Navy SEALS are innovative problem solvers because they have to be, and innovation in areas such as unmanned vehicles or data exploitation or human performance is key to enhance future missions, Navy Capt. Travis Schweizer said at a Wednesday forum in Washington.

Schweizer, the commodore at Naval Special Warfare Group Three. He is the undersea clandestine operations proponent for both Naval Special Warfare and U.S. Special Operations Command and has set up an innovation cell in his shop, “leveraging what we can in the way of technology so we can advance the game undersea.”

Areas the cell is looking into include 3D printing and, virtual reality for simulators, he said.

U.S. Navy SEAL Photo: Navy SEALs
U.S. Navy SEAL
Photo: Navy SEALs

Also, SEALS are pushing forward on the technology side to partner with industry attempting to bring greater technologies to bear for the future.

Consider that 72 percent of the globe is water, and warfare is heading into a period expected to see tremendous urban sprawl in the littorals, undersea clandestine access will become more challenging just as it will ashore, he told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Looking at ways to enhance missions would include looking at unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) and potentially launching unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV).

What they’re doing is “essentially leveraging those other tools for complementary gains while still having a man in the loop,” he said.

Another challenge is that operators are in the water far too long, he said, in up to nine-hour dives at any one time. Dive operations are long and complex and operators use a multitude of rigs. “Some of our guys can sneak up on a fish,” he said.

“We’re making some inroads,” Schweizer said.

“We also need to start leveraging off-the-shelf technology” and bring it to operators more rapidly than acquisition processes allow.

“I think exploitation of data is a significant gap for us,” he said. It takes too long. Also, undersea operators need more mapping, bathymetric data, and ways to better understand area before they go there to give indications and warning.

Moderator Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and Senior Fellow, International Security Program at CSIS wanted to know how Schweizer made sure innovation wasn’t just a slogan, but something connected to the mission.

“I’m not looking for a (revolution in military affairs), I’m looking for incremental advances to up our game,” Schweizer said. “A lot of things we do are one–off,” so they might partner with sponsors and the tech industry to come up with a gadget to knock out a particular problem set. It’s not necessary to look at tools for a long run, but a “base hit” to up the game. 

However, they can overreach and rely too much on technology, he said. Former Special Operations Command leaders such as Adm. William McRaven or Adm. Eric Olson always said SEALS need to be masters of low and medium technology because high technology might fail you at the moment you need it the most.

“I’m cautious,” he said.