The Navy SEAL team that executed Operation Neptune’s Spear, the assault in Abbottabad last week in which Osama bin Laden was killed, has been referred to by the media as the “best of the best.” Let’s get a sense of how good they actually are.
To get onto that team, you’d first have to join the Navy. In SEAL training, enlisted men and officers train side by side, so let’s suppose you take the “easy” route and skip Navy Officer Candidate School or four years at Annapolis and enlist. To even get into boot camp, you’ll have to pass the “Physical Readiness Test,” which includes a 1.5 mile run, pushups, pullups, and a timed 500-yd swim test. That gets you into Navy Basic Training, where for several weeks you’ll be running, swimming, and doing pushups. Of those who sign an enlisted contract, some 58% make it through Navy Basic Training. Welcome to the Navy.
If you can score competitively on the SEAL Physical Screening test — that is, if you can swim 500 yards in 10 minutes, do around 80 pushups in 2 minutes, 80 sit-ups in 2 minutes, 11 pullups from a dead hang, and run 1.5 miles in boots in under 10:20 — you ‘ll be assigned to BUD/S, the “Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL” course.
BUD/S is a 28-week course comprised of three phases. First, a three week indoctrination program. Then, seven weeks of physical conditioning that includes navigating the Pacific surf in inflatable boats, ocean swims, timed 4 mile runs in soft sand, and “hell week,” a 132-hour period of continuous physical activity (with 4 hours of sleep). Then an eight week diving course, and a ten week land warfare course. Fewer than 20% of those who start BUD/S make it through.
Next, a 26-week course called “SQT,” Seal Qualification Training, consisting of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training; tactical air operations; combat medicine; communications; cold weather mountaineering; combat swimming; land warfare; unarmed combat; and close weapons combat. Most of those who make it through BUD/S also make it through SQT.
Welcome to the Navy SEALs, where you’ll be one of around 2,400 men in one of 9 teams, numbered 1-5 and 7-10. Perform impressively over the next several years of deployments—roughly until your mid 30s—and you stand a chance of being recruited to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group(DEVGRU), AKA “Team Six.” The selection process is classified. If you consistently perform at the highest level while in the SEALs, you’ll enter a half-year training course. Several SEAL operators have been killed during parachute accidents and close-quarters battle training accidents in this phase of training. If you make it through, welcome to Team Six.
You’re now a member of one of the most selective fighting forces in the world. Your unit responds directly to the President and to the Joint Special Operations Command‘s Special Mission Unit. But we’re not done yet. Team Six consists of roughly 200-400 operators in three combat teams and three support teams. You can’t end up in the support teams or on the two standard Assault teams. You need to be in the Premier assault team, which consists of some 80 operators. You’ll have to distinguish yourself in armed combat and assault tactics to get into the Premier assault team.
Still not done. The assault team in Operation Neptune’s Spear was 24 operators. So you’ll need to distinguish yourself further within the Premier Assault Team to make the cut. 24 operators out of 79 Premier assault team members out of ~300 DEVGRU operators out of ~2,400 SEALs. A selection rate of 1% after a selection rate of 20% (to get into the SEALs) after a selection rate of 50% (to enter the Navy). Yikes.