How do the U.S. Navy SEALs and the British SAS differ?

Author: Eric Sof

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All the time the people asking about the difference between U.S. Navy SEALs and British Special Air Service (SAS). Firstly, people think that they are very similar but that is not true. US Navy SEALs could be easier compared to British Special Boat Service (SBS) while the Delta would be more appropriate to compare with SAS.

The difference

But if you still want to read about the difference between Navy SEALs and SAS then it is much less than is being played upon here. The Naval aspect (i.e. boats, scuba) or comparison to SAS is primarily semantics and a tiny part of what SEALs do. 90% of SEAL training is directly correlatable to SAS training. Both units are Tier 1 in their countries.

The Navy SEALs participate in every role the SAS participates in for the UK and the reverse is true with the small exception of waterborne exercises which is probably less than 10% of all SEAL activity. Being able to insert undetected via SDV is simply an extra methodology for getting to the target that SAS are unlikely to share. Navy SEALs just spent a decade in Afghanistan and scuba wasn’t a part of it.

Special Air Service - SAS operators are posing with their weaponry
The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. The SAS was founded in 1941 as a regiment and later reconstituted as a corps in 1950. 

The one real difference that I have seen is that SAS has been used more extensively inside the UK. Only Red Cell (a small detachment of SEAL Team Six before it was DevGru) was given the operational leeway to train for action on US soil. In the United States of America, Delta might be the only unit with legal authority to act on US soil. The SAS saw a lot of action in Northern Ireland during the ’70s and ’80s which under similar circumstances might have been handled by the FBI for the US.

Navy SEALs come from the water warfare doctrine trained to carry out special operations in, around, and over water.

SAS comes from the doctrine of Direct Action Paramilitary Assaults. That being said. SAS was trained to carry out assaults on enemy’s HVTs, AAWs, compounds, and strategic outposts.

US Navy SEALs first stepped on the spotlight in the Vietnam era (war) and they were at the time an Unconventional warfare unit tasked to acquire Intel and strike OPFOR key targets.


Analyzing all these data, my conclusion, looking at the bigger picture, would be that the only difference between them is the type of training. The way they train. And the mindset & Way of doing “things”.

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