Reflective of the constantly changing world in which it operates, U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM) has continued a broad spectrum of evolutionary organizational, materiel, training, and operational activities designed to position the naval element of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to anticipate and meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Representative examples of the dynamic changes under way throughout the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community can be found in Naval Special Warfare Group 4 (NSWG-4), the maritime mobility component of USSOCOM.
Comprised of the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) who insert/extract SEALs and provide surface support, the NSW
surface component includes Special Boat Teams (SBT) 12 (California), 20 (Virginia), and 22 (Mississippi). Additionally, as part of the ongoing evolution within NSW, NSWG-4, headquartered at Little Creek, Va., recently added a fourth subordinate element when it assumed control of the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS), located at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
“One of the most significant recent changes is that we assumed NAVSCIATTS under this command,” observed Capt. Chuck Wolf,commander, NSWG-4. “They had worked for the Naval Special Warfare Training Center out on the West Coast. But I brought them
in under Group 4 because I recognized the operational relevance that they would bring me in the pre-hostility phases of a campaign plan.”
He continued, “The concept behind that is that you can’t surge relationships; you can’t surge trust; and you can’t surge regional
Underlying trends over the past few years have seen a shift for NSWG-4 away from direct action (DA) missions toward more foreign
internal defense (FID) missions. Simultaneously, the nature of those FID missions is also shifting to reflect changing global realities.
“After 9/11, USSOCOM was tasked with synchronizing planning for the Global War on Terrorism [GWOT] for the Department of Defense [DoD]. Obviously, things were a bit undefined at that point. And I think they have really matured into it through their GWOT
series of contingency plans. Recently, USSOCOM has been designated as the Joint Security Force Assistance [SFA] proponent, tasked to lead the collaborative development and integration of SFA capabilities across DoD. Well, they have recently been assigned the foreign security assistance/foreign internal defense synchronization mission as well. USSOCOM itself is now going through a process where it istrying to refine and define what that mission is and what their role in that mission should be. And this spring they are going to host a ‘Foreign Security Assistance Conference’ within the ‘Global CINC Conference,’ where they will talk to various regional commanders and regional operations officers to help define what that mission is and where to go with it. It is coincidental that NSWG-4 is already doing the mission in a number of foreign locations. And with the NAVSCIATTS piece assigned to me, we now have all phases of the operation under one command, so they are looking to us to see if there’s something there that they can model for application to other special operations forces in other regions,” said Wolf.
As an example of NSWG-4 operations already taking place within this mission area, Wolf pointed to command activities under way in Manda Bay, Kenya, on the northwestern tip of the Manda Islands, just off that country’s east coast.
“We’ve been there for about four-and-a-half years,” he noted. “So we are going to have a very good, very mature understanding of the Kenyan naval capabilities and the regional capabilities of other partners in that area.
“The African mission has changed considerably over the past few years,” he observed. “Although we’ve been in Manda Bay, Kenya, for about four-and-a-half years, we’ve run 21 training courses with the Kenyan Naval Services, Kenyan Wildlife, and Kenyan Fish and Game. And what they’re trying to do is take a fairly broad brush approach to the development of a maritime security capability for domestic issues – including poaching and wildlife violations. And then look at how the counter-piracy issue might affect a partner like Kenya, think about that ship that was ‘taken’ by pirates about 350 to 400 miles off their coast a few months ago. Think about how that can rapidly change things economically for Kenya, because if the ships are no longer pulling into Mombasa, Kenya, and then run down the coast to Dar es Salaam [Tanzania], it will have an immediate economic effect on Kenya. So the Kenyans have a vested economic interest in denying piracy in that region. And the Special Operations Command Africa commander, Gen. [Patrick] Higgins, believes that we are having a positive regional impact that extends north to the Somalia border region and south into Tanzania.
“If you look at what we are hoping to achieve in Cameroon, Africa, which is on the west coast, we are considering a similar model,” he said. “And when you look at Cameroon, you see issues ranging from gas and oil resources to piracy. Cameroon straddles that north/south trade and commerce route between the northern west coast of Africa and South Africa. You also have British and French working in the region: The British are working in Nigeria and the French are working in Equatorial Guinea. You have got the ambassadors from Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Liberia asking for maritime security assistance. So we are trying to address these trends of maritime instability in various regions across the African continent, where the ambassadors are coming out and asking for assistance. And that’s what I can provide them through NAVSCIATTS and also through my SBTs,” Wolf said.
“I think it’s a great lash-up, because you have got an ambassador who asks for some sort of assistance and I can send in an assessment team; I can assess exactly where the partner nation or potential partner nation stands with regards to their capacities and capabilities; we can identify training curriculum; we can identify out year events; and then we just engage along those events as long as the ambassador continues to support it. We have got very good mutual relationships not only with the U.S. State Department team but also with the partner countries,” he said.
Wolf emphasized that NSWG-4 elements are deployed well beyond Africa and across the globe, explaining, “I have a global mission. I have detachments – both coastal and riverine – supporting what I will call ‘foreign security assistance operations.’ In South America, for example, they are performing primarily counter-narcotics training and foreign capacity building with the Colombians and with the Panamanians, for example. We’re looking at Surinam. And we’ve been in Guyana.”
Some of the Caribbean activity has involved the presence of the “Stiletto” Advanced Technology Demonstration platform, which he described as “a pretty high-end advanced technology platform demonstrator incorporating advanced capabilities like new communications suites, new forward-looking infrared sensors, intercept/detection, enhanced operational picture, and video download.”
“We’re doing a [Naval Special Warfare Detachment Caribbean] deployment around Trinidad and Tobago supporting the U.S. Southern Command counter-narcotics initiatives and intercept of illicit materials and/or personnel,” he said, adding, “We’re really focused in the northern half of South America, Brazil, of course, being a new strategic ally in the region. If you look at things economically, you can talk about Brazil, Russia, India, and China being the new economic powerhouses after the European Union and the United States. So we are trying to engage with them.”
On the European continent, Wolf pointed to NSWG-4’s ongoing “Steady State Security Assistance” mission, stating, “We’ve had elements in Europe – primarily in Germany – supporting regional engagement for years.”
Carefully avoiding any characterization as an increase in operational tempo, Wolf spoke of “increased engagement” and “a more deliberate engagement process, where I’m working with the theater combatant commander and I’m working with the theater special operations commander to make sure that countries of high interest or high priority are being engaged.”
“So I’m really not increasing the [operational tempo], I’m just refocusing the effort,” he said. “It results in a more deliberate and better synchronized engagement process.”
Asked about NSWG-4 feedback into ongoing materiel planning processes, Wolf responded, “From a strategic perspective, we’re currently working a concept that’s called ‘Maritime Access in the Denied Environment.’ This is a concept that applies to any force that operates in the maritime domain. And the ‘denial’ aspects mean that the environment can be denied either politically or militarily.”
As an example of a politically denied area, Wolf pointed to the Philippines.
“I am conducting operations and assistance with the Philippines special operations forces right now,” he explained. “But I can’t go in there on a U.S. Navy ‘gray hull.’ That’s just too overt. Politically it doesn’t work. The constitution of the Philippines doesn’t support it, nor does it support land basing. So what I’ve done is to contract a civilian platform through Military Sealift Command (MSC). And we’re working off of that. It’s not benign but it is less intrusive than a Navy capital asset. So we’re changing the way we engage and deploy.”
Referring to that platform and concept as a “maritime support vessel,” Wolf said, “It allows us the freedom to operate in an area that might be ‘restricted politically.’”
He continued, “Now, as you look at the larger construct and the possibility of going into major combat operations in an area that may be denied militarily – and there are certainly a number of those – the question becomes how we conduct operations there. And that involves a number of both materiel and non-materiel solutions. And this is where I try to stimulate industry to try to provide me with materiel solutions, and I try to stimulate the Department of Defense and my own personnel to try to provide me with non-materiel solutions: tactics, techniques, procedures, doctrinal changes, etc.”
Within those materiel solutions, the NSW surface component is looking at several classes of vessels.
“The largest, which I call the Combatant Craft Heavy [CCH], is the ‘Mk. V’ special operations craft,” Wolf explained. “It’s an 85-foot patrol boat that’s nearing the end of its service life. It’s based on some older technologies. For example, we didn’t have all of the computer technologies that we have now. We didn’t have the navigational technologies that we have now. Satellite communications were just in their infancy when we designed this boat. So what has happened is that we have done a lot of late, after-market add-ons. What we’re trying to do now is define, within that Maritime Access in a Denied Environment concept, the requirements for a follow-on Combatant Craft Heavy. And I think if you look at the Navy’s gap in capabilities, they’ve looked at the ‘Green Water’ craft and things that are smaller than destroyers and cruisers. There’s a gap there and Littoral Combat Ship may be one materiel solution. So we’re working with the Navy to try to ensure that special operations forces, in particular Naval Special Warfare and our boats, are interoperable with that platform.
“We’re also working with the Coast Guard and we’re also working with Naval Expeditionary Combat Command [NECC], the newest command in the Navy,” he continued. “And we’re trying to find similarities in requirements that mutually support our operational needs. And, although the requirement hasn’t been approved yet, that may eventually develop into a boat design/procurement/implementation process.”
If implemented, the resulting vessel program would likely be somewhat larger than the Cyclone-class patrol coastal (PC) vessels, 170-foot-long ships that began to enter NSW inventories in the early 1990s.
“The Navy has decided to ‘service life extend’ [SLEP] the PCs as well,” Wolf acknowledged. “I think they are going to be in the inventory until about 2017, maybe 2020. But again, that’s an ‘older technologies’ platform and it was not the ideal platform for the missions that we’re looking at now. For example, you have to sit off the shore of a country where you are developing a target for a long period of time. You don’t necessarily want to commit an ‘amphib.’ You don’t want to commit a cruiser. And you’re certainly not going to commit a carrier. So what is that smaller platform that we can commit, that has the freedom of maneuver but still provides that basing support we need.”
Continuing the explanation, he said, “I work in ‘detachments,’ with two boats per detachment. So if I deploy Mk. Vs, it’s usually two boats. If I deploy RHIBs [rigid hull inflatable boats], it’s usually two boats. So this would be ‘the mother ship’ that would provide an afloat staging base capability with the messing, the berthing, the long dwell time capabilities, and the very robust intelligence and communications architecture. And from that high-end mother ship you could conduct those shorter range operations that you might need to conduct.
“I think Littoral Combat Ship is an example of a ship that was purposefully built to do those types of operations,” he added.
Another widely employed NSW surface platform is the NSW RHIB. The 35-foot, 11-inch RHIB entered service in 1996/1997, with the second of two procurement contract extensions completed this fiscal year.
“The NSW RHIB was built about the same time as the Mk. Vs,” Wolf said. “And they have been incredibly useful boats during their time. Their limitations include the fact that they were built prior to our understanding of issues surrounding shock mitigation and some of the procedures we can take to mitigate shock on the individuals who are riding in the vessel. Also, when you look at when that boat was built, you’ll see that many of the electronic systems that are currently in the inventory didn’t exist. So we have had to do a lot of after-market add-ons. Additionally, it’s an ‘open boat,’ and as we have found in many of our mission profiles over the last several years, the individuals operating those boats are forced to spend longer periods of time at sea and the open boat design doesn’t support those operations well. When you look at the human performance aspects in an open boat, at sea, at night, in lousy weather, they wear out pretty quickly. So what we are trying to do is also look at the mission profiles – the ‘over the beach’ missions versus the maritime interception/interdiction/VBSS [visit, board, search, and seizure] missions, we have seen that statistically many more of our missions have been in the VBSS rather than over the beach infil/exfil categories. But there are a wide range of missions that I have to be prepared to do within that boat class, so we have pushed through and are currently working the Request for Proposals [RFP] from industry for a ‘RHIB replacement.”
The RHIB replacement program, identified as Combatant Class Medium (CCM), recently drew 23 separate vendors to an “industry day” with Wolf expressing optimism that the upcoming RFP may draw as many as a dozen proposals from industry.
The CCM concept envisions two different vessels: a higher capability, true combatant craft, the CCM Mk. 1, and a lower capability (and
theoretically lower cost) craft, the Mk. 2, for use in benign environments for FID-type missions where the full Mk. 1 capability is not needed. The currently estimated initial operational capability (IOC) for the CCM Mk. 1 is 2013 with a projected inventory of 24 platforms. Both IOC and inventory quantities for the CCM Mk. 2 remain to be determined, reflecting in part the fact that the Mk. 2s may conceivably be candidates for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to partner nations.
Wolf also addressed the growing contributions of unmanned platforms.
“For example, we have some unmanned underwater vessels [UUVs] that we use to conduct hydrographic reconnaissance,” he explained. “When you look at ports, harbors, rivers, and near coastal areas where there might be reefs or other underwater obstructions, these UUVs replace the man that you can only put into the water for limited periods of time.”
Noting that he had just recently “accepted custody for a number of UUVs,” Wolf added, “We’re also looking at unmanned surface vessel [USV] platforms. Right now we have the ‘Seafox 1’ here on the East Coast and there’s another on the West Coast. And I think you can look at that from a number of perspectives. For example, the Navy is currently dedicating a substantial level of manpower to force protection. Guys are in patrol boats, patrolling piers, entrances to harbors, and other key infrastructure pieces. I think a lot of that can be done with unmanned platforms. They’re new. They’re conceptual. You’ve got to teach the guys at the base station how to operate them and what they are looking for. But I think they will find, much like the Air Force has found with their own intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, that there is a lot of capability there. And it’s all-weather. I can put it out in a fairly heavy sea state or freezing rain and not worry about what I am doing to the individual operator. So I think there is a lot of application there. And we are working with the base here at Little Creek to see if we can initially implement it on a small scale from a force protection perspective. And then later this year we plan to do a larger technical demonstration up on the northeastern shore where we are going to implement undersea, surface, and air assets – all unmanned – in a larger exercise.”
Asked about challenges that he sees facing his command in the coming years, Wolf responded, “The most significant challenge I have right now, because we have been so focused on the ground war, is that we have not been as engaged in the maritime aspects of foreign security assistance as some might think. It’s transparent. The war in Iraq has certainly consumed the headlines. The war in Afghanistan is now consuming the headlines. I won’t say it’s not recognized, but much of what we have done is ‘below the radar screen.’ Foreign security assistance does not draw the same attention as winning the war in Iraq or fighting al Qaeda or the Taliban in Afghanistan – it just doesn’t.
“But that foreign security assistance is going to be the mission after the war draws down,” he said. “It was there before the war and it will be there after the war. So there is the challenge of convincing people that maritime operations in the littoral are still relevant. And, of course, there are also financial pieces that go with that. We have extended the life of many of our platforms and we are now entering a fiscally constrained era. So it will be a challenge. It is not insurmountable, because we have good force structure and we understand the capabilities of our current platforms. So I think we can work through some of the limitations without materiel solutions. Then, when we do recover from the economic situation that we are in, we will pursue those solutions that are materiel.”
In terms of key take-away thoughts, Wolf immediately highlighted what he called “the combined team of Navy conventional surface capabilities, the Coast Guard surface capabilities, and the USSOCOM surface capabilities.”
“I think that team is becoming much more mature in concept than it ever has been,” he said. “Every couple of weeks I am dealing with the Coast Guard or NECC or the Riverine Group, or somebody from the larger Navy on the Littoral Combat Ship. And I believe that this is a good partnership, where we are collectively drawing on each other’s strengths and trying to eliminate weaknesses across the collective team.”
He concluded, “When I look at Cameroon, or I look at Kenya, or I look at the things we are doing in Iraq, I call up to the commander of the Riverine Group and say, ‘Hey, are you interested in partnering up with me at this location? Because you may eventually inherit this mission.’ So partnerships are occurring and relationships are being developed much earlier in the process. Therefore, I think you are going to have a much more effective product in the long run.”
This story was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2009 Edition.