Major changes are coming for the Navy SEAL Teams both in terms of their missions and composition. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Rear Admiral Hugh Howard III, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, said that the changes will improve the leadership and expand the SEALs’ special operations capabilities allowing them to adapt to threats from near-peer powers like China and Russia.

Number of Navy SEAL Platoons Will Be Reduced

Howard said that the SEALs’ focus on counter-terrorism missions will now evolve to meet global threats. Under the upcoming changes, the actual number of SEAL platoons will be reduced by as much as 30 percent. However, the size of the platoons will be increased to make the teams more lethal and better able to counter sophisticated maritime and undersea potential enemies. 

Combatting terrorism for the past two decades, Howard said, drained resources. This allowed China and Russia to make inroads across the globe. However, improvements in intelligence gathering and precision-striking capabilities have vastly improved. 

SEALs from SEAL Team Five conduct operations in small assault boats. (U.S. Navy)

“Many of these things are transferable, but now we need to put pressure on ourselves to operate against peer threats,” Howard added. Further, in accordance with new threats on the force, the teams will upgrade their cyber and electronic warfare and unmanned systems capabilities. This will improve their intelligence collection and deception operations.

“We are putting pressure on ourselves to evolve and understand our gaps in capability and what our true survivability is against these threats” posed by global competitors, he said in the AP interview.

New Screening Process for Navy SEALs

One of the other major changes will be a new, intensive screening process for higher-quality leaders for the Navy SEAL Teams. This follows reports in recent years of rampant drug use, sexual assault, and even murder. The scandals have rocked the SEAL and Special Operations community.

The situation reached such a point that Captain Jamie Sands, Commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group 2, told SEALs in attendance in a meeting carried out during a December 2016 stand-down that “I feel like I’m watching our foundation, our culture, erode in front of our eyes.”

Nevertheless, the situation has perhaps worsened since then. CBS News’ Catherine Herridge released a report on Thursday in which both active and retired SEALs outlined incidents of ongoing drug abuse in the teams. 

High-ranking SOCOM officers have received a lot of criticism for attempting to whitewash this issue as a leadership problem, whereas many operators across the services see it as an “entitlement” issue. 

Howard consulted with both the Army and the Marine Corps Special Operations Commands for ideas on how to better screen operators and assess them as they move through the ranks. As a result, Howard adopted the Army’s “double-blind” interview process, whereby neither side is influenced by seeing the other.
Rear Admiral Howard, Commander Naval Special Warfare Command.

The screening process for SEALs will include more psychological assessments to evaluate personality traits. The command will also increase the usage of peer review by subordinates and fellow candidates. Howard said that this increased and continuing assessment will extend through all the ranks. It is intended to provide a better understanding of each candidate’s character.

The Changes Are Necessary to Address New Threats

Admiral Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, said the changes are necessary to address the changing threat the U.S. faces at sea.

“As the Navy Special Warfare community returns more and more to its maritime roots, their increased integration across the Fleet — above, under, and on the sea — will unequivocally enhance our unique maritime capabilities to help us compete and win against any adversary,” Gilday said in a statement to the AP.

May 2, will mark the 10th anniversary of the SEAL mission to kill the world’s most-wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden. It was the biggest operation in SEAL history and one of the best American special operations ever conducted. The events are recounted in Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer’s book No Easy Day.