How Do Navy SEALs Attack an Enemy Ship?

What are the combat methods, tactics, techniques and procedures Navy SEALs follown when attacking or taking down an enemy ship at sea?

Command of the seas sometimes means taking control of a non-complaint ship by forceful means, and, as they’ve demonstrated a number of times in recent years while dealing with pirates off the coast of Somalia, U.S. Navy SEALs possess a specific set of skills required to get the job done. This mission is known as “vessel boarding search and seizure” or “VBSS.”

Here’s how VBSS missions generally go down:

HVBSS_brief

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Mission planning begins between all the players in the intelligence center aboard the strike group’s aircraft carrier. Elements beyond the SEALs are members of the ship’s crew who need to know where to position their vessels and aviators from the air wing. HH-60 pilots will carry the SEALs to the target ship, and Super Hornet pilots will fly high cover in case things get sporty and more firepower is required.

080301-N-7241L-017

Super Hornet launches off of Cat 4. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Super Hornets launch first, armed with precision guided bombs and a nose cannon. They’ll establish a combat air patrol station high overhead in order not to tip off the bad guys.

An MH-60S Seahawk, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, conducts a Helicopter Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (HVBSS) training exercise with a Range Support Craft (RSC) 1 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, April 16, 2015. HSC-8 provides vertical lift Search and Rescue, Logistics, Anti-Surface Warfare, Special Operations Forces Support, and Combat Search and Rescue capabilities for Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11) in support of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and Carrier Strike Group 11 (CSG-11) operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young)

HH-60s — the special ops configured variant of the Seahawk — launch with the SEAL team aboard.

An MH-60S Seahawk, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, conducts a Helicopter Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (HVBSS) training exercise with a Range Support Craft (RSC) 1 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, April 16, 2015. HSC-8 provides vertical lift Search and Rescue, Logistics, Anti-Surface Warfare, Special Operations Forces Support, and Combat Search and Rescue capabilities for Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11) in support of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and Carrier Strike Group 11 (CSG-11) operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Generally a pair of HH-60s is enough for the average VBSS. The helos transit a very low altitude and approach the target ship from off of the stern.

Seahawk_over_fantail

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

At the last second, the HH-60s pop over the target ship’s fantail . . .

8030752218_4fd6e1faf1_o

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

. . . and deliver the SEALs by fast rope.

USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009), AT SEA (July 27, 2010) - Marines with the Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III Marine Expeditionary Force secure the flight deck of USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009) after fast roping off an MH-60S helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25, during a Helicopter Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure exercise (HVBSS) July 27. HVBSS is a maritime helicopter boarding actions and tactics operation, designed to capture enemy vessels, combat terrorism, piracy and smuggling, and to conduct customs, safety and other inspections. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

On deck, the SEALs make best speed for the superstructure.

seals-13

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Out of the open area, the team consolidates for the assault on the control points, usually the bridge of the ship.

September 17, 2010, a U.S. Marine with Force Recon Platoon, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, escorts a simulated adversary during a Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) exercise aboard the U.S. Navy Ship Alan Shepard in support of exercise Valiant Shield, which is part of a certification exercise conducted by the 31st MEU. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Kelsey J. Green/Released)

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Kelsey J. Green)

The trick is maintain the element of surprise and to get to the bridge undetected. If that happens, neutralizing the bad guys is an easier proposition. If it doesn’t happen then the SEALs are ready to deal, armed with M-4s, 9mm pistols, concussion grenades, and knives.

SEAL_sniper

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Once maintaining the element of surprise is no longer a factor, the H-60s can close in . . .

Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Corey Turner, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, participates in a Helicopter Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (HVBSS) training exercise with a Range Support Craft (RSC) 1 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, April 16, 2015. HSC-8 provides vertical lift Search and Rescue, Logistics, Anti-Surface Warfare, Special Operations Forces Support, and Combat Search and Rescue capabilities for Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11) in support of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and Carrier Strike Group 11 (CSG-11) operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

. . . and provide cover in the event the SEALs missed something that was hiding on the way to the bridge.

011206-N-6550T-009 The Arabian Sea (Dec. 6, 2001) Ð Cargo containers are inspected during a search for illegal contraband and al-Qaida troops aboard the Motor Vessel ÒKota Sejarah.Ó The boarding and search is conducted by U.S. Navy SEALs and Marines from aboard the amphibious warfare ship USS Shreveport (LPD 12). The Shreveport and the Special Warfare (SPECWAR) personnel are deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The ship was released following the inspection. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate 1st Class Tim Turner. (RELEASED)

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 1st Class Tim Turner)

After any threat is neutralized, the SEALs can inspect the ship to see if there’s any contraband aboard.

USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009), AT SEA (July 27, 2010) - Marines with the Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III Marine Expeditionary Force take over the bridge of USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T AK3009), during a Helicopter Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure exercise (HVBSS) July 27. HVBSS is a maritime helicopter boarding actions and tactics operation, designed to capture enemy vessels, combat terrorism, piracy and smuggling, and to conduct customs, safety and other inspections. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corwin Colbert)

With tasking complete, the SEAL team gathers on the bridge for a quick “hot wash up” of the mission and to call for pickup back to the carrier.

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