U.S. Navy SEALs Shift Mission Focus: Deterring Chinese Coercion

Ten years after 9/11 mastermind Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 by the U.S. Navy’s Special Amphibious Warfare Team (SEAL), Detachment 6, the SEALs are undergoing a major transformation to improve leadership and expand assault capabilities to better respond to threats from global powers such as China and Russia.

SEAL, which stands for “US Navy Sea, Air and Land Forces,” is a U.S. Navy unit capable of engaging in sea, air and land operations. It is responsible for underwater demolition, intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism and other irregular combat missions. In the past 17 years, the force mainly in the Middle East desert and mountainous areas to carry out counter-terrorism tasks, and now, they are shifting the mission focus to respond to the threat of China, Russia and so on.

The decision reflects a broader Pentagon strategy to prioritize China and Russia, two countries that are rapidly growing their militaries and trying to expand their global influence, the Associated Press reported on 28 June. U.S. defense leaders argue that 20 years of warfare against militants and extremists have drained resources and led to U.S. losses in confrontations with Beijing and Moscow.

Rear Adm. Hugh Howard, the top Navy SEAL commander, laid out his plans in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. The Navy’s special operations forces have been focused on counterterrorism operations, he said, but now must begin to move beyond those missions. For the past 20 years, many have been fighting in the Iraqi desert and the mountains of Afghanistan. Now they are focusing on returning to the sea.

The new plan cuts the number of SEAL detachments by 30 percent and expands the size of the detachments to make these teams more lethal and capable of taking on complex maritime and undersea adversaries.

Howard said SEALs are engaged in counterterrorism missions that can improve their skills in developing intelligence networks and finding and striking targets, many of which are transferable, “but now we need to put pressure on ourselves to respond to threats from competitors.” As a result, Howard is increasing the strength of SEAL detachments to enhance their capabilities in cyber, electronic warfare and unmanned systems, honing their skills in gathering intelligence, deception and defeating the enemy.

U.S. Navy Secretary of Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said their goal is to better integrate SEALs into the Navy’s maritime mission. In a statement to The Associated Press, Gilday said, “As more and more Navy special operations forces return to their maritime roots, their further integration across the fleet (over, under and at sea) will clearly strengthen our unique maritime warfare capabilities and help us engage and win against any adversary.”

Four-star Admiral Berger: Deterring Chinese Coercion New Mission for U.S. Marines

The U.S. Marine Corps, known for its primus inter pares, is undergoing its most radical transformation in decades. In a recent article in the U.S. Army magazine Military Review, Marine Corps Commander Four-Star General Berger outlined that the U.S. Army is developing and adjusting the Marine Corps’ strategic tactics and seeking to work closely with local allies in response to future military conflict with China. The new strategy is centered around “reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance operations.

“Reconnaissance and Counter-Reconnaissance” against the Communist forces

In the article, Berger said the new Marine mission will include reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance of Chinese PLA activities from waters close to the Chinese coast and working closely with regional allies to deter Chinese coercion. This new strategy reverses the traditional mission of the Marines, who for decades have made amphibious assault from sea to land their primary mission.

No longer overly favoring heavy weapons for ground warfare, the U.S. Marine Corps will focus in the future on transforming into a lighter, more mobile vanguard force to facilitate the deployment of this smaller, more flexible force to island offensives in the Pacific, operating from international waters and joining local allies and partners for short periods ashore.

Berger noted that China’s rapidly developing long-range precision strike missiles and weapons make it easier to attack land bases. In addition, large naval vessels are now vulnerable to China’s new anti-ship ballistic missiles, the Dongfeng-21 and Dongfeng-26, so a light, self-reliant, highly mobile maritime expeditionary force would be positioned close to and off China’s coasts to provide critical support in finding and tracking high-value Chinese military, intelligence and other targets.

In February, Berger presented a memo to new Secretary of Defense Austin that for the first time relegated the Russian threat to the same level as Iran, North Korea and extremist groups, indicating that China is the number one threat to the United States.

The National Interest revealed in March that the U.S. Marine Corps is undergoing a massive transformation from a “Second Army” to a naval power projection extension in the Pacific, one part of which is preparing to hunt Chinese ships and aircraft carriers.