Giant Shadow from the SEALs' Perspective

Beyond this additional strike capability, the SSGNs will also have the means to carry and support morethan 60 SOF troops and insert them clandestinely into potential conflict areas. For this purpose, the SSGNs will offer more living and working space than a fast-attack submarine and will also support two Advanced SEAL Delivery Systems (ASDSs), two dry-deck shelters, or a combination of both. “The SSGN brings more flexibility for the SEALs and a lot more fight for the Navy as a whole,” said Chief Warrant Officer (CWO4) Bill Snow, assistant training officer for SEAL Delivery Team 2 in Norfolk.

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During the nation’s War on Terrorism, Navy SEALs have been the force of choice for
a variety of missions, from direct action in the mountains of Afghanistan to boarding ships in the Arabian Gulf. As the Navy shapes itself to support future conflicts, it does so with the realization that special warfare will be playing an even greater role.In planning to support Special Operations Forces onboard, the SSGN conversion program has been guided by the Navy SEAL principle “to equip the man, not man the equipment.” And while the SSGN is bigger than the usual “tool” in the SEAL toolbox, it provides a bigger than usual payoff for the Navy’s elite warriors. “The SSGN increases our arsenal and our ability to fight,” said Chief Warrant Officer (CWO4) William Snow, a Navy SEAL working on the SSGN project.

Navy SOF personnel have operated from submarines since World War II. However, because of the limited space on traditional fast-attack submarines, SEALs often found themselves sleeping and working onboard wherever they could find an empty spot. The limited space also constrains the time that

SSGNs can support more than twice the number of SEALs a fast-attack submarine can deploy and will be configured to handle either the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) and/or the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV), both of which can insert SEALs clandestinely into remote areas.

SEALs can stay on station in current Navy submarines. However, with special operations support a primary role of the larger SSGNs, all that is about to change. In order to support SEALs onboard for a sustained period of time, the SSGNs will be equipped with additional exercise and cardiovascular equipment and a virtual-reality weapons range that will allow SEALs to maintain their targeting skills and distance vision in the tight confines of the submarine.

Among the SEALs onboard USS Florida for Giant Shadow was Gunner’s Mate 1st Class (SEAL) Dan Mick of Naval Special Warfare Group 4 (NSWG-4) in Norfolk. “This is a good platform to work off,” he said. “The SSGN offers a lot more comfort and more space to work and train than the fast attacks did.”

Giant Shadow gave NSWG-4 SEALs an opportunity to learn about the capabilities the SSGN would provide them. As part of the experimental scenario, SEALs launched their inflatable rafts from Florida’s deck and “infiltrated” a remote island to gather intelligence on a suspected chemical weapons facility. The SEALs also planted unattended ground sensors, sent soil samples back to the submarine on a UUV for testing, and reported their findings from the island in real-time via a UAV overhead. “Communications is one of the hardest things in any situation,” said Snow, the NSWG-4 Assistant Training Officer. “This technology will bridge the gaps so we can quickly send large chunks of information to the decision makers who want a real-time picture.”

Combat operations of tomorrow will be very different from today’s, Snow added. And while the technology offered by the SSGNs will provide great new advantages, human beings are still more important than the hardware. “Future conflicts will still require someone with ‘eyes on’ to develop information that can tell the decision makers what’s going on,” Snow said. “We can help in that regard.”

Naval Special Warfare is already postured for quickly establishing presence worldwide, but the SSGN will give these global warriors another tool to sustain that presence, anywhere, anytime.

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A Navy SEAL prepares for a mission ashore from onboard Florida during the Giant Shadow experiment.

A Navy SEAL prepares for a mission on the Florida’s deck under cover of darkness.
Photos by JOC Kevin