US Navy SEALs are training to fight on land and water in a ‘strategic location’ near Russia

Navy Special Warfare Hungary Danube Budapest
Hungarian special operations forces and Naval Special Warfare operators test Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R) capabilities in the Danube River in Budapest, May 5, 2021.

  • During the first half of May, US and European special operators teamed up for an exercise across Eastern Europe.
  • The drills were meant to test how conventional and special-operations units would work together in a major conflict.
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In early May, the US Special Operations Europe (SOCEUR) conducted its largest annual exercise in conjunction with a smaller one, training with special-operations units from several NATO member and partner countries.

Trojan Footprint 21 and Black Swan 21 are especially pertinent as tensions with Russia in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea are still simmering.

SOCEUR planned both exercises to happen at the same time to simulate a full-blown conflict with Russia ranging from the Baltic states and Scandinavia south to Ukraine and the Black Sea region.

Army Romania Ukraine Special Forces Green Beret
Romanian, Ukrainian, and US Army Green Berets conduct close-quarters-battle training during Trojan Footprint 21 in Romania, May 6, 2021.

US Navy SEALs, Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCCs), Green Berets, and Air Commandos were joined in the exercise by special operators from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Spain, Ukraine, and the UK.

The realistic exercises took place in Romania and across Eastern Europe.

Besides testing the interoperability of different national special-operations units in skill-sets such as close-air support, close-quarters battler, and visit, board, search, and seizure, the two exercises, particularly Trojan Footprint, focused on how conventional and special-operations units would work together in a major conflict with Russia.

Integration between conventional and special-operations troops is essential in a near-peer conflict environment.

Navy SEALs vs. Russia

Navy special operations Croatia Hungary Adriatic
Naval special-operations forces from Croatia, Hungary, and the US conduct maritime training in the Adriatic Sea during the Black Swan 21, May 8, 2021.

In a potential conflict with Russia, Naval Special Warfare units would be extremely valuable for several reasons.

Since the annexation of the peninsula, the Russian military has bolstered its presence in the region, making it a seemingly impenetrable fortress guarding Moscow’s southern flank both from land and air.

In addition to potent radar systems that can track surface vessels hundreds of miles out, Russia has deployed several batteries of the formidable S-400 anti-aircraft system – the same one that caused Turkey to be kicked out of the F-35 program – to Crimea.

Indeed, Moscow has turned the peninsula into a prime example of the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) concept, which aims to defeat US air and naval supremacy by threatening ships and aircraft with missiles and other weapons and thus preventing them from getting within range.

Air Force MC-130J special operations Albania
A US Air Force MC-130J during low-level flight training over the mountains of Albania, May 4, 2021.

Crimea, however, would be an ideal environment for Naval Special Warfare operations.

SEAL Teams can conduct over-the-beach raids and ambushes, maritime and land special reconnaissance, and underwater special operations, such as placing sensors on the ocean or limpet mines on enemy vessels.

Russian radar installations and A2/AD batteries and command-and-control systems would be a logical target for SEAL platoons.

But SEALs aren’t the only Naval Special Warfare element that could play an important role in a potential conflict with Russia.

An unknown gem

Croatia, Hungary, and the US Navy special operations Adriatic Sea
Naval Special Operations Forces from Croatia, Hungary, and the US conduct maritime training in the Adriatic Sea during the Black Swan 21, May 7, 2021.

Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC) are one of the smallest special-operations in the US Special Operations Command.

With less than 1,000 commandos – out of about 70,000 special operators in the entire US military – Special Boat Teams specialize in maritime direct-action, special reconnaissance, and infiltration/exfiltration of other special-operations units.

“SWCCs are a perfect fit for a near-peer contingency. We’re such a small community people tend to underestimate our capabilities. But we bring so much to the table. We’re more than the ‘boat guys’ who transport SEALs on target. We can conduct operations unilaterally in both an open-sea and riverine environment,” an active-duty SWCC operator, who was granted anonymity to speak about the unit’s role, told Insider.

There are three Special Boat Teams, two focusing on blue-water, or ocean/sea, operations and one on brown-water, or riverine, operations.

Special operations forces helicopter repel Hungary
Austrian, Croatian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Slovenian, and US special-operations forces during exercise Black Swan 21 in Szolnok, Hungary, May 12, 2021.

They operate several special-operations platforms, including the Combatant Craft Assault (CCA), Combatant Craft Medium (CCM), Combatant Craft Heavy (CCH), which are all geared toward littoral and open-sea operations, and the Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R), which is essentially a gun platform designed for riverine operations.

“But perhaps our greatest asset is our stealth and firepower. Done correctly, the enemy would never know we were there, or they would be too dead to care,” the SWCC operator added.

Besides clandestinely transporting SEALs to Russian installations in Crimea, SWCCs can be very effective in rivers with the SOC-R. Riverine operations offer some great advantages, namely, speed, firepower, and stealth.

During Black Swan 21, SWCCs honed their riverine skills on the Danube River, Europe’s second-largest, which flows from Germany to the Black Sea and passes through 10 countries.

US special-operations units do have some real-world experience on riverine environments and riverine operations.

Naval Special Warfare SWCC Hungary Danube
Hungarian special-operations forces and Naval Special Warfare operators conduct infiltration and exfiltration training with Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R) in the Danube River during Black Swan, May 5, 2021.

During counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, Navy SEALs and Rangers sometimes used rivers to their advantage when the improvised explosive device (IED) threat made roads too dangerous.

In a number of operations, SWCCs transported a SEAL or Ranger ground force close to a target by river, where insurgents wouldn’t be waiting for them, to great success as the insurgents were caught unawares.

In the 2012 movie “Act of Valor,” which was sponsored by Naval Special Warfare Command and starred active-duty SEAL and SWCC operators, showcased the utility and advantages of riverine operations during a fictional hostage-rescue scenario.

In the movie, SWCCs clandestinely insert a SEAL squad that rescues the hostage from the terrorist base – located very conveniently right next to a river – and extracts them under fire.

Despite its fictional aspects, the movie shows how riverine special-operations capability can be used to strike very deep behind enemy lines, where an enemy wouldn’t expect it and thus would be less prepared.

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

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All US special operators train for combat diving, but Navy SEALs take it to another level

Navy SEALs
Navy SEALs.

  • Special-operations units from each US military service branch train to conduct combat diving as a part of their missions.
  • Navy SEALs take that capability further, however, practicing not only to travel through the water but to conduct underwater missions as well.
  • With the military refocusing for a potential conflict in the vast Pacific region, that diving capability is taking on new importance.
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Water covers more than 70% of the earth, making maritime operations a must-have capability for any competent military.

Besides having the strongest Navy in the world, the US military possesses potent maritime special-operations resources, with the majority of its special-operations units having some combat diving capability.

Marine Raiders and Reconnaissance Marines have different training pipelines but go through the same dive school in Panama City.

Navy Marine Corps combat diver
A Navy special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman, left, and a reconnaissance Marine in underwater gear during a Marine combat diving course in Okinawa, May 20, 2020

Army Green Berets have dedicated combat diver teams, and some Rangers go through the arduous Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Florida, one of the most challenging courses in the Army, where even special operators wash out.

Air Force Combat Controllers, Pararescuemen, and Special Reconnaissance operators also go through dive school in Panama City before finishing their own training courses. Those units often send students to the Army’s course.

With some exceptions, such as Special Forces dive teams who teach combat diving to foreign troops, for these units combat diving is primarily an insertion method – a way to the job rather than the job itself.

However, Navy SEAL Teams take maritime special-operations to another level.

Frogmen

Office of Strategic Services OSS frogmen
Office of Strategic Services Special Maritime Unit Group A frogmen on Santa Catalina Island, California, December 1943.

Navy SEALs trace their lineage to the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) of World War II.

These frogmen were tasked with amphibious reconnaissance and clearing beaches before the Marine Corps or the Army landed. They saw action in Normandy during D-Day and in almost every major operation in the Pacific.

Since then, the combat diver capability (or combat swimmer, as SEALs call it) is part of every SEAL’s DNA. SEAL students receive combat diving training during the initial and the advanced portions of the SEAL pipeline.

Aspiring SEALs learn the basics of combat diving during the Second (or Dive) Phase of the six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training course. This portion of the training contains Pool Competence, the pipeline’s second most difficult event after First Phase’s Hell Week.

During Pool Comp, students go through increasingly stressful underwater tests in a monitored environment. The goal is to see if they can follow basic procedures that could save their lives in a real-world operation while under extreme physical and mental stress.

During the SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) course, which comes after BUD/S, aspiring SEALs receive additional and more advanced combat diving training.

Navy SEAL diver
A Navy SEAL assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group 2 during military dive operations in the Gulf of Mexico, October 11, 2018.

The reason for the additional training is that SEALs are the only special-operations unit tasked with underwater special operations, such as placing limpet mines on enemy ships or conducting reconnaissance of an enemy harbor.

One of their better-known underwater missions took place in 1989 during Operation Just Cause. A four-man SEAL element was tasked with sinking Manuel Noriega’s personal boat to prevent the Panamanian dictator’s escape. Despite some resistance from a few vigilant guards, the SEALs were able to plant limpet mines and destroy the vessel.

Although the SEAL Teams’ missions might be different than those of other US special-operations combat diver units, the basic training isn’t.

“Actually, the military’s combat diver communities are all very similar in the curriculums being taught,” a highly seasoned Special Forces combat diver told Insider. “We all fall under SOCOM [US Special Operations Command], and the Navy is the proponent for all diving operations. They approve and monitor tasks being taught at each school.”

“We all use [combat diving] for the same reason – clandestine infiltration using an oxygen rebreather,” the operator said, referring to the MK25 MOD2, made by Dräger.

“[We all] get to work using our fins,” added the operator, who has taught at the Army’s combat diver school and at BUD/S.

A potential conflict in the Pacific is a reason for all services to maintain or even improve their combat diver capabilities. However, there is still a lot to be done on that front, especially for Army special-operations units, where the capability has been neglected to a dangerous extent.

Diving into the future

Army Special Forces combat diver
A combat diver assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) off the coast of Washington, August 14, 2014.

With the Pentagon focused on great-power competition, maritime special-operations are increasingly relevant and important, and that’s where the SEAL Teams can shine.

“The Teams can do so much in conflict with China,” a former SEAL officer told Insider. “We have the ability to conduct small unit surveillance and reconnaissance during over-the-beach ops; place sensors to aid intelligence gathering, again during over-the-beach ops; train foreign forces (for example, training the Taiwanese in all manner of stuff to balance Chinese capabilities); and also do direct action (an extreme example, but doable if so required).”

Unlike other special-operations units, in the SEAL Teams everyone is combat diver qualified. As a result, there is a vested interest in the capability, both from an operational and budgetary standpoint.

us navy seal submarine delivery vehicle SDV
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two members prepare to launch a SEAL Delivery Vehicle from Los Angeles-class attack sub USS Philadelphia during an exercise.

“Compared to other special-operations commands, NSW [Naval Special Warfare] as a whole will be more relevant in a great-power competition setting, at least in the Pacific, because of the maritime nature of the environment,” a SEAL officer told insider. “We might see platoons diving but not to place a limpet mine on a Chinese warship but a sensor on a ship of interest.”

Aside from traditional combat diving operations, the SEAL Teams also possess the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) capability.

There are two SDV Teams that are manned by SEALs who undergo even more combat diving training and operate the mini-submarines. Although much of their mission-set is classified, they are known to conduct special reconnaissance and stealthily transport SEALs closer to a target.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (National Service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider