SEALs to Undergo 'Evolution in Reverse' as They Return to Maritime Operations

By Dan Parsons
TAMPA, Fla. — As the U.S. military turns its attention to the Pacific, Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) teams are already undergoing a transition back to their maritime roots, said Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, commander of Navy Special Warfare.
The SEALs have shied from the “sea” portion of their title during the past 12 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are now famous for the landlocked airborne raid that killed public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.
Pybus called the endeavor to return the force to is traditional sea-based missions “amphibious evolution in reverse.”
“There is plenty of work in the maritime environment,” he said at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here. “By Christmas, we will cut in half the number of SEAL platoons in Afghanistan. Much of our force will return to the water.”
Within the next decade, 90 percent of the world’s population will live on or near a coast, he said.
“There are already urban problems on the coast,” he said, derived from the “crushing” of large populations into mega-cities. Rattling off a few examples, Pybus mentioned Tripoli, Libya, the South China Sea and Bangladesh.
The Navy is set to go on a boat-buying spree in support of its missions in areas like the Strait of Malacca that are host to huge swaths of global commerce.
Adm. William McRaven, Special Operations Command commander, has issued a “maritime mobility roadmap” that spells out how SOCOM will purchase a family of watercraft comprising large stealth boats and smaller craft that can be launched from motherships at sea.
“We won’t get all those in the numbers we want, based on fiscal reality … but we’ll try to get them in sufficient numbers to get our work done,” McRaven said.
The need for new vehicles is not the only issue ailing the special operations forces community. Though they have a reputation as a highly skilled and accomplished warriors, SEALs lack the most up-to-date equipment for maritime operations. They sometimes even find themselves operating with allied special operators that are better equipped, Pybus said.
“Some of our partners have equipment that, quite frankly, is better than ours because we spent a decade fighting ashore,” Pybus said. “It’s time to catch up.”
SEALs in the future will need new scuba gear, including rebreathers and underwater propulsion systems, he said. In the meantime, plans are to use the equipment at hand up to, and perhaps, beyond their life cycles, he said.
The transition back to seaborne and coastal operations is not a SEAL-specific endeavor. The Marine Corps has plans to regain its sea legs. Even the Army and Air Force are mulling what their operations will look like in an era where the Defense Department’s focus is on an area of the world marked by vast expanses of open ocean.
In the Pacific, much of the population is clustered in large cities near coasts, said Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of Army Special Operations Command.
Drawing down from years fighting two landlocked wars, U.S. forces are burdened with a horde of theater-specific equipment and vehicles that are not designed for use on and near the ocean, Cleveland said.
“Our tools that we have developed for our style of land warfare, largely are not relevant,” he said. “What we built to fight in the last two wars is not what we need for the future.”
Air Force special operators are tasked with figuring out how to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and airlift to a force that will be dispersed throughout the world. The vast expanses of the Pacific are a concern for those tasked with getting SEALs and other commandos where they need to be, said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.
The CV-22 Osprey is capable of providing for those needs, but the Air Force will buy its last one in 2014. Then the service must take on the challenge of maintaining a fleet that has flown long, hard hours in dangerous scenarios — an expensive but necessary endeavor in a fiscal environment in which the Air Force has little chance to buy new aircraft, Fiel said.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, SOF Training

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