The tip of the spear may be losing its edge. Navy SEAL teams don't have enough combat rifles to go around, even as these highly trained forces are relied on more than ever to carry out counterterrorism operations and other secretive missions, according to SEALs who have confided in Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. After SEALs return from a deployment, their rifles are given to other commandos who are shipping out, says Hunter, a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. This weapons carousel undercuts the "train like you fight" ethos of the US special operations forces, they say. Hunter says he's been contacted by several SEALs, but he declined to provide further information about the weapons they use in order to protect their identities. US military officials say they're looking into the issue.
Sharing rifles may seem inconsequential, but the weapons, outfitted with telescopic targeting sights and laser pointers, are fine-tuned to individual specs and become intensely personal pieces of gear. The problem isn't lack of money, Hunter says: Congress has frequently boosted the budgets of special operations since 9/11. Plus rifles are among the least expensive items the military buys—M4 carbines, the standard combat rifle used by military branches, cost less than $1,000 each when bought in bulk, according to DoD documents—leading Hunter to question the priorities of Naval Special Warfare Command, the organization that oversees the SEALs. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top officer at US Special Operations Command, says that heavily used rifles need to undergo maintenance and that may be contributing to the perception of a shortage. "They want their rifles," Hunter says. "It's their lifeline. So let them keep their guns until they're assigned desk jobs at the Pentagon." (Read more Navy SEALs stories.)