What Do Navy SEALs Do: Operations, Missions, And Roles

It’s often heard that Navy SEALs are the most elite military special forces in the world, but the question that always remains is what do Navy SEALs do?

The astonishing capabilities of Navy SEALs make them the toughest and most highly skilled warriors of all time. So, let’s discover what exactly Navy SEALs do and what makes them so effective.

This comprehensive article informs you about Navy SEALs’ operations, capabilities, responsibilities, missions, and roles.

What Do Navy SEALs Do?

what do navy seals do

As self-explanatory, Navy SEALs conduct special operations by sea, air or land. They are highly trained to capture enemies and terrorists around the world. But, similar to other forces, Navy SEALs’ primary responsibility is protecting and supporting the United States national security objectives.

The U.S. Navy SEALs’ capabilities include:

  • Counter-Terrorism
  • Direct Action (DA)
  • Hostage Rescue
  • Special Reconnaissance (SR)
  • Unconventional Warfare (UW)
  • Foreign Internal Defense (FID)
  • Amphibious Reconnaissance


The role in counter-terrorism (also known as anti-terrorism) makes the United States Navy SEALs popular all over the world.

Navy SEALs are doing more for counter-terrorism than any other special forces. Since today, SEALs have been engaged in several wars on terror.

Along with Navy SEALs, some other special forces have a role in counter-terrorism, but Navy SEALs have more contributions than others.

Navy SEALs are deployed in the Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen, War in Afghanistan, Iraqi Conflict, War in North-West Pakistan, and more wars on terror.

Particularly, SEALs have played a major role in counterterrorism after The September 11 attacks to keep the nation from future terrorist attacks.

Since Navy SEALs can conduct a mission by sea, land, and air, that is what makes them effective in fighting terrorists by going to different countries of the world.

Raids on terrorist safehouses, killing high-value targets, and tracking down and capturing terrorist leaders are the most common missions that Navy SEALs are conducting.

Related Post: Marine Raiders (MARSOC) VS Navy SEALs

Direct Action (DA)

Direct action (DA) is a common capability that every U.S. military force has. But, The United States Department of Defense utilizes special operations forces the most for direct action.

When it comes to conducting a mission of direct action, Navy SEALs are at the top of the list to succeed.

The region or strategic training and the use of sophisticated technology help Navy SEALs to achieve the specific objectives of the direct action mission fast.

Although direct action is considered a basic special operations mission, the US military conducts these missions, especially with Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.

In the DA, SEALs destroy, capture, recover, exploit, and damage targets. Often direct action missions require less Navy personnel than other missions like foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, or anti-terrorism.

Hostage Rescue

Hostage rescue, also referred to as hostage rescue operations, is another military activity that Navy SEALs do so often. In the history of Navy SEALs, there have been several hostage rescue operations in which they have succeeded.

In recent times, Navy SEALs conducted a hostage rescue operation in Northern Nigeria, known as the 2020 Nigeria hostage rescue mission, and SEALs successfully rescued an American hostage.

Navy SEALs also succeeded in several hostage rescue missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Therefore, the success rate of Navy SEALs in hostage rescue operations is comparably higher than other elite forces.

See Also: List of Black Navy SEALs

Special Reconnaissance (SR)

Navy SEALs are capable of taking control of various types of special reconnaissance (SR) missions. SEALs have a good reputation for successfully completing special reconnaissance missions.

Protecting the United States’ interest through special reconnaissance missions is the Navy SEALs’ responsibility too.

In the United States Navy SEALs, each member received basic to advanced training for special reconnaissance missions.

By considering the geography, mission objectives, identifying the threats, and available resources, Navy SEALs build one or more teams to conduct the special reconnaissance missions.

Navy SEALs are the best special operations force for the special reconnaissance mission, as proved by several successes.

As a prominent elite force, Navy SEALs have already earned a good reputation by conducting the war on terror. Along with this war, Navy SEALs also conducted many special reconnaissance missions.

Among all the special reconnaissance missions that Navy SEALs succeeded in, missions in the Afghanistan War and Iraq War are worth mentioning.

Unconventional Warfare (UW)

Although unconventional warfare (UW) missions are rare lately, therefore it can easily be overlooked by people, but Navy SEALs also participate in unconventional warfare.

Unconventional warfare (UW) is a type of military operation where a nation’s defense agency supports a foreign insurgency or resistance movement against its government or any other occupying group.

The United States Department of Defense deployed its several forces in various unconventional warfare missions around the world.

With that said, Navy SEALs conducted unconventional warfare missions in Iraq and Afghan War.

It’s crucial for every military force to be trained for any unconventional warfare missions. Besides Navy SEALs, other U.S. elite forces received training for unconventional warfare missions.

Foreign Internal Defense (FID)

Since the Navy SEAL was founded, this special operations force has contributed to many foreign internal defense (FID).

Navy SEALs are deployed on various foreign internal defense missions to protect a country from illicit drug trade, disease, terrorism, and blood diamonds.

But, more than any other military force, including Navy SEALs, the United States Army conducted more foreign internal defense (FID).

Related Article: Most Famous Navy SEALs

Examples of Navy SEALs Operations and Missions

Navy SEALs have conducted high-profile missions and operations around the globe. So, we can make an endless list of successful missions by the United States Navy SEALs, but here are some notable SEALs operations and missions:

  • Killing of Osama bin Laden (2011): The mission of Killing of Osama bin Laden also often referred to as Operation Neptune Spear. The Killing of Osama bin Laden is the mission that makes the United States Navy SEALs familiar with the world.

    In this operation, SEAL Team 6 successfully killed Osama bin Laden, the founder and head of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda.

    The Killing of Osama bin Laden operation took place on May 2, 2011, in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the founder and first leader of al-Qaeda was hidden.

    This notable mission was carried out by the U.S. Navy SEALs Team 6. During the operation, they killed bin Laden, two of his couriers, one of his sons, and a woman who was used as a human shield by one of the couriers.

    Operation Neptune Spear helps our Navy SEALs to stand out as a furious and elite force outside of the nation.

    Zero Dark Thirty is a 2012 American thriller film that dramatizes the operation of the Killing of Osama bin Laden.
  • Maersk Alabama hijacking (2009): Maersk Alabama hijacking, also known as Captain Phillips rescue mission, was conducted by Navy SEALs.

    The operation of the Maersk Alabama hijacking began on April 9, 2009; the hostage (Somali pirates) held the captive (Captain Richard Phillips) for five days in the lifeboat.

    Navy SEAL snipers from SEAL Team 6 rescued Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates aboard the Maersk Alabama.

    During the mission, three pirates were killed, and one pirate was captured by the United States Navy SEALs Team Six.

    The Maersk Alabama hijacking mission is worth mentioning when we want to know more details about what Navy SEALs do and what they have accomplished.
  • Operation Red Wings (2005): Another remarkable mission conducted by the United States Navy SEALs is Operation Red Wings.

    Operation Red Wings was a high-stakes operation aimed to capture or kill a high-ranking Taliban leader in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan.

    Navy SEALs unsucceeded in this mission and lost after approximately 45 minutes into the fight. In this mission, 19 American servicemen, including several SEALs members, were killed by the Taliban.
  • War in Afghanistan (2001 – 2021): We all know how Navy SEALs fight against terrorism, and the War in Afghanistan is an outstanding example.

    The United States went to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan for self-defense on 7 October 2001, and this war ended on 15 August 2021 by the Biden administration.

    During this long-lasting war, the United States lost a large number of Navy SEALs personnel and other servicemen. But, after 20 years of war, the United States leaves Afghanistan.

    Throughout the duration of the War in Afghanistan, Navy SEALs consistently engaged in numerous successful missions, playing a vital role in the conflict.
  • Operation Thunderhead (1972): Operation Thunderhead was a highly classified combat mission aimed at rescuing 2 American airmen in the Vietnam War.

    This operation was conducted by the U.S. Navy SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team 11 (UDT-11) on June 3, 1972. But, unfortunately, the mission failed.

    During the mission, several members of SEAL Team One tragically lost their lives. The Navy SEALs have consistently demonstrated their courage and willingness to make sacrifices for the safety and well-being of their fellow service members.

Check Out: Navy SEAL Motivational Speakers In 2023

Brief History of Naval SEALs 

The brief history of the United States Navy SEALs is going to help you to thoroughly understand the capabilities and responsibilities of Navy SEALs.

The United States Navy SEALs have a rich history that dates back to World War II, with their roles and responsibilities evolving over time, which makes the world a better place.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy recognized the importance of having specialized forces capable of handling counter-guerrilla warfare, unconventional warfare, and amphibious reconnaissance. From the need of this situation handling, the establishment of the United States Navy SEALs happened.

Prior to the formation of the SEALs, the U.S. Navy had developed several specialized units, such as the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs), and Scouts and Raiders. These initial teams served as the foundation for the modern Navy SEALs we know today.

At present, there are 10 active-duty Navy SEAL Teams, each consisting of over 200 members and multiple commanders. Each SEAL Team has its own distinct mission and focus.

Throughout history, Navy SEALs have been vital participants in numerous conflicts and operations, including the Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and the Global War on Terrorism.

Navy SEAL Characteristics

navy seal characteristics

The characteristics of Navy SEALs are not often seen in ordinary people as they are the toughest and most professional individuals in the world.

To get your head around what Navy SEALs do and how you better know some characteristics.

Here are several key characteristics that define Navy SEALs:

#1 Inner Strength

The inner strength is probably one of the most underrated and also the most important Navy SEALs characteristic that we really need a deeper look at.

Navy SEAL’s inner strength helps them to fight for what they believe in every day for the rest of their life.

This particular strength of their mind separates Navy SEALs from us. And, the inner strength that they have is less gifted rather than cultivated.

#2 Adaptability

Without quick adaptability, it’s hard for Navy SEALs to go forward in challenging circumstances.

Navy SEALs fight in the most unpredictable and unfamiliar environment; that’s why the fast adoption assists them in taking control.

#3 Mental Toughness

Another critical characteristic of Navy SEALs is mental toughness which is necessary for them to succeed in high-stress and high-stakes missions or operations.

From selection training to warfare, Navy SEALs utilize their mental toughness to overcome any challenges they face.

#4 Physical Fitness

As you know, being a Navy SEAL is partially about optimal physical health and fitness. It’s tough to picture a physically unfit person as a member of the Navy SEALs team.

SEALs undergo rigorous physical training to be enlisted and before missions which is why physical fitness is the number one characteristic.

#5 Leadership

Proficient leadership plays a vital role for Navy SEALs during missions and operations.

Effective leadership is essential for SEALs, both in terms of guiding their teammates and inspiring confidence in the face of danger.

#6 Resilience

Another characteristic that must be mentioned otherwise describing a NavySEALs’ ability won’t be completed is resilience.

Resilience enables them to recover from failures, setbacks, and challenging situations which they often experience.


What Vehicles Do Navy SEALs Use?

According to missions, Navy SEALs utilize a range of vehicles, including air, ground and water transportation. To give an example, SEALs use the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) as ground vehicles, the MH-60M Black Hawk Helicopter as vehicles, and the Combat Rubber Raiding Craft for water operations.

Various types of vehicles Navy SEALs use that support their missions or operations. And with the new technology, Navy SEALs’ vehicles are constantly getting improved and updated.

What Weapons Do Navy SEALs Use?

The M4A1 carbine serves as the principal firearm employed by SEAL operators, offering reliability, accuracy, and versatility in various combat scenarios.

Based on the missions, Navy SEALs also use MK18 CQBR, MK16 SCAR-L, MK14 EBR, and more weapons.

Do Navy SEALs Go To War?

Yes, Navy SEALs do go to war. The United States Navy can deploy Navy SEALs to any war to conduct. SEALs have been involved in numerous wars, for instance, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Vietnam War too.

Final Thoughts

Navy SEALs conduct Special Warfare/Special Operations missions around the globe. But, SEALs are most recognized for their missions of capturing and killing terrorists.

Direct action, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, amphibious reconnaissance and more are the Navy SEALs’ capabilities.

The United States Naval Special Warfare Command structured and controlled Navy SEALs. So, SEALs have no limitations on conducting missions from warfare to hostage rescue.

Rate this post

Leave a Comment