Why Australia Should Build “SEAL Capability” Under Royal Australian Navy’s Command?

A new next-generation SEAL MK 11 submersible undergoing training and testing in a pool. Photo: USSOCOM

Carrier Seal is an 8-man swimmer delivery vehicle designed for the covert insertion and extraction of combat diver units. It operates in three modes; surface, semi-submerged and submerged.

The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DevGru) is one of several publicly disclosed units under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite and highly classified group that coordinates counterterrorism and other security-related missions around the world.

Navy SEAL, SEAL in full Sea, Air, and Land, in the U.S. Navy, a member of a special operations force trained to engage in direct raids or assaults on enemy targets, conduct reconnaissance missions to report on enemy activity (especially prior to beach landings), and take part in action against terrorist groups.

The SEALs trace their heritage to various elite units in World War II, particularly to naval combat demolition units (NCDUs) and underwater demolition teams (UDTs) whose “frogmen” were trained to destroy obstacles on enemy-held beaches prior to amphibious landings in Europe and the Pacific. Other special units of that war were scouts and raiders, who were assigned to reconnoitre coastal areas and guide landing craft to the shore, and “operational swimmers” of the secretive Office of Strategic Services, who are said to have pioneered modern underwater combat. During the Korean War, UDTs undertook their usual reconnaissance and mine-clearing work, but they also extended their missions beyond the beach by disrupting enemy transportation lines inland.

US Navy’s SEAL Team

In 1961 Pres. John F. Kennedy called for an increase in special forces of all kinds to be specifically trained for the conduct of unconventional warfare. In response, the following year, the navy created the first two SEAL teams with personnel took from existing UDTs. During the Vietnam War, SEAL units trained South Vietnamese naval commandos, and SEAL teams and UDTs also conducted numerous counterguerrilla operations along riverbanks, on beaches, and in the hinterland.

Australian Prospectives

According to Lowy Institute, the South China Sea plays a significant role in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. The South China Sea is bordered by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Their recent economic growth has contributed to a large portion of the world’s commercial merchant shipping passing through these waters. Japan and South Korea rely heavily on the South China Sea for their supply of fuels and raw materials and as an export route, although the availability of diversionary sea lanes bypassing the South China Sea provides non-littoral states with some flexibility in this regard.

Competing claims of territorial sovereignty over islands and smaller features in the South China Sea have been a longstanding source of tension and distrust in the region. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was concluded in 1982 and came into force in 1994, established a legal framework intended to balance the economic and security interests of coastal states with those of seafaring nations. UNCLOS enshrines the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a 200 nautical mile area that extends sole exploitation rights to coastal nations over marine resources. However, the EEZ was never intended to serve as a security zone, and UNCLOS also guarantees wide-ranging passage rights for naval vessels and military aircraft.

Australia has significant interests in the South China Sea, both economically, in terms of freedom of trade and navigation, and geopolitically, as the United States is invested in upholding the rules-based order in the region. Australia has been conducting its airborne surveillance operations in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, called Operation Gateway, since 1980. These patrols are conducted by P-8A Poseidon maritime aircraft, and some of them have been verbally challenged by China.

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China Tensions

China’s communist party-backed news agency Global Times advocates Communist Party launch DF-41 missiles at Australia and wipe out Australia. Australia must acquire strategic assets to work behind the enemy lines neutralizing A2/AD capability and achieve underwater demolition capability to deter China’s aggressive posture in Indo-Pacific region.

Retired Admiral Harry Harris says Australia and its allies should be concerned about China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and elsewhere. (Reuters: Yuri Gripas)

“I think that it behaves all of us who are like-minded countries, who support the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” former the U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander and former US ambassador to South Korea, retired Admiral Harry Harris, told ABC News.

“We should be concerned about China’s aggressive actions, not only in the South China Sea, but elsewhere.”

Why does Australia need SEAL?

In both geographical and political terms, Australia is unique. This is because, unlike the other inhabited continents, it is an insular landmass, surrounded by seas that, for the most part, are empty of islands. It is the only continent to be occupied by a single State, making Australia by far the largest state in area in the world without a land border.

By virtue of both these factors, Australia claims one of the largest maritime areas of all States, with an Exclusive Economic Zone. (EEZ) and continental shelf covering an area of 16 million square kilometres, including tropical islands and hazardous Antarctic waters. This increases to over 20 million square kilometres when the extended continental shelf and access to the resources of the seabed within this area are included. Australia is also responsible for the second-largest maritime zone in the world, including responsibility for maritime search and rescue and the guidance of allied shipping in times of crisis.

A nuclear-powered submarine is a great start. Nuclear-powered submarines do not need to surface for air, allowing them to be stealthier for longer in the Indo-Pacific region. The Virginia-class submarine will give China enough reasons not to venture into Australian waters.

Carrier Seal is an 8-man swimmer delivery vehicle designed for the covert insertion and extraction of combat diver units. It operates in three modes; surface, semi-submerged and submerged.

Carrier Seal vehicles transit at speeds of up to 30kts on the surface before switching to the submerged mode for a final covert approach at 4kts.

The hope is that the AUKUS security pact will make the stakes higher for Beijing and the prospects of success in a war lower. Australia should not stop at Nuclear submarines but prepare a special force to use the seal delivery capability of Virginia-class and built SEAL alike special forces under the military doctrine of the Royal Australian Navy.

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