BY RICHARD LARDNER
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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, said 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 U.S. special operations forces, they said.
Hunter said 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.
U.S. military officials said they were looking into the issue.
Sharing rifles may seem inconsequential. It's not. The weapons, which are outfitted with telescopic targeting sights and laser pointers, are fine-tuned to individual specifications and become intensely personal pieces of gear.
"They want their rifles," Hunter said. "It's their lifeline. So let them keep their guns until they're assigned desk jobs at the Pentagon."
The problem isn't a lack of money, according to Hunter. Congress has frequently boosted the budgets of special operations forces in the years since the 9/11 attacks, he said. Rifles also are among the least expensive items the military buys, leading Hunter to question the priorities of Naval Special Warfare Command, the Coronado, California, organization that oversees the SEALs.
"There is so much wasteful spending," he said. "Money is not reaching the people it needs to reach."
Combat rifles can cost up to several thousand dollars depending upon the type of weapon and quality of the sights and other attachments. But the M-4 carbine, the standard combat rifle used by the military branches, cost less than $1,000 each when bought in bulk, according to Defense Department budget documents.
Hunter wrote last month to the Naval Special Warfare Command's leader, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, about the alleged weapon shortage and also asked him for a full accounting of how the command's budget was spent last year. Losey has told Hunter to expect a reply by Wednesday.
The congressman said in the Feb. 17 letter that the command's operation and maintenance account increased by nearly $11 million between 2014 and 2015. Yet it is "suffering from budgetary constraints and lack of funding impacting the ability to equip, train and support the SEALs' critical needs."
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top officer at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, and Losey's superior, told Hunter last week that he is aware of the congressman's concerns. "We're certainly running that down," Votel said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
Votel added that heavily used rifles need to undergo maintenance and that may be contributing to the perception of a shortage. But "we'll certainly take immediate action," Votel said, if it's determined the combat readiness of the SEALs is being degraded.
One of the SEALs who contacted Hunter blamed a slow, penny-pinching bureaucracy that rarely seeks input from the service members who use the gear, according to a brief excerpt of his comments that the congressman's office provided to The Associated Press.
Delays of as long as three to four years paralyze the acquisition system, the SEAL said. Once an item has finally been approved for purchase, new and better gear may be available, triggering the same lengthy screening process to see if it's worth getting instead.
Ammunition also is in short supply for training, the SEAL said, because the bulk of it is being used for combat missions.
Hunter also questioned whether the expense of expanding the size of the special operations forces could have left too little in the budget for weapons.
To meet heavy demand, the number of active-duty troops assigned to Special Operations Command, which includes SEALs, Army Green Berets and Rangers, and Air Force combat controllers, has grown dramatically during the past decade - from more than 33,600 to 56,000. There are 2,710 SEALs.
The overall budget for Special Operations Command is $10.4 billion and the Obama administration is proposing a $400 million increase over the current total for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
In his letter to Losey, Hunter also said he's received reports that the command is slow to settle official travel claims due in part to money shortages. This can cause personal and professional problems for SEALs, who hold high-level security clearances, he said.
Service members who hold U.S. government travel charge cards are ultimately responsible for any late fees, interest and accrued balance on the card. So if the government fails to quickly process a voucher, the service member might have to pay out of pocket or face an overdue bill. A lapse in payment could be forwarded to a credit agency, Hunter said, and that could result in a SEAL being declared ineligible to hold a clearance.
1. U.S. acceptance of coexistence as the only alternative to atomic war.
2. U.S. willingness to capitulate in preference to engaging in atomic war.
3. Develop the illusion that total disarmament of the United States would be a demonstration of moral strength.
4. Permit free trade between all nations regardless of Communist affiliation and regardless of whether or not items could be used for war.
5. Extension of long-term loans to Russia and Soviet satellites.
6. Provide American aid to all nations regardless of Communist domination.
7. Grant recognition of Red China. Admission of Red China to the U.N.
8. Set up East and West Germany as separate states in spite of Khrushchev's promise in 1955 to settle the German question by free elections under supervision of the U.N.
9. Prolong the conferences to ban atomic tests because the United States has agreed to suspend tests as long as negotiations are in progress.
10. Allow all Soviet satellites individual representation in the U.N.
11. Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind. If its charter is rewritten, demand that it be set up as a one-world government with its own independent armed forces. (Some Communist leaders believe the world can be taken over as easily by the U.N. as by Moscow. Sometimes these two centers compete with each other as they are now doing in the Congo.)
12. Resist any attempt to outlaw the Communist Party.
13. Do away with all loyalty oaths.
14. Continue giving Russia access to the U.S. Patent Office.
15. Capture one or both of the political parties in the United States.
16. Use technical decisions of the courts to weaken basic American institutions by claiming their activities violate civil rights.
17. Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers' associations. Put the party line in textbooks.
18. Gain control of all student newspapers.
19. Use student riots to foment public protests against programs or organizations which are under Communist attack.
20. Infiltrate the press. Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, policymaking positions.
21. Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.
22. Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to "eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms."
23. Control art critics and directors of art museums. "Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art."
24. Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them "censorship" and a violation of free speech and free press.
25. Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
26. Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as "normal, natural, healthy."
27. Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with "social" religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity which does not need a "religious crutch."
28. Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of "separation of church and state."
29. Discredit the American Constitution by calling it inadequate, old-fashioned, out of step with modern needs, a hindrance to cooperation between nations on a worldwide basis.
30. Discredit the American Founding Fathers. Present them as selfish aristocrats who had no concern for the "common man."
31. Belittle all forms of American culture and discourage the teaching of American history on the ground that it was only a minor part of the "big picture." Give more emphasis to Russian history since the Communists took over.
32. Support any socialist movement to give centralized control over any part of the culture--education, social agencies, welfare programs, mental health clinics, etc.
33. Eliminate all laws or procedures which interfere with the operation of the Communist apparatus.
34. Eliminate the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
35. Discredit and eventually dismantle the FBI.
36. Infiltrate and gain control of more unions.
37. Infiltrate and gain control of big business.
38. Transfer some of the powers of arrest from the police to social agencies. Treat all behavioral problems as psychiatric disorders which no one but psychiatrists can understand.
39. Dominate the psychiatric profession and use mental health laws as a means of gaining coercive control over those who oppose Communist goals.
40. Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.
41. Emphasize the need to raise children away from the negative influence of parents. Attribute prejudices, mental blocks and retarding of children to suppressive influence of parents.
42. Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition; that students and special-interest groups should rise up and use united force to solve economic, political or social problems.
43. Overthrow all colonial governments before native populations are ready for self-government.
44. Internationalize the Panama Canal.
45. Repeal the Connally reservation so the United States cannot prevent the World Court from seizing jurisdiction over nations and individuals alike.