In February, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group got to work with Naval Special Warfare in a “historic” and pioneering exercise. During the composite unit training exercise, about 100 SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC) from SEAL Team 10 and Special Boat Team 20 trained alongside conventional Navy forces.

The training was a glimpse of how the Navy could operate in a potential conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Composite Unit Training Exercise

Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet jet Eisenhower aircraft carrier
An F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the Atlantic Ocean, July 31, 2020. (Photo: MCS3 Sawyer Haskins/U.S. Navy)

Before a carrier strike group sails off for a deployment, it must pass a thorough composite unit training exercise. In this grand rehearsal, each ship and aircraft squadron showcases its capabilities individually and then the whole carrier strike group comes together and shows that it can work smoothly as a force.

During the exercise, SEAL and SWCC operators acted as the eyes and ears of the carrier strike group and assisted with directing airstrikes, over-the-horizon targeting, and close-air support.

Because they have specialized watercraft and training, Navy special operators can stealthily approach a target and relay intelligence back to the carrier strike group’s hard hitters.

The exercise also included what the Navy called an “inaugural NATO vignette,” consisting of “familiarity training” using NATO procedures and communications, which produced “a clear list of interoperability requirements” for the Navy.

In essence, the exercise was an attempt by the Navy to put theory into practice, testing its conventional forces’ ability to work with special operations units during an incident or conflict with a near-peer adversary.

The ability to work together in contested areas has been given new relevance by the Chinese military’s increasing investments in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.