- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is backing the Navy’s decision to change how SEALs are trained in hand-to-hand combat, dismissing questions of favoritism for retired commandos cashing in on teaching the mixed martial arts techniques now used.

In a letter to a congressman, Mr. Carter made no mention of the kind of broad investigation that Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, had sought.

Naval Special Warfare Command abandoned a long-used, close-quarters technique several years ago in favor of mixed martial arts — the grappling, leg-whipping and boxing the public sees in televised “ultimate fighter” cage matches.

The switch raised questions of favoritism for retired SEALs who teach MMA, prompting Mr. Hunter to ask in a follow-up letter that Mr. Carter order a Pentagon inspector-general probe.

Mr. Hunter, a former Marine Corps officer, argues that the commercial system Close Quarters Defense had served SEALs well for years as an all-in-one firearms and pugilist defense, and there was no reason to replace it.

He wants an investigation completed before Rear Adm. Timothy G. Szymanski, who played a role in switching to MMA, takes command next month of Naval Special Warfare in Coronado, California. Naval Special Warfare, or NSW, is where candidates come to attempt the grueling sea-air-land challenges to become a Navy SEAL.

“The probe is necessary to make a determination of whether the next leader of NSW corrupted the contracting process,” said Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff.

Mr. Hunter initially asked in April for Mr. Carter to review the Navy’s decision. The Pentagon chief responded in June through a letter to the congressman from Air Force Maj. Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost. She is vice director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, the planning and operations arm of the Joint Chiefs chairman.

Gen. Ovost wrote that the Navy “reviewed its training needs and determined that the combative program requires multiple techniques, instead of a single system, to provide the tools and flexibility to conduct operations. The program is receiving outstanding reviews.”

“NSW directed that combatives be taught by active duty operators returning from the front line using current techniques,” the general added. “The military-led instructor training is supplemented by contracts with a variety of skill sets including: boxing, Muay Thai, judo, wrestling, grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, in accordance with the Navy Tactics, Techniques and Procedures Publication entitled ‘Combatives.’”

Finally, Gen. Ovost wrote that the Pentagon inspector general did review NSW contracts.

But Mr. Hunter said the MMA contract was not one of 35 scrutinized in the inspector general’s random reviews.

In a new July 6 letter to the defense secretary, Mr. Hunter asked for a Pentagon inspector-general investigation. The Pentagon did not comment to The Washington Times on the Hunter letter.

In his letter, Mr. Hunter asserted that the current NSW commander, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, has stated that MMA “do not relate to NSW operations.”

But Adm. Losey disputed that account.

“Rep Hunter was misinformed,” Adm. Losey said in a statement to The Washington Times. “The current combative system evolved by Naval Special Warfare, aggregates martial arts styles, systems and techniques relevant to NSW requirements, and by definition is mixed martial arts. Our system is proven and tailored to our experience in operational environments.”

Mr. Hunter said in his letter: “NSW course managers have stated that MMS is an inadequate program for SEALs and could even result in injury or death.”

He also said the Pentagon has refused to supply him with the specific bidding information that led the command to drop Close Quarters Defense.

“To my knowledge, the [Close Quarters Defense] was rated as the highest performer with the lowest price,” he wrote.

Navy officials say the House Armed Services Committee looked into how the MMA contracts were awarded and did not register any complaints.

Mr. Hunter urged the Senate Armed Services Committee to investigate Adm. Szymanski’s role before approving his promotion to a second star, but the panel declined.

The Washington Times reported in April on a confidential 2010 NSW command investigation into charges of favoritism toward ex-SEALs who ran two MMA gyms on the east and west coasts.

The Times also reported that the decision to drop Close Quarters Defense came after it was targeted in an internal deficiency report, one of whose authors was then-Capt. Timothy Szymanski.

The report of now-retired Rear Adm. Edward G. Winters found some irregularities, such as a violation of fraternization policy by an active-duty officer in the operation of a private MMA gym. But he did not conclude the contract switch was due to favoritism.

Still, he ordered a ban on command money being spent on “mixed martial arts training hobbyist or sport fighting/tournament style combatives.”

Mr. Kasper said the Navy has not answered how the ban was put in place since outside MMA instructors did receive contracts.

Navy officials speak highly of Adm. Szymanski, a terrorist-hunting member of SEAL Team Six whose latest post is assistant commander of Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It planned the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

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