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Navy Special Warfare Anchor Team

Shortly before The Year in Special Operations: 2010-2011 Edition went to press, the U.S. Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community was slated to begin the initial overseas deployment under its new “NSW Anchor Team” (NSWAT) program, one of several significant NSW events to reach fruition over the past year.

NSWAT Origins

The underlying concept behind NSWAT was first enunciated in the 2006 “USSOCOM Capstone Concept for Special Operations.”

Emphasizing the need for “global presence” through the establishment of “a worldwide persistent Joint SOF presence to shape operational environments,” that underlying philosophy noted, “Capitalizing on the strengths of Joint SOF in unconventional warfare, USSOCOM will establish a continuous presence in areas of strategic interest to the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism]. When necessary, USSOCOM will integrate civil affairs, information operations, and foreign internal defense capabilities to develop global and regional networks with the capacity of shaping the operating environment and defeating the nation’s enemies. Persistent presence in areas of GWOT interest is vital to long-term success in denying sanctuary, disrupting terrorist activities, enhancing regional security and stability, and defeating insurgencies. The creation of an envi­ronment hostile to terrorist networks will be accomplished by integrating joint, interagency, nongovernmental organization, and coalition partner capabilities.”

The Capstone Concept continued, “Serving as strategic geographic anchors, small forward-based Joint SOF teams will be situated in or adjacent to critical and sensitive countries. They will build stability through sustained engagement over a period of years with host nation security forces. In this environment, small Joint SOF teams are the best choice for influencing the training, equipping, and employing of host nation security forces created to stabilize environments and build partner nation capacity. However, Joint SOF may also be employed in under- or ungoverned areas to defeat or prevent the development of terrorist capabilities. In such circumstances, SOF may be required to build their own clandestine support infrastructure.”

The concept described small, Joint SOF teams that would work with and through indigenous populations to provide “intimate knowledge of ongoing activities within areas of interest.

“These forward-based Anchor Teams will expand or supplement liaison element efforts,” it stated. “They will have operational reach that enables quick employment in surrounding areas, and the forward-based teams will be organized to conduct protracted irregular warfare in support of USSOCOM or GCC [geographic combatant commander] strategic plans. Anchor Teams will be composed of career-tracked, regional experts who have or are developing expertise in language, customs, attitudes, and cultural beliefs common to their focus region. These individuals will be able to establish vital, trusting relationships with indigenous populations. Maintaining a prolonged presence will allow this select group of Joint SOF personnel to effectively inte­grate and influence host nation governments and their security forces at the same time they build partner capacity.”

Concept to Reality

The new NSWATs derive their name and mission from that Capstone Concept.

In highlighting the program evolution, representatives from Naval Special Warfare Command point to recent comments made by Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander, USSOCOM. Among those comments, Olson summarized the value of knowledge about the enemy, noting, “The surest means of winning against an irregular enemy is to defeat him before the shooting starts. Consensus must be favored over coercion, and the ability to do so proactively requires a holistic approach to warfare aimed at both eliminating adversaries and eroding the conditions that foment and foster their behavior.”

Unfortunately, balancing that holistic approach against the traditional six-month deployment cycle found in the Naval Special Warfare community has been challenging, with limited repeat deployments to key areas hardly conducive to the “continuity” and “long-term expertise” that Olson identified as being so critical.

A member of the armed forces of the Philippines Naval Special Operations Group participates in a battlefield exercise during a combat medic subject matter expert exchange at Naval Base Cavite, Philippines. Three U.S. Navy special warfare operator (SEAL) medics assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, conducted a course for 20 Philippine Navy SEALs on how to immediately treat battlefield injuries. NSWATS will focus on the culture, tactical issues, and strategic picture of a country for at least four years. U.S. Navy photo by Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Joel Beam.

As outlined by Olson, balancing the demands of irregular warfare against the mandates and realities of deployment tempos led to the development of a “new organizational tool” designated as the Naval Special Warfare Anchor Detachment (NSWAD) and serving as “an umbrella term” for the NSWATs.

As “the deployable arm” of the NSWADs, NSWATs are small elements of SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmembers  who focus on the culture, tactical issues, and strategic picture of a particular country for at least four years. This organizational structure will enhance and secure continuity of relationships and create more effective training among NSW, interagency, and host nation forces.

“Anchor Teams are designed to foster continuity, cultural expertise, connectedness, and long-term commitment – the ‘4 Cs’ of counterinsurgency,” observed Rear Adm. Edward G. Winters, commander, Naval Special Warfare Command.

Characterizing the team members as “specialized, focused warrior-diplomats, problem-solvers,” Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWC) representatives emphasize that the command will place the best available officer and enlisted operators in key forward positions long enough to become experts in that country or region. NSWAT personnel will commit to developing professional relationships and understanding geographic distinctiveness, thereby increasing regional expertise, fulfilling continuity of training with host nation forces, and enriching associations with key local points of contact.

In fostering that regional expertise, Anchor Team missions with host nation forces include counter-insurgency operations (COIN) and security force assistance (SFA).

The SFA mission reflects in part the October 2008 designation of USSOCOM as the Department of Defense proponent for SFA. The designation mandates performance of a synchronization role in global training and assistance planning similar to USSOCOM’s role in synchronizing planning against terrorist networks.

For those who feel that the NSWAT host nation missions reflect a departure from NSW’s direct action (DA) strike capabilities, planners insist that the community will continue to excel in that core competency, with NSWATs reflecting an adaptation to refine long-term strategic partnerships against terrorist networks in various geographic regions.

In fact, NSWC planners add that the NSWATs increase the effectiveness of both DA and SFA mission capabilities by maintaining a continuity of training curriculum and liaison for host nation forces. This uninterrupted training process leads to a more robust COIN operation and dialogue with allies.

Following receipt of a tasking order issued in December 2009, the NSWADs began forming at NSWC Support Activities on the East and West coasts of the United States in early 2010, with each detachment comprised of one officer and 11 enlisted operators.

A special warfare operator (SEAL) medic assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, critiques students from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Naval Special Operations Group who are administering first-aid to a victim with an arm injury during a field medical exercise. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines and the armed forces of the Philippines partnered for the month-long course to learn a variety of treatments for combat-related injuries. Anchor Team members will be enabled to more readily develop professional relationships. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Theresa Donnelly.

A command spokesman acknowledged that more than 100 operators were considered for the first two dozen NSWAD billets, with each Naval Special Warfare Group nominating sailors who fit specific profiles that balanced factors ranging from previous deployments to operational adaptability. In terms of operational tempos and time away from home, they added that the actual time spent on deployment will roughly equate to similar time spent on temporary duty in a squadron assignment over four years.

In addition to the NSW officers and operators, there is also the possibility that the NSWADs will include some number of “civilian billets,” deployable positions that will allow exploitation of unique experience that might be found in retiree or civilian communities.

Although declining to offer any geographic or operational specifics, NSWC command representatives indicate that the subordinate NSWATs will deploy to nearly a dozen high-priority countries to support NSW operations. They add that some locations may see the teams co-located with other U.S. Department of Defense military elements while others will lack that larger military infrastructure.

In recognition of stated realities that, by the nature of their mandates, special operations forces are limited in size and scope, planners emphasize that the NSWADs “will be composed of less than 4 percent of the force of special operators.”

“Irregular warfare is a long-term commitment,” noted one command representative. “NSWATs are NSW’s answer to meeting the challenge of global persistent engagement in concert with our allies.”

Reiterating that the NSWATs will deploy to multiple geographic regions covering more than a dozen countries and incorporate the latest cultural and language training in order to facilitate communications and cooperation with host nation partners. They offered three key take-away messages: Anchor Teams represent continuity, cultural expertise, connectedness, and commitment with host nations; Naval Special Warfare continues to adapt to the ever-changing counterinsurgency mission; and the process of Security Force Assistance, shepherded by Anchor Teams, helps foreign partners find, fix, and finish terrorists.

Reflective of USSOCOM’s long-term approach to engagement around the world, future plans for the Anchor Team development could include expansion into areas like fleet interoperability initiatives or an enhanced foreign language training program.

It is exactly the type of long-term planning philosophy noted by Olson in recent congressional testimony: “… Throughout, we have also taken a long-term approach of engagement in CENTCOM [Central Command] and other regions, designed to forge enduring partnerships contributing to regional stability. This balance of direct and indirect actions, the combination of high-end tactical skills, and an understanding of the operational context of their application, is the core of special operations. …”

Meanwhile, with the first deployment reportedly under way as of this writing, the permanent change of station of personnel to the remaining NSWAD billets is expected to be completed by October of this year.

Global Backdrop for NSW TTP Development

While the NSWAT structure focuses small team efforts on specific regions to enhance and secure continuity of relationships and create more effective training among Naval Special Warfare (NSW), interagency, and host nation forces, the broader NSW community also presents some aspects of its specialized direct action training against a backdrop of geographic infrastructure realism.

A case in point surfaced late last year at the Small Army Test and Evaluation Complex (SATEC) at Fort Story, Virginia Beach, Va.

Under an early September 2009 solicitation, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG) announced a requirement to equip SATEC with “geo-specific props and set dressings to create a realistic third world urban training environment for the development of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) utilized in urban warfare.

“NSWDG conducts RDT&E [research, development, test & evaluation] of tactics and gear for use by Naval Special Warfare Sea Air Land personnel,” it read. “The SATEC is a multi-building small arms range that is utilized for development of urban warfare and Close Quarter Battle [CQB] tactics. The training building’s interiors and immediate exterior surroundings are not representative of the urban environment. A realistic third world setting is required for TTP testing and development.”

According to the announcement, the initial development effort focuses on the Multi-Function Building (Bldg. 928), a two-level structure with multiple stairwells and courtyard in the center. Projected lower-level props and set dressings include nine offices, one bank, one police station, one open-air courtyard, one restaurant, four kitchens, three dining rooms, three living rooms, one vault, one toilet, one closet, one lobby stairwell, one parking garage, and miscellaneous items throughout the numerous hallways and stairwells. The upper level encompasses 17 offices, six jail cells, one hotel lobby, four hotel rooms, six bedrooms, three toilets, one closet, one copy room, and miscellaneous items throughout the numerous hallways.

Future options for the interior of the remaining buildings, immediate outdoor areas surrounding the SATEC Complex, an outdoor marketplace, homemade explosives (HME) labs, false walls, weapons cache, and window plugs.

Noting, “All props and set dressings for listed areas and rooms shall be representative of typical third world countries,” the announcement outlined the layout of the potential follow-on outdoor marketplace as: one egg vendor, one vegetable stand, one fruit stand, one spice/grain stand, one butcher shop, one fish stand, one electronic/cell phone stand, one bakery stand, one housewares stand, and one kabob stand.

Additional identified exterior surroundings include 10 barrels, 75 baskets, 50 benches, 20 bikes, 25 flower boxes, 40 metal buckets and tubs, four sets of faux plants/shrubs, 30 tables, 10 tablesides, 10 table vendors, 20 yard tools, 15 trellises and faux vines, three wheelbarrows, 25 signs, 10 fire pits, 30 55-gallon drums, and five vendor carts.

“The desired props and set dressings shall provide a third world country setting to increase the realism of urban training evolutions conducted at SATEC,” it noted. “Props and set dressing material can consist of new, used and fabricated material. Use of faux products to present meat, fish, vegetable and fruit stands is desired.”

This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2010-2011 Edition.


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