Congressman: Navy SEALs experiencing rifle shortage

A U.S. congressman is looking into reports from Navy SEALs that special forces teams are suffering from a shortage of combat assault rifles.

California Republican Duncan Hunter told the Associated Press that members of the Navy’s principal special operations force had come to him with complaints and concerns that there were not enough combat assault weapons for each member to be issued their own.

And with the United States’ special forces being called on more often than ever to complete counterterrorism missions and other secret operations, the equipment shortage was undercutting the special operations unit’s mission to train like they fight.

According to Hunter – a former Marine with three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt – he’s been contacted by several SEALs who say they’ve had to give their rifles to other deploying units once they return from overseas.

Hunter told the AP that the rifles were a “lifeline” for the troops, and argued for their ability to keep their firearms until “they’re assigned desk jobs at the Pentagon.”

Although rifles are one of the more important pieces of equipment used by the U.S. military, they’re among the least expensive items purchased by the military. Additionally, Congress has routinely increased the budget of the special ops forces since 9/11, which Hunter said has led him to question the priorities of the Naval Special Warfare Command’s purchases.

In mid-February, Hunter sent a letter to Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the leader of the Naval Special Warfare Command, requesting a full accounting of how the command spends its budget.

In his letter, Hunter said that despite recent increases to the command’s maintenance budget, funding issues seemed to be affecting the SEALS readiness and effectiveness.

And Hunter told the AP that at least one SEAL had complained about a slow bureaucracy that rarely if ever seeks input from operators, and several-year delays in the acquisition system lead to outdated or never approved equipment orders.

According to the AP, Losey has told Hunter to expect a reply this week. And other U.S. military officials have indicated they’re looking into the problem, the AP reported.

At a recent special operations command congressional hearing, Army Gen. Joseph Votel — the U.S. Special Operation Command’s top officer in Tampa, Florida, told the House committee that they were looking into the shortages, and would take “immediate action” if it was determined that the SEALS combat readiness was being negatively affected.

Votel added at the hearing that one problem leading to part of the shortage could be the need for performing maintenance on rifles that see heavy use.

President Barack Obama’s administration is requesting an increase of $400 million to the Special Operations Command’s budget for fiscal year 2016. In 2015, U.S. SOCOM  had a budget cut of $2.2 million from the previous year.

These budget cuts, as well as the equipment shortage, come at a time when U.S. special operations units are increasing in numbers, as well as being called upon to complete more counterterrorism missions.

From 2001 through 2015, SOCOM has more than doubled in number from 32,000 to around 70,000 personnel.

According to Strategy Page — a military affairs news blog — the growth in special ops has led to a larger and more unresponsive bureaucracy for the special forces operators to deal with, echoing complaints SEALs made to Hunter.