Captain Evin H. Thompson is the commander, Naval
Special Warfare Group Four, Naval Amphibious Base Little
Creek, Norfolk, Va. As the special operations surface maritime
mobility headquarters for Naval Special Warfare, he is
responsible for supporting USSOCOM’s maritime surface mobility
requirements by training, equipping and deploying Special
Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, maintaining the fleet of over
100 special operations craft, and developing strategic plans
for the future of the special operations maritime fleet.
Thompson grew up in Iowa, the brother of a career AFSOC
pilot. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in
1982 and qualified as a Naval Special Warfare officer in 1983.
He has served in all facets of Naval Special Warfare on both
coasts and overseas.
He has commanded at every level including command of
Naval Special Warfare Unit Four and SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team
One. He is a joint specialty officer having spent a year at
the Army Command and General Staff College and joint
assignments at USSOCOM and the Joint Special Operations
Interviewed by SOTECH editor Jeff McKaughan.
Q: Could you give us an overview of the Special
Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman [SWCC] community?
A: SWCC is a new, dynamic and changing community. We
recognized back in about 1994 that the operators that drove
our boats needed to be special—they needed to have a system
that made them and kept them special operators. Before 1994,
we brought in sailors from the fleet who would serve in our
special boat units for two to three years. Then they would go
back out to the fleet and rarely be seen again. This meant
that we were investing a whole lot of time and training to
qualify guys, and then they would leave and we would start all
over again, and we had no selection and assessment program.
In 1994, Rear Admiral [Raymond C.] Smith, who was the Naval
Special Warfare Command commander at the time, decided to
close-loop our boat drivers. He did this by giving them a
special Navy Enlisted Code [NEC], which they would have while
retaining their Navy rate. If they did well they were allowed
to stay in the community. This worked out so well that we had
guys staying. He also set up a selection and assessment course
at the Naval Special Warfare Center.
At the same time the Navy was saying everyone needed to be
warfare-qualified, meaning they had to be a surface
warfare-qualified enlisted operator, an air warfare-qualified
enlisted operator or a submarine warfare-qualified enlisted
operator. Back then young sailors were coming into the special
boat teams and were not getting a qualification pin, wanted to
stay and had gone through the selection course. To address
this back in 2001/2002 we gave our operators their own
qualification—Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman—and
their own warfare qualification device. This was a milestone
and the first awarding of the device was a great ceremony. We
had Admiral Natter, who was a riverine boat guy in Vietnam as
a Lieutenant j.g. and Silver Star recipient, spoke at the East
Coast ceremony where the first SWCCs who were already in the
community close looped were given their pins. Senator [John
F.] Kerry, another Vietnam boat guy, spoke out on the West
Coast and he gave the first pins to all the guys out there.
At this point, things were going pretty well. We had our
own designation, we had our own NEC and then finally, last
October as the Navy went through its overall changing of
classifications, the SEALS went to the Special Warfare
Operator rate—SO—and the SWCCS went to their own rate which is
SB—Special Warfare Boat Operator.
Right now in the Navy we have 525 qualified SBs—ranging
from SB3 [E-4] to SBCM [E-9]. When a man graduates from SWCC
training they become a Petty Officer Third Class, if not
already a Petty Officer, receive their pin and their rating
designation, SB. Of those 525 SB’s, about 480 are assigned to
Naval Special Warfare Group four and the three teams: Special
Boat Team 20 in Little Creek, Va.; Special Boat Team 12 in
Coronado, Calif.; and Special Boat Team 22 in Stennis,
Miss.—Naval Special Warfare’s specialized riverine mobility
Those 480, the majority of the SBs in the Navy, work under
the NSW claimancy. The rest are on various staffs—USSOCOM,
Theater Special Operations Commands, etc.
SWCCs have really progressed a long way in just the last 13
years. From being just guys in the fleet who came to do some
time on fast boats for awhile to having a closed NEC, having
their own pin and now having their own rate in the Navy,
that’s significant progress.
About five years ago, we established our own warrant
officer program. All of the special boat operators are
enlisted and we felt we needed to grow some warrant officers
for their technical skills, advanced leadership positions and
continued professional development, so we developed our own
program. We have 19 chief warrant officer SWCCs right now. We
have no ensigns through admirals that are SWCCs. All of our
SWCCs are led by these warrant officers or Naval special
warfare SEAL officers, meaning the NSW community has two
shooter rates—the SOs [SEALS] and the SBs [SWCCs].
This is a very exciting time.
Q: Much as been written and discussed about the
increases in manning within special operations forces,
particularly Special Forces and the SEALS. Will there be any
growth in SWCC?
A: We were very well recognized in the last Quadrennial
Defense Review across all of special operations. Throughout
SOCOM, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, we
are growing in Army, Air Force, Marine and Navy special
operations. The SEALS are growing from 1,800 enlisted SEALS up
to 2,500. Special boat operators will grow from 525 up to 825.
The major reason for this growth is that we do not have
enough operators to man-up all of the detachments, nor to
man-up all of the weapons systems onboard the boats. So, we
went to a doctrinal template of having the right number of SBs
on each of the craft, and that’s the number we will grow to in
order to support the detachments required to deploy
Q: What about the number of boats. Do you have more
platforms than you currently man or will you need new
A: Actually, right now I’m not manning up all of my boats.
So I have a few boats that as we go through the deployment
cycle I’m short-cycling the men but not the boats.
My deployment cycle is designed to be on a 1 in 4 rotation.
The first six months of the rotation to be
professional/personal development; second six months being
unit-level training where the boat crews train up as boat
crews; the third six months is squadron integration training
where we bring the SEAL Team, their boat troops, SDV troops,
and other combat enablers together to form up a Naval Special
Warfare Squadron. They train and work together for six months
and then they deploy to support the global war on terror for
the final six months in the cycle.
Right now, SWCCS are really at about a 1 in 3.2 rotation.
My growth will allow me to go to the 1 in 4 plus ensure that
all of my boats are fully manned when they go out.
Q: Looking at your current organization, do you
envision any structural or organizational changes to
accommodate this growth, or is the template designed with
growth in mind?
A: I think our template is really good. The vision that my
predecessors had of making sure that we have the right number
of operators on the boat—and it’s not just the SWCCs and the
operators but the direct support technicians—enginemen,
communicators… to work on the equipment so that the operators
do not come off an operation and have to spend hours trying to
get everything up by themselves. When they come off an op,
they routinely spend a great deal of time working, but the
technical expertise and extra manpower that comes from the
fleet to augment them allows them to turn the boats around and
have them continue supporting the theater commander quicker.
The structure of the three teams we have is the right
organization. Teams 20 and 12 on each of the coasts are
coastal special operations teams and focus on the NSW RIB and
the Mk V craft that we have today. The team down in
Mississippi concentrates on riverine special operations
capabilities. Our structure marries us up to where our NSW
centers of gravity are at.
Q: Special Boat Team 22 is focused on riverine
operations. Do you see NAVSPECWARCOM becoming more
riverine-oriented and perhaps acquiring more responsibilities
in this area?
A: I think what the Navy had been ignoring [was] the
riverine environment. We have the greatest Navy the world has
ever known out in the blue water environment. What we were
missing has been in the riverine and littoral environment,
thus the creation of the Navy Expeditionary Combatant Command.
Naval Special Warfare has retained a superb littoral and
riverine special operations capability since Vietnam. We were
the spark that kept the fire going to give our nation
something to operate in the close combat waters of these
environments. Whenever something happened in the riverine or
littoral environment, special operations got the
call—operations Ernest Will and Just Cause just to name a
This was OK prior to the war on terror. What we are seeing
now is the need for conventional riverine and littoral forces
much like the Game Wardens in Vietnam, to sit at outposts for
extended periods and monitor traffic and be where the enemy
may see you and be a very visible presence, conventional
missions. In special operation we like to tailor our missions
to each operation so that we have the right size for the
We could probably use a few more boats to give us a little
more flexibility. We currently have 20 Special Operation
Craft-Riverines [SOC-R] in the inventory and that’s meeting
our requirements. I have several boats deployed constantly and
have our focus in one area; a few more boats would give me the
ability to flex a little more in other parts of the world.
Q: You mentioned training and we have talked about
the increase in personnel that you are expecting. Can you talk
about the SWCC training pipeline and how you bring people from
start to finish and how you will accommodate the additional
people coming in?
A: There are two ways that we get young men into the SWCC
community. One way is through fleet accessions where a sailor
is already serving in the Navy and says he wants to be
something else—something special. Everyone in the Navy is a
volunteer once, to become a SWCC you have to volunteer a
second time to go into special operations.
The second way we get people is we have young Americans
coming to us directly off the street who say “I want to join
the Navy, do something special and drive a fast boat for
Those two groups of young men meet up together in Coronado
and go through the first six weeks of what I consider our
selection course. It is run by the Naval Special Warfare
Center and is a combination of mentally and physically
challenging events and exercises that really select guys who
live up to our motto—“On time, On target, Never quit!”
So what we find in those first six weeks are those guys who
will never quit. This is the basic crewman training—BCT.
As soon as they finish that, they move on to the next 15
weeks which is crewman qualification training—CQT. Now we are
assessing them to make sure they have the proper mindset, the
right skill sets and motor skills to be a special boat
operator. They do long navigation exercises, weapons training,
navigational training and so on, so we can assess whether they
have what it takes to be an SB.
After 21 weeks we have our basic operator coming out of the
schoolhouse. Then they go through an 18-month rotation before
they ever make that first deployment. During that first
deployment, they will have one of the basic tasks onboard the
boat—most likely the chief engineer, the lead navigator or
perhaps a gunner.
When they come back from that first deployment they will
take that experience and will start training up to be a boat
captain. The boat captain is the guy who drives the boat and
the guy who is in overall command of that boat. Before his
next deployment he will go through a pretty rigid
qualification process with both practical exercises on the
water and a very demanding board with my team COs and their
command leadership before they qualify them as a boat captain.
This represents their second deployment.
After the second deployment they may go to shore duty or
they may stay with the team. Their next qualification is
patrol officer and this is where they are in charge of two or
more boats at a time to execute a mission. They are given
tactical and operational responsibility for mission success.
This is how we build a SWCC to be successful on the
Q: We have talked a little bit about the people,
now let’s talk a little about the equipment. The Mk V SOCs
have and are serving well. There have been some development
efforts to find a replacement boat. Can you talk about the
characteristics that you would look for in a new boat and a
timeline that you are hoping for?
A: The Mk V SOC has been a great program and a great boat.
It was the first USSOCOM major acquisition program. From the
time the combat development document was produced—then called
operational requirements document—to the time we had the first
boat in the water was 26 months. Unbelievable in the
In the future, in order to fight the war on terror, it’s
going to require us to go further than the Mk V SOC currently
goes. A new boat has to have the great maintainability and
reliability of the Mk V SOC—we have had an unprecedented 95
percent reliability rate with the Mk V SOC. Typically, my
months are at about 98 percent reliability and I have even had
100 percent months. We have to have a boat that, when it’s
time to get underway, it gets underway. So, reliability is
Range—it has got to go further. I think we need a boat that
can transit within the theater from point A to point B. Now
the Pacific is a bit of a challenge! But we have to extend the
The other really important characteristic is that our boat
has to have a lower signature. Signature reduction, as we
think about boat designs of the future, has to take this into
consideration due to the proliferation of low-cost radars and
other detection devices. We need to be able to get our
operators to the beach, perform their mission and retrieve
them without being detected. Or perhaps we need to loiter
offshore without being detected.
Right now, USSOCOM in the program budget has R&D
dollars for a start in FY10 for the replacement of the Mk V
The Mk V SOC replacement will be called the Combatant Craft
Heavy, CCH. I actually hate to call the CCH an Mk V SOC
replacement because it will be something that is so much
better. It’s probably going to have enhanced weapon systems,
better range and the other features we need to perform as
required in the battlespace.
Q: What is the status of the Cyclone class ships
and is there a need for a Cyclone-size ship in the NSW
A: The Cyclone was a great ship, but it wasn’t a great
boat—and there is a huge difference. One of the challenges we
faced when [we] brought the Cyclone in was we really wanted
something similar to what I described for the Combatant Craft
Heavy—CCH. We wanted a boat that had good range that could
stay on station for awhile. What we did though was make it too
big. It couldn’t go all the places we wanted it to—the draft
got too deep and we started worrying too much about creature
comfort instead of the mission. The mission always has to come
first. We need to take care of our people, so maybe we need
two crews to rotate crews ashore to eliminate the need for
racks on board and think about providing MREs instead of nice
I think we tried to make Cyclone too much of a ship and not
enough of a combatant craft. The range of the ship I loved.
You could drive that thing across the ocean and only have to
refuel once, or drive it down to South America and not have to
refuel at all. As a naval officer it had a lot of advantages
in navigating and freedom of the seas.
One thing I think we missed with the Cyclones was not
putting a missile system on them. I think that as we fight our
adversaries today we need to be able to reach and touch them
from a distance. We have to use our reduced signature to hide
and then when the time comes to go kinetic, we need to have
The current status of the patrol coastals as I understand
it is that we have sold one through foreign military sales;
there are several still in the navy and doing an incredible
job in the Persian Gulf helping protect the oil platforms.
Because of their size and performance they are perfectly
suited for that role.
They are still serving our nation well but they were just a
little too big and a little too manpower intensive for Naval
Q: Looking at the smaller boats like the Mk V, RIBs
and SOC-R, going fast over water is rough. Shock mitigation
has long been an issue. What are you doing to take care of the
crews on the boats now and what future solutions show
A: There are several ways to attack shock mitigation. One
way that we have implemented in our special boat teams is the
right type of physical training for the operators. Doing
push-ups and pull-ups doesn’t train a man to handle the rigors
of being on a boat.
There are specific exercises that can be done to condition
the back and strengthen the right parts of the body. My
coastal teams, for example, have more spinal column stress so
they will focus on conditioning the parts of the body that are
most impacted there. My guys who drive on the river—because of
all the body armor and boat dynamics—experience more
multi-dimensional and upper body stress.
We have certified trainers/strength conditioning
specialists with each of our teams to work with each man to
physically train him to handle the rigors of being on the
water. What we have seen over the last the last four years is
a drastic decrease in injuries. We attribute this largely to
this physical training program. It has been great. If you go
and watch a PT session with a special boat team you will
wonder what we are doing because it is extremely focused on
what the professionals say the human body needs to do. We
condition our operators because the impact and dimensional
stress (demand) will always be there. Therefore, training the
body to better adapt and handle the environmental stresses has
demonstrated great results.
The second part is the mechanical piece. We have been very
fortunate through some Congressional plus-ups to have shock
reduction seats put into the Mk Vs. They are beautiful! I can
be in 6-foot seas, get into one of these seats and fall asleep
for three hours. It really reduces the shock tremendously.
Finally, shock can be fixed in hull design. If the hull is
designed right and the designers understand the seas that the
operators and the boat will be in, and design the hull
correctly, shock will be reduced. The boat needs enough speed
so that with a cruise speed of about 40 knots it will have the
ability to properly manage the sea—in a sea state 3—that you
are not bouncing between troughs but riding with the troughs.
A great deal of this has to do with the operators
understanding what the seas are all about. We have embarked on
what I call the master mariner program where we teach guys how
to sail. The first thing people on the water ever did was sail
and they became very knowledgeable about how the seas worked
by sailing. A lot of my operators are going through basic
sailing courses to get that understanding.
The long term health effects of whole body vibration and
shock/jerk experienced by our operators has not been fully
described by the medical community. Anecdotally and
intuitively, we believe that a career of riding these craft
may be detrimental to spinal health if we don’t physically
train correctly and have the right designs and material in the
boats. However, we don’t have published data to prove it. My
medical department is currently developing a methodology to
qualify and quantify the acute and chronic health effects of
operating high speed boats. It is critical that we define the
problem in scientific terms so that we can develop and
implement strategies to mitigate the effects of shock/jerk.
All of these aspects, working together, will improve our
shock mitigation efforts. The sea can be a cruel sister and we
have to learn how to operate safely within that
Q: The exercises you mentioned, was that something
that was developed internally or was in brought in from the
A: The program was generated based off of a demand analysis
and consistent and repetitive career injury patterns found and
documented in SWCCs and SEALs. We view it more than just the
right exercises. Over the past four years we developed an
integrated physical training system to combat the stresses
placed on the operator. Program methodology and design was
influenced by many strategies and philosophies utilized by
experts throughout the country and integrated into the
performance training program. We looked at what a lot of elite
athletes were doing. We looked at other organizations that
were around and realized that the conventional military PT
didn’t train our operators right. Oversight and direction of
the program is done by an industry professional that has a
vested interest in the success of the program. Through this
integrated approach of training we have seen a massive
reduction in injuries and now we are implementing this across
Q: You mentioned needing the capability to be able
to go kinetic when necessary and mentioned interest in an
onboard missile system. Trials have been done with the Amos
120 mm mortar system mounted on the Swedish Combat Boat 90H.
Does Naval Special Warfare need its own integral heavy
firepower or should it rely on the big Navy for that?
A: It’s really important to have a toolkit of capability.
Our boats right now are under-gunned—.50 calibers and Mk19s
are the biggest thing on board. There may be a time when we
know where the adversary is and we need to be able to destroy
them and can’t wait for the conventional Navy.
The conventional Navy is 220 ships—which means there are
times when there aren’t a lot of ships out there to come help
you. With the Air Force—can they get global reach to you in
time? The alternative is to allow us, with a reduced signature
boat, to be wherever we need to be, and when we find the bad
guys to be able to do something about it.
I’m not sure we can do everything we need to unilaterally
with our light weapons, but having a heavier weapon system—a
missile, the Amos or something like that—tied into my reduced
signature boat gives special operation and our Navy the
ability to clandestinely be someplace with the capability to
act if circumstances allow.
Q: What role do unmanned systems have in your
A: Unmanned platforms are huge combat enablers. We have
been using UAVs from our boats for some time. When we first
employed them during the early stages of OIF we had the
Pointer UAV, and a couple of smart SWCCs figured out they
could do a carrier launch from a SOC-R at speed. They
basically held it up, got speed under the wings, let go and it
took off. The Pointer would fly its mission, and they would
land it on the river bank and retrieve it, put a new battery
in it, and it was ready for the next mission.
As SWCCs and other special operators were clearing the
waterways up into Basra, that’s how they would do their ISR
and decide proper courses of action.
Today, we have UAVs that we are flying from our boats in
both Iraq and the Philippines. We are utilizing a system
called the Aqua Puma which is launched from the boat and
designed to land in the water. When it lands it floats and is
retrieved and ready for the next mission.
This is a tremendous ISR platform. For example I can drop
my 36-foot RIB into an area with my Aqua Puma onboard, drive
to the objective area, fly the ISR mission, perform the
mission as required and proceed with complete tactical
As I said UAVs are tremendous force multipliers but UAVs
are easy because they fly in the air—a fairly constant
dynamic, USVs—unmanned surface vehicles are a bit more of a
challenge. Recently the Naval Post Graduate School did an
analysis in the riverine environment for NECC [Navy
Expeditionary Combat Commander] in which they concluded that
USVs represented the most bang for the buck, more than both
manned and unmanned aerial systems. They should be cheaper
than UAVs because they are, in reality, just things that float
on the water and can provide forward-looking reconnaissance
for boats that are on the move or planning a move. You could
even put weapon systems on the USV and let it do engagement
type missions. The challenge we have had with USVs so far is
that they are big. We need to get our USVs down to a
manageable size [so] that we can put them on the SOC-Rs, RIBs
or Mk Vs. Then we can standoff and send the USV in close and
do ISR or whatever else it is equipped to do.
I am very excited about UAVs and USVs.
The underwater vehicles I think have great application as
well, especially in the riverine environment. Instead of
relying on charts to tell me where all the sandbars are before
I go on an operation I can send out a UUV.
We do have a very small shop at my headquarters that is
looking at all the technologies relating to unmanned vehicles.
With higher headquarters at Naval Special Warfare Command and
USSOCOM we are constantly looking at options and
Q: You mentioned airdropping the RIB, I understand
that the Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery System [MCADS]
recently passed an important milestone. What can you tell me
A: It’s a great system. We’ve been dropping our boats out
of aircraft for about 10 years now. We started out with the
24-foot RIB which was our legacy craft. While we were first
developing the NSW RIB, we put the capability in as a
requirement for the new boat.
It was a bit of a challenge because the NSW RIB has
sponsons, and when they are inflated, it will not fit in a
C-130. So, we had to develop an auto-inflation system.
We just completed our 100th RIB drop in March—we can drop
out of anything bigger than a C-130.
This is a very exciting capability that has global reach,
and these detachments are deployed at a couple of key
locations around the world. At the desires of the theater
commander based on the operational requirement, he can get a
couple of aircraft, pick up the team and their boats, and he
now has an operational reach to move that team where they are
Our adversaries are so elusive out there that you have to
have the capability to rapidly respond and MCADS is one of
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to
A: Yes there are two things I would like to mention.
The first is the RIB replacement, the Combatant Craft
Medium, CCM. We are currently getting ready to go to USSOCOM’s
requirements evaluation board for the CCM. And just like the
CCH the things that we are conceptualizing for the future are
maintainability, reduced signature, and a boat design that
reduces shock. From my perspective, it can be any design—it
can be wave riding, it can be wave piercing, it can be wave
hopping, it can be air-cushioned. It doesn’t matter to me as
long as it has maintainability, reliability, a low signature,
and has a central backbone that allows us to spiral into the
I want to be able to plug-and-play if we come up with new
missiles or guns, new communications gear, improved FLIRs or
anything else; I want the boat has to have the power and
weight available in the boat to accomplish that.
Our requirements document is going to USSOCOM and we have
money in the POM to fund the replacement RIB. Now that being
said, we are a little short on our R&D dollars, but we can
work through that. We should have the CCM by FY12. The RIB has
been a great boat but we need more weight and power along with
the other things I’ve mentioned for the future.
The Combat Craft Heavy is a little more down the road and
that may end up being a Navy-common boat that we make a
special operations variant much like Army special operations
did with the CH-47. I believe the Navy needs more boats,
especially as it reduces the number of capital ships; we need
more boats to continue our force projection capability
anywhere in a maritime environment.
The SOC-R is the best boat in the world for river ops. That
boat was designed by really smart guys along with input from
our operators. In fact the SOC-R won the Packard Award for
Acquisition Excellence—as did the NSW RIB. Between the Navy,
NAVSEA-Carderock and USSOCOM Combat Craft Program Office we
have a great boat development team.
That’s sort of a wrap up on the materiel side, on the
people side the SWCC community is only about 13 years old.
It’s hard to imagine that we were able to do business 13 years
ago when I look at how far we have come and our warriors today
compared to then. That’s how I look at SWCCs 13 years ago—all
great and brave Americans, but the young men that we have
operating our special operations boats today are incredible.
They have been selected, assessed and then trained to take on
the most difficult special operations missions.
They are deployed around the world in harm’s way, they
leave their families behind, and for me it is a tremendous
honor to command General Brown’s and Rear Admiral Maguire’s
boat force for USSOCOM and special operations capability for
the United States Navy.
SWCCs live by their code: “On time, On Target and Never
Quit!” They do that every single day.