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Supporting USSOCOM through partner-nation maritime training

One key but little-known aspect of Naval Special Warfare coalition warfare capabilities is the U.S. Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS). Co-located at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the area possesses some of the finest riverine and littoral training areas in the world.

In 2006, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command assigned NAVSCIATTS the mission of conducting “Foreign Internal Defense (FID) in support of Combatant Commanders in accordance with Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command priorities using Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) and in-residence training to prepare partner nation forces to conduct small craft operations in riverine or littoral environments.”

The school presently offers 12 formal courses of instruction in both Spanish and English at various times throughout the year while deploying MTTs around the globe. To date, NAVSCIATTS has trained more than 7,000 students from about 70 partner nations.

“NAVSCIATTS makes a small but important contribution to the overall Naval Special Warfare effort,” explained Cmdr. Bill Mahoney, commanding officer, NAVSCIATTS. “We train exclusively international students who are increasingly sourced from theater special operations command [TSOC] priority nations and maritime units due to improved collaboration between NAVSCIATTS and Naval Special Warfare units globally. As our mission statement says, we support USSOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command] priorities, conducting both in-residence and Mobile Training Teams.

“To look at it another way, we don’t build the maritime partner-nation unit. We make it better through technical maintenance training, small craft operational training, and strategic senior leader education,” he offered. “As a result, when those students go back to their home nations, Special Boat Teams and SEAL Teams that engage with them – whether it’s Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, or Bangladesh – have a better-trained partner to work with, which enhances interoperability.

“It fits right into USSOCOM’s intent to develop relationships, which the students do here for 10 weeks at a time,” he observed. “They learn a skill and the Department of State Field Studies Program provides them with an opportunity to see Americana. Most of our students are in the U.S. for their first time. We show them different cities, different cultural events in New Orleans [La.], Atlanta [Ga.], and Florida, the Blue Angels, and all kinds of other things. So they come away not only with an expanded skill set in a small craft environment but also with the relationship built with the other students and with a greater understanding of Americana. All of that helps support the geographic Combatant Commanders’ global engagement efforts.”

Asked about flexibility to meet student training needs in a dynamic global environment, Mahoney noted, “The initial training we provide the students is pretty rudimentary, along the lines of here’s how you fix an outboard motor if it breaks; from theory to practical application of fixing that motor. So when you go back to your home nation, you will have the capacity to be a technician and train your own countrymen. Then we rely heavily on the expertise of the Naval Special Warfare Unit [NSWU] and the theater special operations commands to identify needs for more in-depth or focused training. For example, we now have a Coastal Officer Course, which is being attended by some of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency folks and some of Naval Special Operations Group folks from the Philippines. And the final training exercise that they are going to conduct with the U.S. Coast Guard here in Mississippi will mirror, as closely as possible, the real-world operations that the Pakistan MSA is conducting in a bi-lateral environment with the U.S. Coast Guard off the Pakistani coast.

“So our basic training is transferrable to any environment but we really support and stay in touch with the NSWU units and theater special operations commands,” he said. “In a perfect world, we will continue to improve integration with forward deployed NSW subject-matter experts as well as USSOCOM because of its sheer mass, size, and scope, as well as WARCOM [Naval Special Warfare Command] to tweak the courses that we provide for those partner nations that we provide at our Stennis base here in Mississippi.

“We currently offer 12 different courses,” he added. “The primary operational courses are the Riverine Patrol Officer’s Course and the Coastal Officer Course that started about six months ago. Then we also offer some technical courses that underpin any small craft operation: outboard motor maintenance; diesel maintenance; hull maintenance; and, weapons maintenance. We also offer some professional military education, including instructor development, which is really the core of our ‘train the trainer’ model.”

Teaching those courses is a cadre of 83 (including about 54 active duty, 17 contractor, and 12 government civilians) who provide both in-resident training and conduct Mobile Training Teams forward.

“For instance, my outboard motor technician might do an outboard motor course here with some students from Belize and then be asked to conduct a follow-on MTT two- or three-week event in Belize to help them follow up and actually develop an outboard motor shop in the country of Belize. And we probably have a dozen examples just like that,” Mahoney said.

Expressing a personal belief that the result is “a more superior training model,” he added that “in-resident training and support to Mobile Training Teams, which is then built upon by more advanced Special Boat Team or SEAL team engagement, provides the best results for long-term interoperability and multinational operations.

“Our throughput continually increases,” he said. “For instance, back in 2008 we had about 380 students annually. Now we’re projecting about 500 students annually and we’ve added two courses to the curriculum. So we are continuing to see from partner nations, from Naval Special Warfare Unit and TSOC personnel, as well as the embassies who coordinate with the work done downrange.”

Asked about surprises in the job, he replied, “The surprises for me are the number of international partner nation VIPs who we host here on a regular basis. I’ve got the Guatemalan CNO coming here as the guest speaker for a graduation in May 2011. I had a Pakistani two-star at the previous graduation. I’ve had the senior Mexican officer in the United States. I’ve had a two star admiral from Nigeria. And all of them came to NAVSCIATTS because the partner nation leaders recognize that NAVSCIATTS is really the model of training excellence that develops their cadre for their own training commands. So as the Nigerians look to host and build a Joint Maritime Security Training Center, they are the first country to ask for a reciprocal foreign guest instructor. And we have submitted paperwork to put a foreign guest instructor from Nigeria here at NAVSCIATTS to improve their level of understanding in how to run a school. We hope to have Brazilian and Colombia foreign guest instructors. And we hope to have more, to match the U.S. Air Force who has eight foreign guest instructors at IAAFA [Inter-American Air Forces Academy] and the U.S. Army at WHINSEC [Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation], at Ft. Benning, Ga., which has 46 foreign guest instructors.”

Reiterating the support priorities identified in the NAVSCIATTS mission statement, Mahoney offered, “As in other environments, we believe that the next decade will see ‘direct action’ becoming less ‘in vogue’ and security force assistance and security cooperation becoming more ‘in vogue.’  So SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen who are stationed worldwide should be interested in learning as much as possible about security assistance and security cooperation and how NAVSCIATTS can support that mission moving forward.”

He concluded, “Given the number of rivers, coasts, and special operations command units across the globe that USSOCOM would like to engage with, the potential of NAVSCIATTS is immeasurable.”

This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2011-2012 Edition


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...