Five years ago, Navy SEALs switched their close-combat training from a system they'd used for over more than 20 years to a new mixed martial arts-style program, and a California lawmaker wants to know why.
In a memo to Defense Secretary Ash Carter yesterday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., argued that the previous Close Quarters Defense program is superior to the MMA program, and asked the Defense Department to review Naval Special Warfare's close-combat training contract for any conflicts of interest.
"I have concerns with the process for considering and awarding the contracts that have led to the removal of CQD from SEAL training," Hunter wrote. "I also have concerns with consistent reports that MMA training is not conducive to SEAL operations."
CQD's hand-to-hand combat training was developed in the early 1980s by Duane Dieter, whose background is in martial arts, and adopted by NSW in 1989. Since then, officials with the Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency and other government organizations have used Dieter's training, according to CQD's website.
But in 2011, NSW went in another direction, awarding one of its combatives training contract to a company called Linxx Global Solutions, which has a mixed martial arts academy in Virginia Beach.
That push toward MMA-style training was led by Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, according to an official with knowledge of the memo who could not speak on the record, the SEAL on tap to take over Naval Special Warfare Command. Mixed martial arts training
"The allegation is that Szymanski is directly related to this selection process," the official said.
Hunter's letter alleges that the switch came because active-duty and former SEALs affiliated with the trainers wanted to set themselves up with the lucrative contract.
"Alternatively, NSW operators and leadership have consistently determined CQD to be the most operationally effective training to prepare SEALs for combat, evidence by more than 11,000 positive critiques and numerous complimentary reports," Hunter wrote. "And on average, the cost to NSW for CQD was $345 per SEAL compared to $2,900 for MMA training."
Frank Cucci, a 10-year SEAL veteran who developed the Linxx training, didn't have any insight into the controversy, but offered that the military's embrace of MMA has followed the trends in the martial arts world.
"You'd have to really ask them why they choose to use me over any others," he told Navy Times on Wednesday. "I just think it's a natural progression based on what's most effective in real fights."
Cucci, who is the Linxx founder and head instructor, added that when broken down, his training works out to about $8 and hour per hour per operator.
Tuesday's memo is another salvo in a recent push from Hunter's office to look into Naval Special Warfare activities.
In February he sent a letter to NSW boss Rear Adm. Brian Losey requesting an explanation for why SEALs were being made to turn in their weapons post-deployment. Two weeks later, he held a meeting on Capitol Hill to discuss the SEALs' gear contracting process.
"My opinion is that politicians should stay out of the business of the SEAL teams and let the boys determine what they want and need," former Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Joel Lambert told Navy Times.
In his experience, he said, the "sled dogs and senior enlisted" have been allowed to make the calls about what's best for team training and development, and that's gotten the SEALs to where they are today.
"Unfortunately now, with all the attention on us, everyone from [Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus on down has an ill-formed opinion on what we need and it may very well be the death of the SEAL teams as we know them," Lambert added.
"Look at what they've been through the past 10 years, and you're telling me they don't know what's best for them?" he said.
Hunter's request includes a review of open competitions between CQD and other combatives programs during the selection process, specifically between 2003 and 2009, to be completed before Losey retires and Szymanski takes over this year.