Earlier this year, Navy SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC) operators worked with conventional Navy forces in the final certification exercise of the USS Eisenhower Strike Group before it deployed.

During the exercise, Navy special operators were the eyes and ears of the carrier strike group, assisting with over-the-horizon targeting, strategic reconnaissance, and close air support.

As great-power competition with China and Russia heats up, Naval Special Warfare is looking for ways to remain relevant after two decades of counterterrorism operations.

“It’s a race for relevancy and showing up in a way that makes the fleet more survivable and more lethal,” Adm. Hugh Howard, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Command, said during the 2021 WEST Conference at the end of June.

Howard offered insight into how SEALs and Special Boat Teams are looking to be an asset both in “gray zone” competition and in a potential conflict.

“We’re the Navy’s naval commandos. That’s what we are, and we understand our roots” and are able “to evolve new concepts of how we can contribute,” Howard said.

Back to the Future

Navy SEAL fast rope helicopter
A U.S. Navy SEAL fast ropes from an HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter onto a gas and oil platform, July 28, 2011. (Photo by PO3 Adam Henderson/U.S. Navy)

Before the Global War on Terror, SEAL platoons would regularly deploy aboard “Big Navy” ships, usually aircraft carriers, on six-month deployments. If a crisis erupted somewhere around the world, the carrier and its SEAL contingent would deploy there.

Although hard on morale, these deployments allowed Naval Special Warfare to be relevant to the Navy in day-to-day operations.