WASHINGTON — The general in charge of U.S. Special Operations Command said Tuesday that he is looking into claims that Navy SEALs and other elite forces have shortages of key equipment.
Gen. Joseph Votel assured House lawmakers that the command will resolve any problems that it discovers in equipping special operators, such as a lack of service weapons, in preparation for increasingly common missions around the world.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and other House lawmakers raised the alarm earlier this month on supply shortages in the special operations community, causing soldiers to dip increasingly into their own pockets to purchase basic military gear such as helmets, global positioning devices and medical supplies.
Most concerning, according to Hunter, is SEALs are now asked to hand over their personalized weapons after returning from deployment so they can be handed off to other SEALs who are deploying.
“I look forward to talking to Navy Special Warfare Command about this specific issue and make sure we understand it,” said Votel, who was testifying to members of the House Armed Services Committee. “If there is something that we are contributing to that is impacting the readiness of our operators, we’ll certainly take immediate actions to kind of correct that.”
Votel said the issue might be related to maintenance and the high usage of SEAL weapons.
“These guys do put a lot of rounds through the weapons,” he said. “What we do try to do is ensure with that many rounds going through our weapons that they do have the right level of depot maintenance when they do come back from deployments or long training periods.”
Hunter, who wrote a letter in February to the Navy Special Warfare Command about the concerns, brushed aside the general’s suggestion.
“This is not a factor of too many rounds going through the weapon barrel, and then you just change out the barrel anyway,” Hunter said.
He said the weapons are the most important pieces of equipment for the SEALs. They put time into calibrating their weapons and applying optics and lasers, then are forced to turn them over for reconfiguration.
“I’ve had multiple SEALs at multiple times over the last six months come to me in San Diego … and tell me how things have changed dramatically from five or six years ago, meaning they don’t get weapons now to work up with for two years,” Hunter said. “They get their weapon when a guy comes back and hands over the weapon.”
The military has increased its reliance greatly on special operations forces since 9/11. As such operations hit a high mark, other reports of supply shortages have come up as well.
Last month, the nonprofit group Troops Direct reported the Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team deployed to Benghazi, Libya after the embassy attack there and lacked crucial equipment including sniper supplies and batteries.
Meanwhile, troops often have to buy their own medical equipment such as tourniquets, and shell out about $1,000 each for their own helmets or $500 for GPS devices, according to the group.
The shortfalls in SEAL weapons have surfaced, as the Navy Special Warfare Command budget increased by $11 million during the past couple of years, according to Hunter.
Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he could not understand why the Navy would rotate SEALs’ service weapons and that he wanted answers.
“That’s the [weapon] you sleep with, the one you work with, so I will be interested to hear from Rep. Hunter the answer you come back with,” Nugent told Votel.