating many SOF functions in paramilitary forces (e.g. Grenzschutzgruppe 9) - there are some parallels with the FBI HRT.

      The 75th Ranger Regiment prior to 911 was an excellent example of how a SOF formation could be used to complement the conventional force by providing extra command tours and a constant rotation of personnel between the SOF unit and regular infantry.


  14. CNO, 'There are now 8 SEAL Teams, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10 with Teams 7 and 10 having been formed in 2002. There are also two reserve SEAL Teams, 17 & 18.'

    Prior to the establishment of SEAL Teams 7 and 10, SEALS consisted of 6 teams each with 8 platoons. The reorganization allowed the Navy to field 8 teams with 6 platoons each. This allowed the Navy to deploy 1 team from each coast for 6 months will the other 3 prepared for deployment.


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