Magazine article National Defense

New Mini-Sub Gives SEALS Extra Speed, Range, Payload. (Unconventional Warriors)

Magazine article National Defense

New Mini-Sub Gives SEALS Extra Speed, Range, Payload. (Unconventional Warriors)

Article excerpt

If the ongoing U.S. campaign against terrorist groups expands to places like Somalia, Iraq or Indonesia, that could result in more missions for the U.S. Navy SEALs, who have seen their role in land warfare grow in recent years.

To improve their ability to quickly reach the battle zone, the SEALs plan to buy several 65-foot submersibles, which would transport them from a submarine to the shore. The SEALs view this vehicle as a significant improvement over their current vehicle, because it keeps them dry during the ride.

The submersible, called the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) has been in development since 1994, but the program experienced delays in the early going. Tests are under way currently, and it is nor clear when the system will be deployed and operational.

The Navy office responsible for the development of ASDS declined to comment for this article. Some aspects of this program are classified, but Forecast International naval analyst Stuart Slade noted that the secrecy surrounding the ASDS is to be expected, given the sensitive nature of the SEAL missions. The vehicles, he said, "will be valuable pieces of equipment." As time goes on, Slade predicted, "they will sink even more from the public gaze, because they work best when people don't know about them and are in doubt about the capabilities."

Naval special-warfare is about conducting clandestine insertions and extractions of SEAL squads in unfriendly environments.

The SEALs, who operate from the sea, land or air, are highly trained unconventional troops. There are currently six SEAL teams and two SEAL delivery vehicle teams, equally divided between the East and Weast coasts of the United States. Every team has 10 platoons of 16 men each, with an additional headquarters platoon and a 20-man support element.

So far, the SEAL delivery teams have been using the wet submersibles called the SEAL Delivery Systems or SDVs. With the SDVs, however, SEALS often have to spend extended periods of time in cold ocean water during long offshore transits, donning only a wet or a dry suit. That can take a toll on their physical and mental performance. Sometimes, SEALs have to warm themselves on the beach, before continuing with their mission.

The Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has made the ASDS one of its "flagship" acquisition programs (National Defense, Feb. 2001). The program currently is managed by the Naval Sea Systems Command. A NAVSEA spokeswoman said the ASDS currently is undergoing deepwater tests in Hawaii, but she could not provide details.

When deployed, ASDS is expected to improve the effectiveness of long-range operations, because the SEALs would be delivered to their destinations better rested and better equipped. They also would be able to conduct shore surveillance prior to landing.

Other Navies

Slade noted that these types of submersibles are found in other navies. "There are a lot of similar craft around the world," he said. The Italians and Russians, for example, have used comparable vehicles extensively. "The Russians have a very large fleet of these types of boats," he said. The ASDS is not reinventing anything, he said, "because there is a good basis of design art to work from."

It's taken a long time for the SEALs to get this capability, because their original missions did not require such a vehicle, Slade explained. The SEALs descended from the Cold War-era underwater demolition teams, which would be sent to beaches to remove mines and other obstacles. During World War II, the SEALs served as "frogmen swimming around," finding and removing mines or other explosives, Slade said. Over time, they started operating on land, which increased their demands for new combat equipment.

"We are seeing a change in equipment profiles dictated by a change in operational requirements," said Slade.

In a recent study, the Rand Corp.--a federally funded think-tank-outlined recent developments in the ASDS program. …

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