The Navy SEAL Mission Is Shifting from Raids to Supporting the Service, Leader Says

U.S. Navy SEALs search and seizure training
U.S. Naval Special Warfare Operators (SEALs) clear the deck of an empty passenger liner during visit board search and seizure training as part of Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference (SOFEX) Orion 23, April 26, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Dunlap)

SAN DIEGO -- The leader of the Navy SEALs -- the elite special operators who most famously led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- says the units are pivoting away from being a counterterrorism force to supporting other elements of the Navy.

"For 20-plus years, I think we've gotten used to being the supported effort," Rear Adm. Keith Davids, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, told a crowd of attendees at the annual naval WEST 2024 conference.

"We still need character and competence; we still need problem solvers; we need people that don't quit," Davids said. "We need them to not just do point target raids, we need that now to work in support of the fleet joint force."

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A brief survey of the most recent announcements of SEAL exercises and activities bears that out. Many of the exercises that the operators have conducted lately have focused on concepts such as maritime interdiction or search and seizure of other ships and have been conducted off of Navy platforms.

Davids said that integration and cooperation is happening "to the degree I've not seen in my 33-plus years of commissioned service."

"I feel like I'm back in the Navy in a big way," he added.

While Davids did not break the trend of the typically secretive command and offer specifics on what that integration looks like, he did say that, broadly it could be something like identifying targets for a ship missile strike or providing electromagnetic jamming in support of airstrikes.

The recent death of two Navy SEALs a month ago also offers more insight into the kind of work the operators are now engaged in.

The two SEALs who perished after falling into the water amid a boarding in heavy seas were part of a team that was working off of the expeditionary mobile base USS Lewis B. Puller and searching ships in the Red Sea looking for Iranian weapons.

The seizure in which the pair of operators perished also led to the discovery of Iranian-made missile components, including "propulsion, guidance and warheads for Houthi medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as air defense-associated components," a statement from U.S. Central Command said.

Davids also noted that the SEALs are "really good at hunting people and terrorist networks," and it "turns out those methodologies actually apply ... to systems, not just people."

The shift Davids describes -- especially the move from being the force that demands support to one that provides it -- is a seismic one for the community. However, the two-star admiral told the crowd that there are few complaints from inside the teams.

"What I found is if they see purpose, and you're part of the high-performing team, they're all for it," Davids said, adding that "retention is good."

Related: Navy SEALs Who Died in Mission Interdicting Weapons Headed to Houthis Are Identified

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