Naval Special Warfare plans to triple the amount of small-unit intermediate and advanced training conducted by SEALs and other special operations forces on nonfederal lands in Hawaii, with overall training expanding from Oahu and Hawaii island to Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
The training increase, revealed in a draft environmental assessment, would begin in 2019.
“Naval special operations personnel must be ready for a variety of military operations — from large-scale conflict to maritime security and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief — to respond to the dynamic, social, political, economic and environmental issues that may arise,” Naval Special Warfare Command said in the new report.
According to the assessment, proposed air-based training would include the use of drones, C-17 cargo carriers, helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and AC-130 gunships — a cargo plane modified with side-firing cannons and a Gatling gun.
The propeller aircraft are used for parachute inserts and to protect troops on the ground. Aviation flight time would increase 40 percent to a total of 40 drop zone and 30 landing zone activities.
Currently, 110 special operations training events are held annually on nonfederal lands on Oahu and the Big Island, and for the most part include personnel scuba diving and the use of small ships, boats and submersibles.
That would increase to up to 330 training events under the new Navy proposal, which is subject to a statutory 30-day public comment period ending Dec. 10, and final Navy approval.
Up to 265 training events also would be held on federal property per year. The environmental assessment is available at go.usa.gov/xUnDC.
The report does not explain what factors necessitate the big increase in training, but the Naval Special Warfare presence in Hawaii has increased within the past decade. Naval Special Warfare headquarters in San Diego could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
SEAL Delivery Vehicle team 1 at Pearl City Peninsula utilizes open-water submersibles for insertion that can be carried piggyback by a larger mother-ship submarine and require the use of scuba gear.
A consolidation of “undersea enterprise” activities entailed commissioning the Naval Special Warfare Group 3 Logistics Support Unit at Pearl Harbor to support the SEAL Delivery Vehicle team as well as bringing in training detachments. A federal notice in 2011 said personnel in Hawaii would be increasing to 900 from about 400.
Naval Special Warfare said Hawaii remains an important training location due to its temperate weather and ocean conditions that allow trainees to develop required skills before transferring to more challenging environments.
Overall, U.S. special operations forces are on the rise, increasing from about 42,800 in 2001 to 62,800 in 2014 to about 70,000 now, according to congressional reports.
“I suspect the issue (with the increased Hawaii training) is the growing variety of terrain they need to train on,” said Carl Schuster, a retired Navy captain and adjunct professor at Hawaii Pacific University. “After sixteen years of focusing predominantly on the terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan, they are expanding their training to be ready for other, more varied environments to be prepared for the missions to come.”
Russia’s actions in Ukraine and threats to the Baltic countries and Finland have shifted the focus back to Europe while China’s expanding military operations, growing power and increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia have raised concerns from allies and partners in that region, Schuster said.
“The SEALs have to be ready for all those contingencies and the different nature of the threat since state-to-state threats differ significantly from that of nonstate actors such as the Taliban and ISIS,” he said.
The increased training would occur in the nearshore waters and land-based areas on Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai, and in the nearshore waters, including harbors and bays, of Maui, Molokai and Lanai. No land-based training is planned for the latter three islands.
Water-based training generally includes scuba diving and launching and recovering submersibles, while land-based training would include transiting over the beach on foot and parachute insertions.
The proposed action does not include explosives demolition or off-road training, the Navy said. Live-fire weapons only would be carried over federal land to reach existing live-fire ranges on federal property.
A generic example of water-based training might include the launch of a submersible or small boat, transit, a dive to the objective area by special operations personnel, movement ashore, observation of a site or individuals, and return to the sea, the Navy said.
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