By Dan Parsons
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Navy SEALS have spent the past decade supporting two ground wars in land locked countries. Their “gills may have dried out a little,” but the U.S. military's shift to the Pacific will give special operators a chance to get their feet wet again, said Capt. Travis Schweizer, head of Naval Special Warfare at the Navy’s Expeditionary Warfare Directorate.
“As we draw down from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re going to be getting back to our maritime roots,” Schweizer said Sept. 13 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare conference. “That’s not to say that SEALs aren’t still all over the world.”
SEALs are stationed on nearly every continent and spend almost 70 percent of their time either forward deployed or training. Of a total Naval Special Warfare workforce of 9,000, around 3,500 SEALs are training for various missions.
“Since 2003, our op[erational] tempo has been extremely high, if not the highest ever,” Schweizer said. “The community is still growing.”
Other than in manpower, much of that growth will be in maritime capabilities both above and below the water’s surface, Schweizer said.
SEALs also plan to acquire some new technologies, Schweizer said.
A top priority is a replacement for the Scan Eagle tactical unmanned aerial system. Called the Small Tactical UAS, or STUAS, the envisioned platform would offer more payload capacity than the Scan Eagle with a multi-sensor capability. Scan Eagle has been a workhorse for SEALs in Iraq and Afghanistan, flying 6,000 sorties for a total of 30,000 flight hours since 2008, Schweizer said. The 108 Scan Eagles currently in use will be maintained until the STUAS is available. Naval Special Warfare officials want at least 25 STUAS systems. The Marine Corps is also on the market and plans to buy 32 of the unmanned aircraft.
Naval Special Warfare officials are awaiting delivery of the Afloat Forward Staging Base, from which special operators can launch small boats and helicopters. Of four AFSBs being built, two will be SOF capable, Schweizer said. These ships will allow SEALs to launch a variety of vehicles, including the Mark VI patrol boat, an 85-foot craft that also is on the wish list.
The craft is seen as a replacement for smaller vessels like the 68-foot Mark IV and 34-foot Sea Ark patrol boats. A $30.5 million contract was awarded earlier this year to Bremerton, Wash.-based SAFE Boats International to build five of the new patrol boats. Like almost everything the military is buying, the boats will be multi-mission, with the capability to do everything from fast attack to counter-mine warfare using small, unmanned undersea vehicles.
The new technologies are aimed at gaining “access” to areas where potential adversaries are armed with precision guided missiles. The Pentagon is concerned with countering “anti-access, area-denial” threats such as cruise and ballistic missiles.
Photo Credit: Navy