ARLINGTON, Va. — After spending the better part of the past two decades supporting wars in a desert region, the U.S. Navy is starting to bring the SEALs back into the fold as it faces threats from major powers such as China and Russia.
The Navy is incorporating its elite special warfare teams into strategic calculations for every potential major power combat scenario, from China and Russia to Iran and North Korea, said Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran in a round-table with reporters at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium.
The movement toward reconnecting with the blue water force (the Navy’s regular ships, aircraft and submarine forces) started under former Naval Special Warfare Command head Rear Adm. Brian Losey, who retired in 2016. The effort has continued to grow under subsequent commanders, said Moran.
“It’s to the point now where we include them in all of our exercises, our war games, our tabletops — because as much as it is their chance to ‘re-blue,’ it’s our chance to reconnect from the blue side," he added. “We’ve grown used to not having them in a lot of those situations. Now as we’ve done the tabletops, the exercises and the war games, we see: ‘Wow, there is some great capability here that can set the conditions for the kind of operations in every single one of those campaigns.’ And that will continue to grow, I think.”
There have been indications that the SEALs are specifically eyeing environments similar to those in the South China Sea. A recent environmental assessment obtained by the Honolulu Star Advertiser revealed that the SEALs were looking to triple the amount of training time spent in the Hawaiian islands, expanding from Oahu and Hawaii island to Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
The training included the use of drones, C-17 cargo carriers, helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and AC-130 gunships, the Advertiser reported.
The environmental assessment said the number of training events on the islands is to increase from 110 annually to 330.
At the same time, there are indicators that the heavy deployment schedule of SEALs has taken a toll on the elite teams, with concerns ranging from drug use in the force and suicides to war crimes committed downrange.
Moran acknowledged the health concerns and said it was something top Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Collin Green is working to address.
“Any time we see indicators of drug activity, sexual assault, suicidal ideations — all of those things, when they show up in significant numbers large enough, we have to go look at the climate and command structure and look at these issues,” Moran said.
“There is no doubt that this force is the highest deployed force in the Navy,” he continued. “We have [to] keep our eyes on it. I’ve talked with Adm. Green when I was out there. [The SEALs] feel like they’re head is in the right place, they’re addressing the issues when they come up.
“Like any force you have to constantly remind them about their professionalism and the expectations we have about ethical and moral behavior.”
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.