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Last Updated: 28 March, 2016
This article is organised as follows:
- Part 01: Background
- Part 02: Entry Standards and Applications
- Part 03: Outline of the US Navy SEAL Selection and Training Process
- Part 04: Post-Graduation and Advanced Training
- Part 05: Miscellaneous
PART ONE: BACKGROUND
US Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land), officially known as Special Warfare Operators (SO), are Tier 1 forces (i.e. undertake direct action) and are trained at the US Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Centre (NSWCEN).
These Naval Commandos form the Special Forces (SF) element of the US Naval Special Warfare Command (NSW or NAVSPECWARCOM) Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, which is the naval component of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
Each year approximately 1,000 candidates (mainly US Navy Sailors) are given the opportunity to attend US Navy SEAL training. Although numbers vary, approximately 200-250 will succeed and join the approximately 2,500 active duty US Navy SEALs.
The role of a US Navy SEAL is sea-duty intensive, with approximately 70% of their time spent in operational roles and 30% in shore/instructional/staff-related roles.
From boot camp to first deployment, a US Navy SEAL may undertake (up to) two and a half years of training, approximately one and a half years from boot camp to joining a SEAL Team and another year for additional training as a probationary member of a SEAL Team.
The US Navy SEAL training process prepares candidates for the missions they may undertake as a qualified SEAL. US Navy SEALs are responsible for training and preparation for execution of special operations in a variety of environments, including maritime, urban, desert, jungle, arctic and mountain. US Navy SEALs are experts in:
- Special operations tactics and technical knowledge;
- Mission planning;
- Cultural awareness;
- Small-unit leadership;
- Operational risk management;
- Tactical, operational and strategic thinking;
- Tactical communications;
- Tactical air control/terminal guidance;
- Combat diving;
- Para-drop operations;
- Small boat operations;
- Tactical ground mobility;
- Small arms and crew-served weapons;
- Fast roping and rappelling;
- Demolitions/explosive breaching;
- Trauma care;
- Intelligence gathering and interpretation;
- Transportation and logistics; and
- Chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear defence measures.
In times of armed conflict and war US Navy SEAL personnel are required to operate in small parties in enemy controlled territory. Operations of this nature require individuals of courage and high morale who are self-disciplined, intelligent, reliable, determined and physically fit, and who possess mental, moral and physical stamina. These units will operate in support of conventional forces or independently. Principle roles are:
- Surveillance Reconnaissance (SR), including information reporting and target acquisition;
- Offensive Action (OA), including direction of air, artillery and naval gunfire;
- Designation for precision guided munitions, use of integral weapons and demolitions; and
- Support and Influence (SI), including overseas training tasks.
The US Navy SEALs as part of the US military’s SOF community provide the USs immediate response Military Counter Terrorism (CT) and Maritime Counter Terrorism (MCT) teams. During peacetime, overseas deployments for training are frequent though usually of (relatively) short duration; this is balanced by greater stability for families who are able to remain in locally situated Service accommodation.
It must be emphasised that a candidate must be physically fit at the beginning of the US Navy SEAL training process if they are to stand any chance of success. The course requires far greater expenditure of physical energy than is normally required in other peace time training. It is essential that candidates arrive fully fit, carrying no injuries and with a sound grasp of basic navigational techniques and swimming techniques.
The aim of this article is to describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to serve as a US Naval Special Warfare Operator, aka US Navy SEAL.
1.2 Women and the US Navy SEALs
From January 2016, in accordance with current US Federal Government policy on the employment of women in the US military, service in the US Navy SEALs is open to both male and female volunteers (Pellerin, 2015).
1.3 Selection and Training for the US Navy SEALs
There is a presumption that personnel volunteering for US Navy SEAL training will become very good team players, and as a result SEAL training courses are far more team-orientated in contrast to the UKSF Selection process.
Emphasis is on endurance and long hours undertaking team-based arduous tasks. The instructors provide lots of negative encouragement and attempt to demotivate aspirants (on certain phases of the overall course).
Assessment continues long after candidates graduate from BUD/S, as personnel are expected to improve in the job. Remaining in a SF unit can be more difficult than getting there in the first place!
SF selection and training is designed to test personal motivation to the point where actual operations present challenges that candidates have already overcome. The argument being that there is no point in suffering doubts at 0300 hours, in the silence of a tactical operation, after a helicopter has dropped you off 200 miles behind enemy lines.
Unlike most training courses in the US military, US Navy SEAL training (the BUD/S course) has a ‘select out’ policy rather the norm of ‘train in’.
1.4 Factors for Increasing the Likelihood of Success
The US Navy suggests there are a number of factors that may increase a candidate’s successful completion of US Navy SEAL training, which include:
- Candidates who have played in competitive sports such as water polo, rugby, lacrosse, swimming, wrestling and boxing;
- Candidates who have high academic achievements;
- Candidates who have the ability to learn quickly;
- Candidates with two- or four-year degrees are almost twice as likely to succeed at BUD/S as compared to those without a degree.
- Candidates traditionally have an Armed Forces Qualification Test (Section 2.8) score of 78 or better.
- Candidates with a higher score on the C-SORT (Section 2.9) have a higher probability of success.
- Candidates who have Physical Screening Test (Section 2.10) scores below 800 are three times more likely to succeed than those candidates who only meet the minimum requirements.
1.5 Brief History
The SEALs (original) intended purpose was to conduct military operations in maritime and riverine environments, the staple role of naval frogmen and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) since World War II.
The original members of SEAL Teams One and Two were recruited from the UDTs, a branch which continued to exist for another two decades.
US Navy SEALs fought in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1973.
The catastrophic result of a failed hostage rescue in Iran in 1980 during Operation Desert One, compounded by the mixed outcome of special operations missions during the invasion of Grenada under Operation Urgent Fury in 1983, brought about a re-evaluation of commando operations across the US military.
On 01 May 1983, all remaining UDTs were re-designated as SEAL Teams or Swimmer Delivery Vehicle Teams (SDVTs). The SDVTs have since been re-designated as SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams (though still abbreviated SDVTs).
In an effort to repair the conventional weaknesses so cruelly exposed in operations in and around the Southeast Asia area, the US military created a separate branch for its elite units.
On 16 April 1987, the same day as USSOCOM was established, the US Navy formed the Naval Special Warfare Command. The US Naval Special Warfare Command is the naval component of USSOCOM.
The five principal mission categories for US Navy SEALs are:
- Unconventional warfare;
- Direct action;
- Special reconnaissance;
- Foreign internal defence; and
- Combating terrorism.
Additional mission tasks include security assistance, anti-terrorism (now a priority), counter-drug, personnel recovery and special activities.
However, because of the growing demands on US military forces during the well-known, and often referred to, ‘Global War on Terrorism’, Naval Special Warfare forces are typically tasked with multi-component missions which are not necessarily associated with their original purpose of operating in riverine and maritime environments.
The SO rate was created in 2006. Prior to this, personnel maintained a source rating (i.e. a mechanic was still a mechanic), although operators were expected to maintain SOF focus.
PART TWO: ENTRY STANDARDS AND APPLICATIONS
Unlike the UK model of SF, the US Navy accepts direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience. As a result, volunteers for US Navy SEAL Selection may be accepted from both US civilians and US military personnel (both officer and enlisted) from any branch of military service to serve with the US Navy’s SEAL Teams.
Consequently, there are three recognised pathways to becoming a US Navy SEAL:
- Enlist as a civilian;
- Enlist while in the US Navy and apply for a transfer; or
- Enlist from another Branch of Military Service.
There are also a number of pre-requisite tests that candidates must pass (discussed in Sections 2.5 to 2.11 below) in order to progress their application.
The US Navy SEAL recruiting process is overseen by two SEAL and SWCC Scout Teams, West Coast Team which is based out of San Diego, California, and the East Coast Team which is based out of Little Creek, Virginia. The SEAL and SWCC Scout Team is commanded by the Director, a US Navy Captain (OF-5) (McNatt, 2014).
2.1 Enlist as a Civilian
Table 1 provides an outline of the enlistment process for civilians.
|Table 1: Enlist as a Civilian|
|1||Visit Local US Navy Recruiter||
|2||Get a US Navy Contract||
|3||Get a US Navy SEAL Contract||
2.2 Enlist While in the US Navy and Apply for a Transfer
Table 2 provides an overview of the enlistment process for Active Duty US Navy personnel wishing to transfer to the US Navy SEALs. US Navy Reservists are not eligible to apply for US Navy SEAL training.
|Table 2: Enlist While in the US Navy and Apply for a Transfer|
|1||Notify Your Command||
|2||Notify Naval Special Warfare Command||
|3||Pass a PST||
|4||Apply (if pass PST)||
|5||Prepare for the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory Course||
For precise criteria, candidates should consult ‘MILPERSMAN 1220-300: Special Warfare Operator (SO) Rating, Change 47, 01 April 2014’ located in the Useful Documents section at the end.
2.3 Enlist from another Branch of Military Service
Table 3 provides an overview of the enlistment process for US military personnel from another branch of military service wishing to transfer to the US Navy SEALs.
|Table 3: Enlist from another Branch of Military Service|
|1||Visit Local US Navy Recruiter||
|2||Separate from Current Branch of Service||
|3||Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)||
|4||Take a PST||
|5||Get a US Navy SEAL Contract||
2.4 US Navy SEAL Officer Candidates
- The United States Naval Academy (USNA);
- US Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS); or
- US Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
The US Naval Special Warfare Command also accepts a limited number of in-fleet transfers and officers from other services.
To be considered for an officer slot at BUD/S, candidates must prepare an application package for submission to a board of US Navy SEAL officers. The board consists of one US Navy SEAL Captain (OF-5) and at least three other US Navy SEAL officers in the rank of Lieutenant (OF-2) through Commander (OF-4).
In selecting officer candidates, the board utilises a holistic approach and looks for:
- Leadership potential;
- Honour and integrity;
- The highest levels of physical fitness;
- Academic achievement;
- Foreign language skills (such as Arabic, Farsi, Pashtu, Dari, French etc);
- Regional expertise;
- Cultural knowledge and experience are highly valued.
- Letters of recommendation are also important, especially those written by US Navy SEAL officers (it is appreciated that officer candidates may not have access to this).
Successful officer candidates will be invited to attend the 2-week SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection (SOAS) course, which is held annually at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, San Diego in California. Officer candidates will attend one of four SOAS courses held during May through August.
USNA and ROTC officer candidates may also serve an additional week at the Naval Special Warfare Command as part of their summer cruise, although this is not part of SOAS.
The SOAS course is a high stress physical, mental, behavioural and psychological evaluation programme which is designed to identify officer candidates who embody the attributes considered requisite for successful employment as a US Navy SEAL officer. Officer candidates, like enlisted candidates, should be:
- Able to run in soft sand for long periods carrying significant weight; and
- Comfortable in the water and be able to swim for long distances on the surface and underwater in a pool and in the ocean, sometimes in full clothing with shoes or boots.
The SOAS course includes:
- An arduous physical screening regimen;
- Psychological evaluations;
- Behavioural assessments;
- Intellectual and cognitive challenges;
- Communication and leadership challenges;
- Team orientated activities in a competitive environment; and
- Assessment of competency in the water.
Each year, approximately 70 to 90 officer candidates are selected to attend US Navy SEAL training, as a result competition for places is extremely intense. There are typically 30 slots allocated to UNSA officer candidates.
As well as the training identified in Part Three, officer candidates must also complete the 5-week Junior Officer Training Course after graduating from BUD/S.
2.5 US Navy SEAL Entry Standards
A potential US Navy SEAL candidate is assessed through:
- Pre-enlistment medical screening.
- Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB): used to assess a candidate’s mental sharpness and ability to learn.
- Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT): used to assess a candidate’s mental sharpness and ability to learn.
- Computerised-Special Operations Resilience Test (C-SORT): used to screen a candidate’s maturity and mental resilience.
- SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST).
2.6 Pre-Enlistment Medical Screening
As well as the general physical examination requirements (scroll down to Section 5.2) required by the US Navy, there are also additional steps to be undertaken by US Navy SEAL candidates.
These steps can be seen in Table 2, Step 4, above.
2.7 Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
Detailed information on the ASVAB can be found here (scroll down to Section 5.1).
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is used to assess a candidate’s mental sharpness and ability to learn, and is typically conducted at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). The standard ASVAB contains the following subtests:
- Word Knowledge (WK)
- Arithmetic Reasoning (AR)
- Mechanical Comprehension (MC)
- Shop Information (SI)
- Automotive Information (AI)
- Electronics Information (EI)
- Mathematics Knowledge (MK)
- General Science (GS)
- Paragraph Comprehension (PC)
- Assembling Objects (AO)
- Verbal Expression (VE) – a scaled combination of WK+PC
An additional line score, Coding Speed (CS), should be requested at MEPS, and the score can be included in the calculation to determine eligibility for the US Navy SEAL programme. If the CS line score is not taken, only one set of line scores can be used to determine eligibility.
A candidate must score one of the following on the ASVAB:
- GS + MC + EI: a minimum score of 170; or
- VE + MK + MC + CS: a minimum score of 220; or
- VE + AR: a minimum score of 110; and MC: a minimum score of 50.
If a candidate does not achieve the minimum score, they will:
If not in the US Navy: complete more studying and re-take the test.
- If in the US Navy: The US Navy College offer ASVAB preparation courses which can be taken prior to a re-test.
If a candidate’s score is close to the minimum and they are considered a particularly strong candidate, they may be eligible for a waiver (although not if their MC score is more than 5 points below the minimum). It must be noted that waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis. A candidate’s PST scores and the strength of their overall application package will be assessed in order to decide on eligibility.
2.8 Armed Forces Qualification Test
Detailed information on the AFQT can be found here (scroll down to Section 5.1).
Four of the ASVAB subtests are combined to form the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). It measures general cognitive ability and is composed of verbal and mathematics subtests.
AFQT results are returned as percentiles from 1-99. A score of a 50 would mean a candidate was in the 50th percentile, or have an average score. The US Navy requires an AFQT score of at least 35. Candidates who succeed at BUD/S traditionally have AFQT scores of 78 or better.
2.9 Computerised-Special Operations Resilience Test
The Computerised-Special Operations Resilience Test (C-SORT) is used to screen a candidate’s maturity and mental resilience (aka mental toughness), and can only be taken once.
The C-SORT includes multiple sections designed to assess a prospective candidate’s abilities in three areas:
- Performance strategies: test for capabilities such as an individual’s goal-setting, self-talk and emotional control.
- Psychological resilience: focuses on assessing several other areas like an individual’s acceptance of life situations and the ability to deal with cognitive challenges and threats.
- Personality traits.
The scores on each section of C-SORT are combined into a band score on a scale of one to four, with four indicating highest level of mental resilience and one being the lowest level of mental resilience.
To determine eligibility for the US Navy SEAL programme, the C-SORT band score is combined with the candidate’s PST run and swim times. Individuals who have low C-SORT and slow combined run and swim times are not offered US Navy SEAL contracts.
Although candidates cannot retake C-SORT, they can retake their delayed entry programme qualifying PST and demonstrate their motivation by improving their PST score (in particular the run and swim times). Individuals improving their PST score may then increase their C-SORT band, and thus qualify for a US Navy SEAL contract.
2.10 US Navy SEAL Physical Screening Test
To receive a US Navy SEAL contract, or even be remotely considered, a candidate must achieve a minimum pass in the US Navy SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST), as outlined in Table 4 below.
|Table 4: US Navy SEAL Physical Screening Test|
|Exercise||Minimum Pass||Optimum Pass||Time Limit||Rest Period|
|500 Yard Swim||12.30||9.00||12.30||10 minutes|
|Press-ups||50||90||2 minutes||2 minutes|
|Sit-ups||50||85||2 minutes||2 minutes|
|Heaves||10||16||2 minutes||10 minutes|
|1.5 Mile Run||10.30||9.30||10.30||N/A|
For details on swim technique (Combat Side Stroke) see the Useful Documents Section at the end of the article.
The qualifying PST must be administered by a Naval Special Warfare coordinator or mentor. Prospective candidates can increase their chances of being selected for BUD/S and succeeding in training by having optimum PST scores or better.
Candidates with a PST score of 827 or less are much more likely to be selected for a US Navy SEAL contract, and consequently more likely to successfully complete US Navy SEAL training. Further, candidates with a PST below 800 are three times more likely to succeed than those candidates who only achieve the minimum PST score.
“In fiscal year 2014, the average in-fleet SEAL or SWCC candidate who was selected did more than 22 pullups [heaves] in his PST, said NSW recruiting directorate commanding officer Capt. Duncan Smith last year,” (Myers, 2015).
2.11 Other Requirements
- Candidates must be from 17 to 28 years old.
- Waivers for individuals aged 29 and 30 are available for highly qualified candidates.
- Individuals with prior enlisted service as US Navy SEALs who are seeking to become NSW Officers can request waivers to age 33.
- Must be correctable to 20/25.
- Uncorrected vision must be at least 20/70 in the worst eye and 20/40 in the best.
- Colour blindness is disqualifying.
- Candidates must be US citizens.
- Security Clearance:
- Applicants must be able to obtain a secret security clearance.
“Despite the bare minimum requirements, applicants in each monthly pool compete against each other for a limited number of spots, so the selection ends up with a curve. Of hundreds of thousands who contact NSW recruiting every year, maybe 10,000 work with a recruiter to prepare, and less than 700 will end up cleared for training, Smith said.” (Myers, 2015).
PART THREE: OUTLINE OF THE US NAVY SEAL SELECTION AND TRAINING PROCESS
3.0 US Navy SEAL Selection and Training Phases
Once (Phase 1) recruit training has been successfully completed, and other (Phase 2) training for in-fleet and in-service transfers, all US Navy SEAL candidates will undertake six distinct stages of training.
During this training candidates are taught the fundamentals of naval special warfare through a combination of formal US Navy schooling and on the job training. The six stages of training include:
- Stage 1: Special Warfare Operator Preparatory Course.
- Stage 2: Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Orientation.
- Stage 3: BUD/S First Phase: Basic Conditioning.
- Stage 4: BUD/S Second Phase: Combat Diving.
- Stage 5: BUD/S Third Phase: Land Warfare Training.
- Stage 6: SEAL Qualification Training (SQT).
Stages 1 to 5 provide a candidate with their basic SEAL skills and stage 6 (Section 3.7) consists of intermediate SEAL skills. Advanced SEAL skills (Part Four) are attained and developed on the job with a SEAL Team.
The SEAL training programme has undergone a number of iterations. For example, as noted by Bahmanyar (2005) in 2003/04 the US Navy SEAL training programme consisted of:
- Indoctrination: 5-weeks;
- Basic conditioning: 8-weeks;
- Diving: 8-weeks;
- Land warfare: 9-weeks;
- Basic parachute training: 3-weeks;
- Special Operations Technician Training: 2-weeks at the US Naval Special Warfare Centre;
- Followed by 18-D, an intense course of instruction in medical skills (hospital corpsmen only);
- Assignment to a SEAL team for 6-12 months of on-the-job training; then receive NSW classification, a SEAL Naval Enlisted Classification (NEC) code.
Candidates during the following stages of training: Pre-training/pre-trainee; indoctrination; and BUD/S First Phase until the successful completion of Hell Week, are known as White Shirts. Post Hell Week candidates are known as Brown shirts.
Table 5 provides a guide only on the approximate percentages of personnel completing each stage of selection and training, from initial recruitment to final graduation.
|Table 5: Guide to percentages of personnel completing each stage of selection and training|
|Stage of Selection/Training||Average Pass Rate (2007)||2 Year Average Attrition Rate (2008)|
|Completed US Navy Recruit Training||58%||–|
|Completed SEAL Pre-Indoctrination||90%||18%|
|Completed SEAL Indoctrination||85%||17%|
|Completed BUD/S Phase 1||33%||32% (pre-Hell Week)
12% (Hell Week)
1% (post-Hell Week)
|Completed BUD/S Phase 2||87%||2%|
|Completed BUD/S Phase 3||96%||0%|
|Completed Airborne School||100%||–|
|Source: Navy Times, 2007||Source: NSO NWS Mentor, 2008|
3.1 Annual SEAL Invitational
The Annual SEAL Invitational competition was established in 2010 with the purpose of enabling high school students to visit the Naval Special Warfare Centre, specifically the obstacle course, and compete against each other in many of the same physical activities that SEAL candidates are required to perform (Black, 2014).
The Annual SEAL Invitational is not part of the selection and training process.
3.2 Stage 1: Special Warfare Operator Preparatory Course
The Special Warfare Operator Preparatory Course (NSW Prep) is delivered by the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School located at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. This stage of training is/has also been known as BUD/S Prep, Pre-BUD/S and Pre-Indoctrination. The course is led by the Officer in Charge (OIC), a Master Chief Petty Officer (OR-9).
The NSW Prep course was officially established on 07 February 2008 (SOCNET, 2007; ShadowSpear, 2008), having been piloted the previous summer, and was designed to increase the chances of candidates during the training process. Of the 250 candidates who started before the course was officially established, 33 left (ShadowSpear, 2008).
This course is between 5 and 9 weeks in duration and covers the physical and psychological preparation for BUD/S training. Essentially, this phase of training acts as a link between basic training and the BUD/S course, as many individuals will suffer from detraining as a consequence of the naval basic training process.
NSW Prep can be divided into three distinct elements:
- Check-in: conducted in week 1 and includes administration, physical/medical assessments and course introduction.
- Conditioning: conducted over 4-8 weeks and includes group physical training (determined by ability level), daily academic instruction and progress tracking.
- Testing and transfers which includes exit standards, PST, review board and ship to BUD/S.
This phase of training starts with a PST, as described above, and ends with a modified PST, as outlined in Table 6 below.
|Table 6: Modified US Navy SEAL Physical Screening Test|
|Exercise||Minimum Pass||Time Limit|
|1000 Yard Swim (with fins)||20 minutes or less||20 minutes|
|4 mile rune (with shoes and pants)||31 minutes or less||31 minutes|
Candidates who do not pass the longer, more intense test are removed from training and reclassified to other jobs in the US Navy, or maybe moved to another class.
Instruction involves a variety of teaching methods including group instruction, classroom-based and practical. The School utilises US Navy Recruit Training Command pools, indoor and outdoor tracks and other facilities in and around Naval Station Great Lakes. The School’s staff and curriculum are under the Naval Special Warfare Centre.
The curriculum reinforces the US Navy’s core values and is divided into three streams:
- Physical training which includes:
- Swimming (basic swimming techniques).
- Running (principles of running and running fundamentals).
- Strength and conditioning (plyometrics).
- Basic underwater skills.
- Group calisthenics.
- Academic training which includes:
- SEAL ethos.
- Core values (military heritage (aircraft, ships, honours and courtesies) and sexual assault, harassment, fraternisation and discrimination training).
- Exercise science (injury prevention, stretching, rest and recovery, hypothermia related injuries and heat related injuries).
- Nutrition (supplements).
- Mental toughness.
- Military training which includes:
- Basic military training (knot tying and operational risk management).
- Berthing (military pay system, military rights and responsibilities, and moral, welfare and recreation).
- Personnel inspections.
- Phased liberty (leave and liberty policies).
- Professional development (principles of team building, cycle of achievement, goal setting and alcohol and its effects).
3.3 Stage 2: Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Orientation
The Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Orientation, also known NSW Orientation, is delivered by the US Naval Special Warfare Centre located at Coronado, California. This stage of training is also known as BUD/S Indoctrination or just Indoctrination.
This course is 3 weeks in duration and covers the physical and psychological preparation for BUD/S training. This training involves becoming ‘familiar’ with the obstacle course, swimming practice and teamwork.
Instruction involves a variety of teaching methods including group instruction, classroom-based and practical. NSW Orientation is delivered in three elements:
- Week 1: This week involves administration and check-in, including equipment issue and administrative indoctrination. Candidates will undertake two initial runs and two initial obstacle courses run-throughs.
- Week 2: This is known as orientation week and involves learning the routine, skills and standards required, practicing the skills required for BUD/S entry, and also ‘safe student’ learning and practical of high-risk evolutions.
- Week 3: Known as test week, it involves:
- BUD/S Entry Standards: standard PST; 4-mile timed run (33 minutes); 1.5-nautical mile Bay swim (65 minutes); and obstacle course (15 minutes).
- Additional skills for Student ‘Self-gauging’: survival swim; knot tying; drown-proofing; and 25 metre underwater swim.
The Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course or ‘A’ School is delivered by the US Naval Special Warfare Centre located at Coronado, California.
Although the length of the course has varied over the years, the subjects covered have essentially remained the same, and include:
- Physical conditioning;
- Small boat handling;
- Diving physics;
- Basic diving techniques for open and closed circuit scuba;
- Land warfare;
- Communications; and
- Hydrographic reconnaissance.
The BUD/S course is delivered in three distinct phases:
- BUD/S First Phase: Basic Conditioning;
- BUD/S Second Phase: Combat Diving; and
- BUD/S Third Phase: Land Warfare Training.
The overall attrition rate during BUD/S is approximately 75% to 80%.
3.4 Stage 3: BUD/S First Phase: Basic Conditioning
The BUD/S First Phase of training, the basic conditioning phase, is 7-weeks in duration and develops candidates in physical training, water competency and mental tenacity while continuing to develop teamwork.
The first day of First Phase is known as Phase Up/Class Up and is the official class start (Bahmanyar, 2005).
During these 7-weeks, candidates are expected to do more running, swimming and calisthenics than the week before, and each candidate’s performance is measured by a 4-mile timed run, a timed obstacle course, and a 2-mile timed swim.
Candidates will endure team focused physical training with telephone pole sized logs, surf torture and mud sessions. In addition to physical training, candidates also learn how to conduct hydrographic survey operations and small boat seamanship.
The fourth week of BUD/S First Phase is known as Hell Week. In this gruelling five-and-a-half day stretch, each candidate sleeps only about four total hours but runs more than 200 miles and does physical training for more than 20 hours per day. Because of the particularly challenging requirements of this phase of training, a significant number of candidates will decide to quit by ringing the bell (Section 3.7). Table 7 provides an outline of BUD/S First Phase training.
|Table 7: Outline of BUD/S First Phase training|
|1-3||Conditioning and Physical Training (PT)||
|5||Recovery Week/Skills Week||
|6-7||Hydrographic Reconnaissance and Underwater Skills Test Week||
For those candidates, with families, who successfully complete Hell Week, BUD/S will process orders authorising candidates to move their family to San Diego at US Navy expense.
“With 25 percent staying after the first three, four weeks at BUD/S, you’ve got to be prepared mentally and physically for that.” (Myers, 2015).
3.5 Stage 4: BUD/S Second Phase: Combat Diving
The BUD/S Second Phase of training, the combat diving phase, is 7-weeks in duration and introduces underwater skills that are unique to the US Navy SEALs. Table 8 provides an outline of training during BUD/S Second Phase.
|Table 8: Outline of BUD/S Second Phase training|
|1||Dive Physics and Medicine (pass/fail written test for each).|
|2||SCUBA Charging, Dive Safety and Diving Skills.|
|3||Open Circuit: Qualification and Competency (pass/fail).|
|4||Open Circuit: Open Water Diving.|
|5||Closed Circuit Qualification and Competency (pass/fail).|
|6||Closed Circuit Combat Swimmer Skills: Proficiency.|
|7||Combat Swimmer Final Training Exercise.|
Within the training outlined in Table 8, candidates:
- Become basic combat swimmers, with an emphasis on long distance underwater dives imitating movement from the launch point to objective.
- Conduct SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) training, initially delivered in the training pool, which consists of:
- Open circuit: compressed air; and
- Closed circuit: 100% oxygen.
- Receive ‘drown proofing’ training: trainees will have their arms and legs tied.
- Receive ‘combative drowning victim’ training: A BUD/S instructor will ‘attack’ a trainee in the pool to simulate a combative drowning victim.
- Must complete:
- A 3.5-nautical mile swim (pass/fail).
- A 5-nautical mile swim (pass/fail).
- 4-mile timed run in 31 minutes.
- 2-mile Ocean swim in 80 minutes.
- Obstacle course in 11 minutes and then 10.30 minutes.
The US Navy suggests that successful Second Phase candidates demonstrate a high level of comfort in the water and the ability to perform in stressful and often uncomfortable environments.
3.6 Stage 5: BUD/S Third Phase: Land Warfare Training
This BUD/S Third Phase of training, the land warfare training phase, is 7-weeks in duration and involves basic weapons, tactics, basic field craft, demolitions, land navigation (individual and group), patrolling (group), rappelling, and marksmanship and small-unit tactics.
The second half of this phase of training is on San Clemente Island, about 60 miles from Coronado. On the island, candidates practice the skills they learned in the first half of BUD/S Third Phase, via a practical tactical exercise. This may include an over the beach sub-exercise and patrolling sub-exercise. Table 9 provides an outline of BUD/S Third Phase training.
|Table 9: Outline of BUD/S Third Phase training|
|1-2||Introduction to Land Warfare and Land Navigation (pass/fail and written test).|
|3||Rope Insertion Training and Transit to SCI.|
|4||Pistol Training and Qualification (pass/fail).|
|5||Demolitions Training (written test).
Small Unit Field Training Exercises (from mid-week).
Small Unit Tactics (Raids and Immediate Action Drills) (pass/fail for officers).
|6||Long Rifle (pass/fail) and Machine Gun Training and Qualification.
Demolitions Practical (pass/fail).
Small Unit Field Training Exercises.
|7||Small Unit Field Training Exercises.
Administration and Graduation from BUD/S.
Candidates will also need to complete:
- 4-mile timed run in 30 minutes;
- 2-mile Ocean swim in 75 minutes; and
- Obstacle course in 10 minutes.
Candidates who successfully complete BUD/S Third Phase graduate BUD/S as Special Warfare Operators, but still have further training to undertake before pinning on a Trident (the badge of a qualified SEAL) and therefore becoming a fully-qualified US Navy SEAL.
At this point successful candidates will be awarded the SEAL Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) 5320.
3.7 Stage 6: SEAL Qualification Training
SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) is designed to provide candidates with the core tactical knowledge and skills they will need to join a SEAL platoon, and is delivered at a variety of US locations. SQT is 26-weeks in duration and includes:
- Weapons training;
- Small unit tactics;
- Land navigation;
- Combat engineering;
- Cold weather training, delivered at Kodiak in Alaska;
- Advanced combat first aid or medical skills; and
- Maritime operations.
During SQT candidates will also undertake parachute training which covers the basic skills required for military parachuting. The Navy Parachute Course is 4-weeks in duration and includes:
- Static-line parachute operations.
- Free-fall parachute operations:
- High Altitude-Low Opening (HALO).
- High Altitude-High Opening (HAHO).
To complete the course, candidates must pass through a series of jump progressions, from basic static line to accelerated free fall to combat equipment – ultimately completing night descents with combat equipment from a minimum altitude of approximately 9,500 feet.
Finally, before graduation candidates will also attend SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) training. It is the intermediate skills course that prepares candidates for the advanced training they will receive once they arrive at a SEAL team. The course is 10-days in duration and covers the full spectrum of SERE training.
3.8 Ringing the Bell
If a candidate wishes to quit (known as Drop on Request or DOR) they must ‘Ring Out.’ The tradition of DOR consists of candidates dropping their helmet liner next to a pole with a brass ship’s bell attached to it and ringing the bell three times.
Candidates who do not complete BUD/S training will be reclassified to another US Navy rate (i.e. job) and given orders to an assignment within that rating. Candidates may reapply to BUD/S after a two-year fleet assignment.
Just prior to graduation, candidates will sit what is known as a Trident Board. The board is an oral interview which has no set length of time, to challenge basic knowledge before being awarded the Trident.
Upon completing these (not inconsiderable) requirements, trainees receive their SEAL Trident, designating them as qualified US Navy SEALs. They are subsequently assigned to a SEAL team to begin preparing for their first deployment.
At this point successful candidates will be awarded the SEAL Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) 5326.
Obligated Service, Return of Service in the UK vernacular, is 51 months from class graduation date and awarding of the 5326 NEC or until completion of previous obligated service, whichever is greater.
3.10 SEAL Navy Enlisted Classifications
Enlisted SEAL personnel are designated by Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) codes per their qualifications:
- NEC 5320: Basic Special Warfare Operator (Student);
- NEC 5323: Seal Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Pilot/Navigator/Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) Operator (SEAL);
- NEC 5326: Special Warfare Operator/SEAL; and
- NEC 5392: Naval Special Warfare Medic.
Refer to NAVPERS 18068F Volume II in the Useful Documents Section at the end for further details on NEC codes.
PART FOUR: POST GRADUATION AND ADVANCED TRAINING
Following graduation, candidates are assigned to a SEAL Platoon, within a SEAL Team, to conduct advanced or work-up training, which can be divided into three distinct streams:
- Individual Specialty Training;
- Unit Level Training; and
- Task Group Level Training.
4.1 Individual Specialty Training
Individual Specialty Training can last up to 6-months and is based upon the individual operator, in partnership with the needs of the platoon. Individuals, with others, will attend a number of US military formal/informal schools and courses which lead to qualifications that collectively enable a SEAL platoon to perform as an operational combat team. Examples of qualifications/courses include:
- Sniper or Scout/Sniper;
- Advanced Close Quarter Combat/Breacher (Barrier Penetration/Methods of Entry);
- Surreptitious Entry (Mechanical and Electronic Bypass);
- Naval Special Warfare Combat Fighting Course;
- Advanced Special Operations;
- Technical Surveillance Operations;
- Advanced Driving Skills (Defensive, Rally and Protective Security);
- Climbing/Rope Skills;
- Advanced Air Operations: e.g. Jumpmaster or Parachute Rigger;
- Diving Supervisor or Diving Maintenance-Repair;
- Range Safety Officer;
- Advanced Demolition;
- High Threat Protective Security: US/Foreign Heads of State or High Value Persons of Interest;
- Instructor School and Master Training Specialist;
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operator;
- Language School; and/or
- Joint SOF and Service Professional Military Education.
4.2 Unit Level Training
Unit Level Training (ULT) can last up to 6-months and is based upon the SEAL Troop/Platoon. Training is run by the respective group (NSWG1/NSWG2) training detachment and is based on the core mission area skills: small unit tactics; land warfare; close quarters combat; urban warfare; hostile maritime interdiction (VBSS/GOPLATS); combat swimming; long range target interdiction; rotary and fixed wing air operations; and special reconnaissance.
4.3 Task Group Level Training
Task Group Level Training can last up to 6-months and is based upon the SEAL Team/Squadron. This is advanced training conducted with the supporting elements of a SEAL Squadron, including Special Boat Teams (SWCC), intelligence, communications, medical and EOD.
A final Certification Exercise (CERTEX) is conducted with the entire SEAL Squadron to synchronise Troop operations under the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) umbrella. Following CERTEX, a SEAL Team becomes a SEAL Squadron and is certified for deployment.
Once certified, a SEAL Team/Squadron will deploy to a Joint Special Operations Task Force or Area of Responsibility (AO or AOR) to become a Special Operations Task Force (SOTF), combine with a Joint Task Force (JTF) or Task Force (TF) in support of other National Objectives.
Once assigned, the Troops will be given an AOR where they will either work as a centralised/intact Troop or task organise into decentralised elements to conduct operations, ranging in size from 60 to over 200 personnel.
A SEAL Team/Squadron deployment is approximately 6 months, with the entire cycle being 12 to 24 months in duration.
PART FIVE: MISCELLANEOUS
US Navy SEAL training is open to all male and female officers and enlisted personnel of the US military. US Navy SEAL training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the US Navy’s SEAL Teams. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for US Navy SEAL training.
5.1 TV Documentaries
First aired in October 2000, ‘Navy SEALs: BUDS Class 234’ was a 6-part series for the Discovery Channel that followed 83 candidates of Class 234 in their efforts to become US Navy SEALS. After 6-months of training only 25 students graduated, 17 of the original 83 and 8 roll-ins (students from previous classes).
A fascinating insight, and eye-opening experience, into the selection and training process for one of the US military’s Special Forces units. You WILL feel the pain after watching the physical and mental challenges these candidates are faced with.
5.2 Useful Documents
The following documents can be found within the various websites listed in the Useful Links Section below.
- The US Navy Enlisted Occupational Classifications System (NEOCS):
- NAVPERS 18068F, Manual of Navy Enlisted Manpower and Personnel Classifications and Occupational Standards, Volume I, Navy Enlisted Occupational Standards. October 2015.
- NAVPERS 18068F, Manual of Navy Enlisted Manpower and Personnel Classifications and Occupational Standards, Volume II, Navy Enlisted Classifications. October 2015.
- US Navy Recruiting Manual – Enlisted, COMNAVCRUITCOMINST 1130.8J, Volume II – Eligibility Requirements. Change 8, 27 May 2011.
- Manual of the Medical Department (MANMED). NAVMED P-117, Chapter 15, Article 15-105. Change 139, 24 January 2012.
- US Navy Diving Manual. Revision 6, 15 April 2008.
- OPNAV Instruction 1160.8A, Selective Reenlistment Bonus (SRB) Programme. 30 January 2007.
- BUPERS Instruction 1430.16F, Advancement Manual for Enlisted Personnel of the US Navy and US Navy Reserve. 02 November 2007.
- OPNAV Instruction 5350.4D, Navy Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Control. 04 June 2009.
- US Navy Defence Joint Military Pay System (DJMS) Procedures Training Guide (PTG) (Offline). 18 December 2015.
- Available from World Wide Web: https://dfas4dod.dfas.mil/systems/djms/djms2/index.htm. [Accessed: 02 February, 2016].
- MILPERSMAN 1220-100: Navy Diver (ND) Rating, Change 43, 30 May 2013.
- MILPERSMAN 1220-200: Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Rating, Change 45, 14-11-2013.
- MILPERSMAN 1220-300: Special Warfare Operator (SO) Rating, Change 47, 01 April 2014.
- MILPERSMAN 1220-400: Special Warfare Boat Operator (SB) Rating, Change 32, 02 August 2010.
- MILPERSMAN 1220-410: SEAL/EOD/SWCC/DIVER/AIRR Physical Screening Test Standards & Procedures, Change 42, 06 January 2013.
- Naval Special Warfare Combat Side Stroke (CSS) Guide (2014-03).
- NAVPERS 1306-92 – Special Programmes Screening.
5.3 Useful Books and Magazines
Bahmanyar, M. (2005) Elite 113 – US Navy SEALs. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
Darby, M.J. (2004) Mind Games. All Hands: Magazine of the U.S. Navy. August 2004, pp.14-23. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/department_arch2004.html. [Accessed: 08 February, 2016].
Ethos: Magazine of US Naval Special Warfare: http://www.sealswcc.com/navy-seals-ethos-magazine.html#.VriYOFh4aM8
Liptak, E. (2014) Elite 203: World War II Navy Special Warfare Units. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
McNab, C. (2013) America’s Elite: US Special Forces from the American Revolution to the Present Day. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
5.4 Useful Links
- MacDill Air Force Base: http://www.macdill.af.mil/
- US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM): http://www.socom.mil/
- Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM):
- NSW Family:
- New website: https://www.nswwarriorandfamily.org/Pages/default.aspx
- Former website: https://www.nswfamily.org/
- US Navy SEALs and SWCC:
- US Navy Personnel Command:
- Enlisted Community Managers: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/enlisted/community/specwarops/Pages/default.aspx
- Enlisted Detailing: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/enlisted/detailing/seal/Pages/default2.aspx
- Officer Community Managers: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/officer/communitymanagers/Unrestricted/nsw/Pages/default.aspx
- Officer Detailing: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/officer/Detailing/specwar/Pages/default.aspx
- US Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS): http://www.public.navy.mil/nsw/NAVSCIATTS/html/index.html
- John C Stennis Space Centre (SSC): http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/home/
- US Navy Careers: http://www.navy.com/careers/special-operations/
- Navy SEAL Foundation: http://www.navysealfoundation.org/
- Coronado: http://www.welcometocoronado.com/coronados-navy/navy-seals/
- US Navy SEAL Museum: http://www.navysealmuseum.org/
- SEAL-NSW Family Foundation: http://www.sealnswff.org/
- Naval Special Warfare Unit 2: https://www.soceur.eucom.mil/Pages/Nsw2
- Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC): http://www.nrotc.navy.mil/special_warfare.html
- Military Academies:
- United States Naval Academy (USNA): http://www.usna.edu/Admissions/Career-Opportunities/Special-Operations-and-Special-Warfare.php
- United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA): https://www.usmma.edu/academics/departments/naval-special-warfare
- Navy Installations Command (CNIC):
- Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC): https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrsw/installations/navbase_coronado.html
- Naval Station Great Lakes: http://www.cnic.navy.mil/GreatLakes/
Black, T.M. (2014) Diversity: Finding the Right People for an Uncompromising Standard. Ethos: Magazine of Naval Special Warfare. Issue 27, October-December 2014, p.22-23.
Feickert, A. (2013) U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress. CRS Report for Congress. Washington: Congressional Research Service
McNatt, A. (2014) NSW Recruits at Army-Navy Football Game. Ethos: Magazine of Naval Special Warfare. Issue 27, October-December 2014, p.5.
Myers, M. (2015) Navy SEALs Won’t Change Standards for Women, Admiral Says. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2015/12/17/navy-seals-wont-change-standards-women-admiral-says/77417136/. [Accessed: 08 February, 2016].
Navy Times (2007) Navy Steps Up Search for New SEALs. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/04/navy_sealrecruiting_training_070408w/. [Accessed: 22 October, 2015].
NSO NSW Mentor (2008) SEAL Timetable. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.nsonswmentor.com/Becoming_a_SEAL_Timetable.ppt. [Accessed: 08 February, 2016].
Pellerin, C. (2015) SecDef Opens all Military Occupations to Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.therecruiterjournal.com/secdef-opens-all-military-occupations-to-women.html. [Accessed: 04 December, 2015].
ShadowSpear (2008) BUD/S Prep School SWCPC at RTC. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.shadowspear.com/vb/threads/bud-s-prep-school-swcpc-at-rtc.2553/. [Accessed: 08 February, 2016].
SOCNET (2007) New Program Before BUD/S. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.socnet.com/showthread.php?t=74440. [Accessed: 08 February, 2016].
US Navy (2015a) NSW: Naval Special Warfare Command. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.public.navy.mil/nsw/Pages/Default.aspx. [Accessed: 05 January, 2016].
US Navy (2015b) Special Warfare/Special Operations. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.navy.com/careers/special-operations/. [Accessed: 05 January, 2016].
USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command) (2016) 2016 Fact Book United States Special Operations Command. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida: USSOCOM.