The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU and informally by its former name SEAL Team Six, is one of two secretive Tier One counter-terrorism and Special Mission Units (SMUs) in the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The other counter-terrorism SMU is the US Army’s Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta (SFOD) or Delta Force.
The vast majority of information surrounding DEVGRU is highly classified and details of its activities are not commented on by either the White House or the Department of Defense. While DEVGRU is administratively supported by the Naval Special Warfare Command just like the other SEAL Teams, it is operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command.
DEVGRU is a naval counterpart to the Army’s Combat Applications Group (CAG), commonly known as Delta Force. It is considered to be one of the world’s premier Maritime Counter-Terrorism units. Its operators are drawn from the current SEAL and EOD ranks. Navy EOD technicians assigned to DEVGRU are rumored to operate during counter-proliferation missions.
The DEVGRU compound, located on Fleet Training Center Dam Neck, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is similar to Delta Force’s at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with a focus on operations at sea. It has firing ranges and kill houses, a section of aircraft fuselage, and other likely hostage rescue locations. DEVGRU uses some unusual weapons because of their maritime environment, and the shooting ability of a DEVGRU operator is naturally among the best in the world.
DEVGRU’s mission is to provide intelligence and Counter-Terrorism services for the Department of the Navy and the overall U.S. Special Operations Command, and to create, test, and evaluate new tactics, weapons, and equipment for use by Naval Special Warfare forces such as SEALs. These responsibilities make it obvious that DEVGRU is the Naval equivalent of the Army’s elite Delta Force. Both units train together from time to time and deploy together when the need arises. The unit is currently based in Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex, Virginia and administrative control is under Naval Special Warfare Command.
The US government has described the Naval Special Warfare Development Group as having been established to oversee development of NSW tactics, equipment, and techniques. This, of course, is only partly true. The unit is under the direct command of NAVSPECWARGRU, however it is also a component of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), along with other CT units such as Delta Force. It is believed that DEVGRU maintains its own helicopter support unit (2 Sqns. with 18 HH-60H for SEAL transport and support), but trains frequently with the 160th SOAR, especially in support of ship assaults, which frequently make use of the small MH-6 Little Bird, operated exclusively by the 160th.
Organization and manpower of the Group is secret, and can only be guessed at. It is estimated that NSWDG now has about 200 operators, broken down by teams, much like the British SAS and Delta Force. Most recently, it has been reported that there are currently three such teams within the group, assault units Red, Blue, Gold; with Gold being the premier assault team. There is also a special boat unit, Gray, the transportation unit containing the SDVs and boats used to transport the assault teams. Green Team consists of the new operators who have just joined DEVGRU and are in training. Each operator inside the Teams has a specialty, but all are experts in underwater and HALO insertion. The missions of these units are, again, a cause for speculation, however it is logical that they are specialized amongst themselves, perhaps along the lines of the SAS; Mountain, Mobility, Boat, and Air (HALO) troops (within a single Squadron). It is also possible that these units may have a focus on specific target types instead, such as shipping, oil rigs, and structures, (although this scenario seems less likely due to the obvious need for all members of the Group to be current and proficient if a large scale operation arises).
There is also an administrative and testing section, which has about 300 personnel. These individuals are responsible for the testing and development of new NAVSPECWAR equipment, including weapons.
It has been reported that DEVGRU is one of only a handful of US units authorized to conduct pre-emptive actions against terrorists and terrorist facilities (NOTE: Red Cell once shared this charter, although it was never put into practice before the unit was apparently disbanded). DEVGRU operators reportedly fire an average of 2,500 to 3,000 rounds per week in training, amounting to more than the entire US Marines per year according to creator Dick Marcinko.
In 1997, per 5 USC §7103(b) President Clinton signed Executive Order 13039 excluding NSWDG from the Federal Labor Management Relations Program.
It is unknown what the exact qualifications are to be given the opportunity to undergo the DEVGRU selection process, but a few obvious ones can be inferred. All applicants come from SEAL and EOD teams, unless they are applying for support positions. It can be inferred from the quality of their pool of applicants that those considered are in peak physical condition, maintain an excellent reputation as an operator within the community, and stand out in their ability to shoot both quickly and accurately. Applicants are only eligible for review if they have completed at least one full deployment cycle with their platoon. It is thought that those who are selected attend six months of Operator Training, are assigned to a platoon, and spend a year becoming a qualified member of the unit. It is safe to say that these individuals are selected based upon their born and built abilities to be the best combat fighters.
The origins of ST6 can be traced to the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. During the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, Richard Marcinko was one of two Navy representatives for a Joint Chiefs of Staff task force known as the TAT (Terrorist Action Team). The purpose of the TAT was to develop a plan to free the American hostages held in Iran, which culminated in Operation Eagle Claw . In the wake of the operation’s disaster at the Desert One base in Iran, the U.S. Navy saw the need for a full-time dedicated Counter-Terrorist Team and tasked Marcinko with its design and development.
Marcinko was the first commanding officer of this new unit that he named SEAL Team Six. At the time, the US Navy had only two SEAL teams. Marcinko purportedly named the unit Team Six in order to confuse the Soviet intelligence as to the number of SEAL Teams in operation. It became officially operational in 1981. The men in the unit were handpicked by Marcinko himself from across the U.S. Navy’s Special Operations personnel. SEAL Team Six would be known as the U.S. Navy’s premier counter-terrorist unit. It has also been compared to the US Army’s Delta Force. Marcinko held the command of SEAL Team Six for three years from 1980–1983 instead of what was typically a two-year command in the Navy at the time. SEAL Team Six was formally created in October 1980, and an intense, progressive work-up training program made the unit mission-ready six months later. Before this, the existing SEAL teams had already begun counter-terrorism training, including 12 platoons in SEAL Team One on the West Coast. On the West Coast, elements of the SEAL Team One had taken the issue one step further. They formed a dedicated two-platoon group known as “MOB Six” (Mobility Six) in anticipation of a maritime scenario requiring a counter-terrorism response and had begun training to that end.
In 1987, a new unit was formed, given the official title of “Naval Special Warfare Development Group” (abbreviated to NAVSPECWARDEVGRU, or DEVGRU) after SEAL Team Six was dissolved. Reasons for the disbanding are varied. But the name SEAL Team Six is often used in reference to DEVGRU because of their similarities as a maritime counter-terrorism unit.
Recruitment, Selection, and Training
In the early stages of creating SEAL Team Six, Marcinko had been given only six months to get ST6 up and running. This meant that there was a timing issue and Marcinko had little time to create a proper selection course, similar to that of Delta Force, and as a result hand-picked the first plankowners of the unit himself after assessing their Navy records and personally interviewing each man. It has been said that Marcinko regretted not having enough time to set up a proper selection process/course. All applicants came from the Underwater Demolition Teams and East and West Coast SEAL teams. Marcinko’s criteria for recruiting applicants was combat experience due to the fact that he would know they could perform under fire; language skills were vital, as the unit would have a worldwide mandate to be able to communicate with the local population if needed; union skills, in order to be able to blend in as civilians during an operation; and finally SEAL skills. Each member of SEAL Team Six was selected in part because of the different specialty skills each man brought with him to the unit.
As with most aspects of the unit being highly classified, information regarding the process of recruitment and selection for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (“DEVGRU”) is also scarce, but what is speculated and is known is that the selection and training for the unit hasn’t changed dramatically since its creation. All applicants come from the “regular” SEAL teams and the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal units, unless applying for support positions (in which there have been open advertisements on the web for support personnel).
It can be inferred from the quality of their pool of applicants that those considered are in peak physical condition, maintain an excellent reputation as an operator within the Naval Special Warfare community, and have done operational deployments with a SEAL Team where an operator will have picked up invaluable experience. As a result, the candidate will usually be in his 30s. As ST6 was recruiting the best and brightest SEALs/UDTs from the regular teams, this created animosity between the unit and the “regular” teams that their best SEALs were being poached for the unit.
Those who pass the stringent recruitment and selection process will be selected to attend a six- to seven-month Operators Training Course. Candidates will join the unit’s training wing known as “Green Team.” The training course attrition rate is extremely high; at least half the class will fail the course. During one selection course, out of the original 20 candidates, only 12 completed the course. All candidates are watched closely by DEVGRU instructors and evaluated on whether they were suitable to join the individual squadrons.
Like all Special Operations Forces units that have an extremely intensive and high-risk training schedule, serious injuries or death among operators can result. SEAL Team Six/DEVGRU has lost several operators during training, including parachute accidents and close-quarters battle training accidents. It is presumed that the unit’s assessment process for potential new recruits is different from what a SEAL operator experienced in his previous career, and much of the training tests the candidate’s mental capacity rather than his physical condition, as he will have already completed Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL training.
Candidates will be put through a variety of advanced training courses that can include courses led by civilian and/or military instructors. These can include free-climbing, advanced unarmed combat techniques, defensive and offensive driving, advanced diving, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. All candidates must perform at the top level during selection, and the unit instructors evaluate the candidate during the training process. Any candidate not performing to the highest level will be returned to his previous unit.
The majority of the operations assigned to the NSWDG are classified and may never be known to the public. However, there are some operations in which the unit has been involved where certain details have been made public.
Operation Urgent Fury
On October 13, 1983, the Grenadian Army, controlled by former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, overthrew the government of Grenada in a bloody coup d’état, creating a Communist regime. The severity of the violence, coupled with Coard’s hard-line Marxism, caused deep concern among neighboring Caribbean nations, as well as in Washington, D.C. Adding to the US’s concern was the presence of nearly 1,000 American medical students in Grenada.
The new leader of the Grenadian government, Maurice Bishop, aligned Grenada with Cubans, Soviets, and communist organizations. The ReaganCuba and the Soviet Union. On October 25, Reagan decided to act and United States invaded the small island of Grenada. administration reviled the leftist government for being too closely allied to
SEAL Team Six’s Assault Group Three was to conduct a static line drop with boats a few miles away from the Grenadian coast. One of two C-130 After the disastrous insertion, Assault Group Three was told to stand-by and began preparing for the next mission. The next mission was to go to the governor’s mansion and secure Governor-General Paul Scoon, protect him and his family and move them out of the combat area. A second mission was to capture and secure Grenada’s only radio station so that it couldn’t be used by the local military to incite the population or coordinate military actions. There was almost no intelligence for either of these operations. cargo planes transporting the SEALs to their drop point veered far off course. A rain squall accompanied by high winds broke out just before the SEALs conducted the drop. Four out of the eight SEALs that made the drop drowned and were never seen again.
To reach the governor-general’s mansion, the SEALs were flown in on Blackhawk helicopters that morning, and fast-roped to the ground while under fire. As they approached from the back of the mansion, the team found Scoon hiding. The SEALs then continued to clear the rest of the house and began to set up a perimeter to ensure security. Soon the mansion started to take fire from men armed with AK-47s and RPGs. As the incoming fire started to increase, Governor-General Scoon and his family were moved to a safer location in the house. After the incoming fire had decreased, three men wearing Cuban uniforms approached the mansion, all of them carrying AK-47s. The SEALs shouted for the three men to stop where they were. When the three men heard the yells, they raised their weapons. The SEALs opened fire on the Cubans and killed them almost instantly.
Soon afterward, two BTR-60PBs rolled up to the mansion’s gates. One of the BTRs at the mansion’s front gate opened fire. Just as the SEALs were about to fire a LAW anti-tank rocket, the BTR backed off and left with the other BTR. When the SEALs had inserted on to the compound, they left behind their long-range SATCOM radio on a helicopter. The only communications the team had were through MX-360 radios. The team used the radios to communicate with a SEAL command post on the island to call in air strikes. As the radios started to die, communications with the SEAL command post became weak. Once all the radios had finally died and the SEALs urgently needed air support, the SEALs used a regular house phone to call JSOC. JSOC was able to get an AC-130 Spectre gunship to hold station over the SEALs’ position to provide air support.
When morning came, a group of Force Recon Marines arrived to extract the SEALs, Governor-General Scoon, and his family to a helicopter extraction point. As the team left the compound, they noticed splattered blood and discarded weapons all around. The helicopter finally arrived and extracted everyone to safety.
Assault Group Three and another squad from SEAL Team Six flew to the radio station on a Blackhawk helicopter. The helicopter took small-arms fire on the insertion. Once the team unloaded it overran the radio station compound. The SEALs were told to hold the station until Governor Scoon and a broadcast team could be brought in. After the team took control of the compound, it was not able to make radio contact with the SEAL command post. The SEALs set up a perimeter while they continued to try to make radio contact. As this was happening, a BTR-60 rolled up to the compound and 20 Grenadian soldiers disguised as station workers piled out. The soldiers carried weapons even in disguise. The SEALs ordered the soldiers to drop the weapons. The soldiers opened fire but were shot down almost instantly. Afterward the SEALs continued laboring to make radio contact when another BTR and three trucks were spotted coming towards the station.
The trucks carried a dozen soldiers each. The SEALs quickly conducted a defensive maneuver as the soldiers flanked the building. The BTR covered the front entrance with its 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine gun. The incoming fire on the SEALs position was becoming devastatingly heavy and the SEALs were running out of ammunition. The SEAL team knew that their only option was to change their original plan of holding the radio station and instead destroy the radio transmitter, and head to the water following their pre-planned escape route out behind the station across a broad meadow that led to a path that cut between cliffs and a beach. The meadow was terribly exposed to Grenadian fire. The team leapfrogged across the exposed ground and took heavy fire. The team finally reached the end of the field, cut through a chain-link fence and ran into dense brush. The SEALs quickly followed the path to the beach. One SEAL had been wounded in the arm. The Grenadians were still in pursuit, so the SEALs waded into the water and began swimming parallel to the shore until they found cliff ledges to conceal themselves. The SEALs remained hidden until long after the Grenadians had given up the search. Once the SEALs were convinced that the Grenadians had given up, the team jumped back into the water and swam out to sea. The SEALs were in the water close to six hours before a rescue plane spotted them and vectored a Navy ship to pick them up.
Operation Restore Hope
During Operation Restore Hope and Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, DEVGRU was a part of Task Force Ranger. TF Ranger was made up of operators from Delta Force, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 160th SOAR, the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, and unknown number of SEALs from DEVGRU. Eric T. Olson, John Gay, Howard Wasdin, Homer Nearpass, and Richard Kaiser were the five SEALs that fought in the Battle of the Black Sea during the last mission of Operation Gothic Serpent to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
The NSWDG operated alongside other members of NATO’s Implementation Force, such as its Army counterpart Delta Force and the British SAS. These units were tasked by The Hague with finding and apprehending persons indicted for war crimes (PIFWC) and returning them to The Hague to stand trial. Some of DEVGRU’s PIFWC operations included apprehending Goran Jelisić, Simo Zaric, Milan Simic and Miroslav Tadic.
Operation Enduring Freedom
In Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) U.S. Special Operations forces have led the fighting. During the crucial Battle of Takur Ghar part of Operation Anaconda small teams of DEVGRU Tier One operators assigned to an Advanced Force Operations task force were tasked with establishing observation positions (OPs) on the high ground above the proposed landing zones of US conventional forces. It was one of the most violent battles of Operation Anaconda. Late at night on March 2, 2002 a MH-47 Chinook helicopter piloted by the 160th SOAR was carrying a team of Navy SEALs from DEVGRU. The original plan was that the SEALs would be inserted at a point 1300 meters east of the peak, but circumstances led the SEALs to choose the summit of Takur Ghar itself as the insertion point. As the helicopter was nearing its landing zone both the pilots and the men in the back observed fresh tracks in the snow, goatskins, and other signs of recent human activity. Immediately, the pilots and team discussed a mission abort, but it was too late. An RPG struck the side of the aircraft, wounding one crewman, while machine gun bullets ripped through the fuselage, cutting hydraulic and oil lines. Fluid spewed about the ramp area of the helicopter. The pilot struggled to get the helicopter off the landing zone and away from the enemy fire. Neil C. Roberts, a SEAL operator, was poised to exit the ramp when the aircraft was hit and he slipped on the oil as the helicopter took off. He was thrown from the helicopter dropping about 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3.0 m) to the snowy ground below. Roberts immediately engaged Al-Qaeda forces with the weapons he carried including his M249 light machine gun, SIG Sauer 9mm pistol and grenades. He survived at least 30 minutes before he was shot and killed at close range.
Operation Neptune Spear
On May 1-2, 2011, DEVGRU was involved in its most famous operation to date, the operation, codename Neptune Spear, that killed Osama bin Laden at his compound in the affluent suburb of Abottabad, Pakistan. In the 40-minute mission, there were no injuries or casualties to the team. The team practiced the mission “on both American coasts” as well as in a segregated section of Camp Alpha at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan in early April 2011, using a one-acre replica of bin Laden’s compound. Modified MH-60 helicopters from the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment carried Navy SEALs and were supported by other personnel with tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers from Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan. It has been speculated that these helicopters may have spoofed transponder codes and been painted to resemble Pakistan Air Force equipment by other JSOC units, the Technical Application Programs OfficeAviation Technology Evaluation Group. The raid involved close collaboration with the CIA. A May 1 memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta thanked the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, whose mapping and pattern recognition software was likely used to determine that Bin Laden lived in the compound with “high probability”. Members of these agencies were paired with JSOC units in forward-deployed fusion cells to “exploit and analyze” battlefield data instantly using biometrics, facial recognition, voice print databases, and predictive models of insurgent behavior based on surveillance and computer-based pattern analysis. The raid force killed Bin Laden, his adult son, an unknown woman, and two couriers.
In a mission codenamed Octave Fusion, on January 24, 2012, SEAL Team Six successfully rescued an American woman and a Danish man who had been detained by Somali bandits in north-central Somalia.
Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, 60, had been abducted around the area of Galkayo three months earlier while working as aid workers helping to remove land mines. Officials stated said plans for a rescue operation had been under development for weeks, but acted after discovering that Buchanan’s health was deteriorating due to an undisclosed illness.
The special operations forces were prepared to capture the hostage takers but this proved unfeasible as nine “heavily armed” kidnappers were killed. The SEALs parachuted at night before advancing two miles to the enemy compound on foot. After securing the safety of Thisted and Buchanan the team, which suffered no injuries, was extracted by helicopter.
- (In or before 1980): The existing SEAL teams, including all 12 platoons in SEAL Team One on the West Coast, began Counter-Terrorism training.
- On the East Coast, elements of the SEAL Team Two went a step further and anticipated a scenario at sea needing a Counter-Terrorism response and formed a dedicated two-platoon group known as “MOB Six” (Mobility Six) and began training to that end.
- 1980: The failed 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages at the American Embassy in Iran (Operation Eagle Claw). During an assignment to the National Military Command Center during Operation Eagle Claw, Richard Marcinko saw the need for a unit focused exclusively on Maritime Counter-Terrorism.
- October 1980: SEAL Team 6 was created as part of the Joint Special Operations Command. An accelerated training program made the unit mission-ready 6 months later. At the time there were only two SEAL Teams; popular knowledge and SEAL claims say the name was chosen to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of SEAL Teams in operation.
- 1981: SEAL team 6 became officially operational.
- (later): Marcinko retired, and afterwards revealed much about SEAL methods in his autobiography Rogue Warrior and in its fictional sequels, causing public exposure which the Navy was not thankful for.
- 1987: The Navy renamed SEAL Team SIX as ‘Naval Special Warfare Development Group’ (NAVSPECWARDEVGRU, or simply DEVGRU), to drop the unit out of the public eye. This effort has been surprisingly successful, with most people unaware that SEAL Team Six no longer exists within the Navy under that name, although most military servicemen and many civilians still call them SEAL Team Six.
- 1991: In the Persian Gulf DEVGRU men raided and occupied oil rigs to defend against Iraqi forces.
- 1996: DEVGRU men were active in Bosnia, where they helped hunt down PIFWC’s (Personnel Indicted For War Crimes: pronounced “piff wic”); see war criminals.
- 2003: DEVGRU men are believed to have participated in Task Force 121, the secretive group of elite troops charged with the capture of high-ranking Iraqi personalities. Similarly, many believe that DEVGRU was the primary assault force involved in the rescue of Army PFC Jessica Lynch.
- 2011: Operation Neptune Spear, the operation to kill most wanted terrorist Usama Bin Laden in Pakistan was a complete success.
- 2012: Octave Fusion, the rescue of an American woman and Danish man who had been detained by Somali bandits in north-central Somalia.