A proposed expansion of the SEAL Teams has been put on hold by the Navy leadership over concerns that it could jeopardize the operational effectiveness of the Navy’s elite.
Senior Navy leaders believe that the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) isn’t ready to withstand an expansion — that is, a healthy productive expansion — since its current line units are suffering from an institutional and cultural issue of unprofessionalism.
Rear Admiral Collin Green, the commanding officer of NSWC, issued a directive earlier this year stating that the SEAL Teams will grow “ONLY AFTER we have groomed a sufficient inventory of leadership teams that have been adequately trained, certified and possess the highest standards of character and competence to fill the additional leadership positions in these tactical formations… We will only grow at the pace of excellence.”
NSWC was planning to increase the number of SEAL platoons in each SEAL Team from seven to nine. SEAL Platoons are normally comprised of 16 operators and can be further divided into two squads or four elements. They are somewhat larger than the operational elements of their sister Special Operations branches: A Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) is comprised of 12 operators; a Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT) is manned by 14 Marine Raiders.
At any given time, about 1,000 SEALs and support personnel are deployed around the globe. Considering that there are approximately 3,000 active-duty SEALs, one can understand why NSWC is pushing for expansion. The recommended enlargement of the Teams, however, wouldn’t require additional SEALs because it would also include a restructuring of the platoon size, cutting down the number of operators in each platoon.
But down the road, NSWC isn’t opposed to additional operators. That, of course, would have to be achieved without lowering the standards in the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) course. But the SEAL community has hardly any recruitment problems.
Since the 1990s, NSWC has done a great job of promoting the image of the SEAL Teams. In close partnership with Hollywood, NSWC — and indeed the Navy — has ensured that countless young Americans aspire to become SEALs. High-profile missions, like Operation Neptune Spear, the SEAL Team 6 mission that killed Osama bin Laden, have only complimented NSWC’s recruitment strategy.
And yet, the recent incidents of unprofessionalism that have led the Navy to hold off NSWC’s expansion, also dissuade quality candidates from trying out for the SEAL Teams. The SEAL community might be comprised of numerous solid operators who are the embodiment of the quiet professional, but there is also a large minority who scorns that image with its actions.