The Pentagon’s new strategic plan, put together by the Defense Department last fall, calls for an increase in spending on Special Forces units, despite the need to reduce planned funding increases over the next 10 years that could go beyond the $487 billion already agreed to. “We will continue to build and sustain tailored capabilities appropriate for counterterrorism and irregular warfare,” reads the strategy put forward by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
The Naval Special Warfare Command, with some 9,000 military personnel, is smaller than the Army and Air Force elements that make up the operational forces under the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The relatively new Marine Special Forces Command is far behind with 2,500, according to a June 26 CRS report.
However, the Navy has by far the most famous of the individual Special Operations units, SEAL Team Six, the group that carried out the 2011 nighttime raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Illustrious as it may be, SEAL Team Six is just one of 10 SEAL teams headquartered in California and Virginia, along with smaller elements based abroad in Bahrain, Guam and Stuttgart, Germany. Active-duty SEALs represent roughly 3,000 of the overall force, while another 800 are reservists. There are some 900 boat operators making up SEAL delivery teams and special boat teams.
The remainder of the command deals with support, logistics, and training including the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Base Coronado in California.
SOCOM argues that “because SEALs are considered experts in special reconnaissance and direct action missions — primary counterterrorism skills,” they and their support units are “viewed as well postured to fight a globally dispersed enemy ashore or afloat.”
But as the CRS report indicates, questions remain about how much money the Naval Special Warfare Command is spending on irregular warfare and counterterrorism forces that are different from activities better performed by other services.
SEALS today are engaged in Afghanistan in combat operations, aiding in counterpiracy operations, serving aboard Navy ships providing security assistance to foreign navies and aiding with disaster relief when needed.
The Navy has other groups prepared to take part in irregular warfare. One is the Coastal Riverine Force, whose roots go back to the Vietnam War. In June, it merged with the Maritime Expeditionary Force to create units that perform “core maritime expeditionary security missions in green and brown waters . . . providing port and harbor security security,” according to the Navy News Service. The combined riverine force will have 2,500 active-duty sailors and 2,000 Navy Reserve sailors, with a forward-deployed detachment in Bahrain.