This can’t be true, right? The US Navy can’t be forcing their elite commando units to rotate their rifles with other units as they come back from deployments, leaving them only to train with unfamiliar weapons. According to Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Republican who represents the San Diego district with a major SEAL community, it is — and it’s not a question of overall funding:
Navy SEAL teams don’t have enough combat rifles to go around, even as these highly trained forces are relied on more than ever to carry out counterterrorism operations and other secretive missions, according to SEALs who have confided in Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
After SEALs return from a deployment, their rifles are given to other commandos who are shipping out, said Hunter, a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. This weapons carousel undercuts the “train like you fight” ethos of the U.S. special operations forces, they said.
This cannot be a funding issue. According to NavySeals.com, there are just 2,450 active SEALs and 600 special-boat operators (the AP puts the combined total at 2,710). Even if each rifle costs $5,000 fully tricked out for special-operations use — and according to the AP, the DoD gets its M-4 carbines for around $1,000 — that would put the cost of properly equipping the SEALs at $15.25 million. The proposed US Navy budget for FY2017 comes to $155.4 billion. Using the $5000 cost as a baseline, providing every single SEAL and SWCC with a new rifle in FY2017 would eat up 0.0098% of the annual budget.
The AP notes that the numbers of special forces in all branches have grown dramatically over the past decade, from 33,600 to 56,000. The current budget for Special Forces Command, which oversees units from all branches of the military, is at $10.4 billion. But even if we take the $5000 number and assume every single member needs a new rifle next year, the cost would be $280 million — just 2.6% of the budget.
Given that the mission of SEALs (and other special forces) is to provide top-notch clandestine combat, that kind of investment in their success hardly seems controversial. And considering the kinds of missions they are asked to perform, sometimes on very little notice, having them attached to one specific set of arms to which they become intimately familiar seems like a pretty good idea too.
Hunter has begun pressing the Navy for answers on this question. He sent a letter last month to Rear Admiral Brian Losey, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, and has been promised a reply this week. Last week, Hunter asked Losey’s superior about the problem, and was told that this might be a maintenance-cycle issue:
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top officer at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, and Losey’s superior, told Hunter last week he is aware of the congressman’s concerns. “We’re certainly running that down,” Votel said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
Votel added that heavily used rifles need to undergo maintenance and that may be contributing to the perception of a shortage. But “we’ll certainly take immediate action,” Votel said, if it’s determined the combat readiness of the SEALs is being degraded.
I suspect that the SEALs themselves can determine whether their rifles are just in the shop or with other SEALs out for deployment. The US Navy and the Department of Defense should be asked where their money goes if not to make sure each member of their forces have their own weapon — a basic provision for armed forces — and enough functionality to maintain their weaponry.