Examining the Differences in Training for SAS and Navy SEALs

Author: Eric Sof

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To compare the training and selection processes of SAS and Navy SEALs, it is helpful to understand more about the roles and responsibilities of these elite special operations forces. The SAS and Navy SEALs are highly trained, disciplined, and motivated soldiers who undergo rigorous training to prepare for their roles.

Introduction

To compare the training of SAS and Navy SEALs, it is crucial to consider several factors. These may include the intensity and duration of the training, the expectations and requirements for candidates, the speed of deployment, the availability of resources and equipment, and each unit’s specific skills and capabilities.

It is also worth considering the broader cultural and institutional differences between the two units, such as the prestige and reputation of their respective training programs. Ultimately, it is difficult to definitively say which unit has a better training experience or is superior in any specific aspect, as the SAS and Navy SEALs are highly respected and capable special operations forces.

Ultimately there may be some chest-beating when members of any of those meet in the marketplace, but they will all recognize the hard work it took to achieve the degree. Both are Tier 1 units in their countries—the same as the world’s elite forces. When a SEAL and SAS meet, they acknowledge a kindred spirit. Sure, there may be some chest-beating and bragging, but they almost always relish the opportunity to work and train together.

They train in different ways and for other things. Better training will always be subjective. One potential difference between Navy SEALs and SAS is their preferred operating environments. According to this statement, Navy SEALs may feel more comfortable and like to operate in marine environments, while SAS may choose to operate on land.

How hard is SEAL selection and training?

Navy SEALs focus on maritime operations, direct action raids, and special reconnaissance operations and excel in all three areas. Their training, operations, and daily life revolve heavily around the concept of the team, with an emphasis on the importance of teamwork and unity within the unit. For SEALs, the team is a central part of their way of life; everything they do is for the team’s benefit.

Navy SEALs during BUD/s training in the pool
SAS vs. Navy SEALs: Navy SEALs during BUD/s training (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Duration

Navy SEALs undergo a rigorous training process that includes Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) School, Parachute Jump School, and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT). This initial training period lasts more than 12 months and is followed by an additional 18 months of pre-deployment and specialized training. The extensive preparation process for SEALs ensures they are fully equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in their roles.

Washout rate

Approximately 1,000 candidates begin Navy SEAL training each year, with around 250 ultimately completing the program and joining the roughly 2,000 active SEALs divided among nine active duty teams on the East and West Coasts. Not all candidates who begin SEAL training will complete the program, and some may choose to drop out or be forced out during the process.

How hard is SAS selection and training?

The British SAS shares many similarities with the Navy SEALs but does not have a focus on maritime operations. A more accurate comparison might be between the SEALs and the Special Boat Service (SBS). However, even when comparing these two units, it cannot be easy to make direct comparisons as they have different areas of expertise and approaches to their work.

British SAS selection course
SAS vs. Navy SEALs: The British SAS selection course is the toughest in the world (Photo: SAS)

The SAS is known for its expertise in hostage rescue and counter-terrorism operations. It is renowned for its rigorous selection and training program, including challenging physical tests such as cross-country marches, jungle treks, and mountain climbs. In comparison, the SEALs have a specialized department known as DEVGRU (known as SEAL Team 6) that focuses on similar operations. Overall, the SAS and SEALs are highly respected special operations forces with unique capabilities and expertise.

Duration

The process of training and selection for SAS candidates is long, taking approximately 32 weeks (6 months). After completing this initial training, candidates are sent to the regiment as troopers, where they undergo further basic training related to their specialty. The entire training process for SAS personnel may take up to three years, depending on the availability of specialized training programs.

Washout rate

British Special Air Service (SAS) selection is renowned for being among the most challenging in the world. The pass rate for SAS selection is typically low, averaging around 10%, and has been as low as 3-4% in some cases, particularly during the 1990s. In some instances in the late 1960s, no candidates were successful in SAS selection. The high difficulty level in SAS selection reflects the rigorous and demanding nature of the training and the expectation of excellence from SAS personnel.

Conclusion

It isn’t easy to directly compare SAS and Navy SEAL selection processes due to the individualized nature of SAS selection and the team-oriented approach of SEAL selection. SAS selection includes long ruck marches and individual events, while SEAL includes team-based exercises and training. While it could be argued that SEALs may be better suited to working in a team environment, it is essential to note that both SAS and SEAL selection processes are highly challenging and have high dropout rates, with SAS selection having a 90% dropout rate compared to a 75% dropout rate for SEAL selection.

Chris Craighead: SAS operator during terrorist attack in Kenya
SAS operator assisting Kenyan security forces during the terrorist attack on DusitD2 Hotel Complex in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo: Getty)

Regardless of the specific selection process, it is clear that organizations such as the Navy SEALs, SAS, Spetsnaz, Army Special Forces, and Delta Force are all highly professional and capable special operations forces. They are trained to be deadly and efficient in their tasks but are also expected to maintain high standards of professionalism and not engage in wrongdoing. These elite units have commonalities in their capabilities and effectiveness as specialized military forces.

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13 thoughts on “Examining the Differences in Training for SAS and Navy SEALs”

  1. While ‘regular’ SEALs could carry out a hostage rescue, they receive only limited training in the advanced close quarter battle skills required. Team 6 and the SAS are both also extensively trained to conduct deniable undercover operations where their very presence is unacknowledged.

  2. You forgot 2 significant differences.
    1. SEALs are Tier 2 special forces. Only DEVGRU, which is a separate unit is Tier 1. SAS are Tier 1.
    2. You can join SEAL team as a civilian, to serve in the SAS you must be a serving soldier and already be of exceptional ability to be approved to go for selection.

  3. MATT – Get your facts straights, you can request SEAL training as a civilian – as I did, then AFTER YOU ENLIST, you’re guaranteed the opportunity to become a SEAL candidate and entitles you to certain bonuses and benefits WHEN YOU ENLIST. Also Matt, There are 500 to 600 DEVGRU SEALs and 500 to 600 SAS soldiers. It’s colloquial knowledge that the DEVGRU SEALs and SAS are fairly equal with the exception that SAS does nothing maritime, really shoud be compared to Delta Force as it’s a more equal comparisan. SNeither force can stand up to DEVGRU SEAL team. So all in all, the DEVRGU SEALs are the more elite military Special Force. Tier 2 SEALs are an incredible force, but obviously, there has to be a pool to pull from when operators go down or retire. Should throw in Russian Spetsnaz, and Sayeret Matkal with SAS and Delta Force, they’re at least as good.

  4. During the gulf war US rangers dropped their packs and ran while the Australian SAS called for an air strike over their heads
    How many Seal team recruits have died during training? Yet 3 SAS have.

  5. Brit SAS does have a maritime unit designated boat troop,along with vehicle troop ,a dedicated airbourne unit ,and a mountain troop ,along with our SBS in joint operations with the skill set they have ,they can pretty much take on what ever is necessary.

  6. was a SEAL,left, and worked in the field in th CIA for 12 years, before retiring a few years ago.

    Tier 1-
    1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
    SAS
    DEVGRU (Team 6)

    Regular SEALs were tier 2, compared to those 3. Obviously, we were capable, and did extremely well in the missions we participated in. However, those 3 listed above are the best of the best.

    As far as SAS vs Team 6 vs DELTA? All are equally good overall, but they have their advantages and disadvantages in different scenarios.

  7. SEALs are NOT SOLDIERS, they are SAILORS. They go thru Great Lakes just like I did and every other SAILOR.

  8. Frank USN a reminder that the SAS have four troops that rotate roles one of those roles being amphibious so the SAS is maritime trained but SBS is designated to water full time. Overall Seal team 6 is without question a tough contender to the SAS but SAS does slightly overtake

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