How the Navy SEALs Work

By: Lee Ann Obringer & Francisco Guzman  | 

About Navy SEALs

The SEAL acronym stands for Sea, Air and Land, which identifies the elements in which they operate. SEALs work in small units, and sometimes in a platoon of up to 16. They are trained to perform specific tasks under any type of circumstance and in any environment. Their training takes place in water, and in extreme hot and cold environments.

SEAL missions require detailed planning and precise execution. SEALs are trained to perform missions that fall into five main categories:


  • Unconventional Warfare (UW): Their mission is to conduct counter guerrilla warfare tactics, which are characterized by small, mobile combat groups that operate using often "unorthodox" battle methods like destroying enemy supplies, creating diversions, ambushing small enemy units, demolitions and other "hit and run" types of operations, and clandestine operations in riverine and maritime environments.
  • Foreign Internal Defense (FID): Training given to foreign nationals/allies in order to build relationships and to increase their capacity to respond to threats.
  • Direct Action (DA): Moving against an enemy target. This may include assaults on land- or water-based targets, hostage rescues, raids, ambushes, etc. The goal is to neutralize, capture and kill enemy forces.
  • Counterterrorism (CT): Includes direct action against terrorist operations, antiterrorist actions for preventing terrorist acts, eliminating threats and protecting citizens and troops.
  • Special Reconnaissance (SR): Includes conducting preliminary surveys to gather information, manning observation posts and other types of surveillance, both overt and covert, where the goal is to gather information. This may include gathering hydrographic data (beach and water surveys) for landings or following an enemy unit and reporting its position.

When SEALs aren't deployed, they're in constant training, both to hone basic skills and to learn new skills and techniques that will make a difference when they are deployed.

The above categories overlap when it comes to actual missions, but these are the basis of SEAL training: to be expert in the skills required to perform these various tasks.