"Citizens in Support of the Sea Services"

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"Mission Success Assured"
Advanced SEAL Delivery System Viewed As Major Force Multiplier

By SCOTT C. TRUVER and
MORGAN A. HEAVENER

Dr. Scott C. Truver is vice president, national security studies, of the Anteon Corporation; Morgan Heavener was a submarine warfare programs analyst at Anteon's Center for Security Strategies and Operations and is now pursuing a law degree.

 

America's naval forces provide effective and flexible capabilities for projecting offensive and defensive power ashore in support of U.S. and allied military forces and coalition partners. When acting as an early responder in a crisis, the Navy will control and prepare the battlespace for other U.S. and allied forces arriving in-theater, establishing the data networks that will allow follow-on forces to "plug and play" in an existing knowledge grid, and identifying and attacking an enemy's vulnerabilities ashore.

Nonetheless, and despite their own formidable capabilities, U.S. naval forces operating in the littorals increasingly will find themselves confronted with a broad spectrum of threats posed by enemy ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, mines, and biological and chemical weapons--and, as the USS Cole tragedy made clear, may also be subject to attacks by small craft manned by suicide crews.

How to get there from here will not be an easy proposition, moreover, and for that reason the Navy is putting in place the broad-spectrum warfare systems needed to assure access. Among numerous sophisticated undersea warfare systems now or soon to be in the pipeline is the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS), a special operations mini-submarine that can be mated to a full-scale submarine and carried to forward areas.

Although facing some challenges, the ASDS is expected to significantly improve the ability of Navy SEALs and other combat swimmers and Special Operations Forces (SOF) to: (a) conduct and sustain clandestine operations in high-threat environments; (b) contribute to the knowledge grid available to fleet commanders; and (c) keep future adversaries on the defensive.

Cold, Cramped, and Slow

The Mk VIII SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) already in service are "wet" mini-submarines that can carry about six to eight SEALs--one of them piloting the vehicle--wearing SCUBA-type breathing apparatus. The approximately 15 SDVs in the Navy's inventory are not even close, though, to being state-of-the-art--they create personnel-exposure problems, and have significant speed and endurance constraints. "They are cramped, short-legged, slow, and, in some climates, very cold," one Navy official noted. "SDV operations are like cramming as many people as you can in the trunk of a small car, opening it up to the sea, and subjecting them to whatever military or environmental hazards lie ahead.

"Certainly the SEALs are up to the task," he continued, "but SDVs contribute to personnel fatigue that could put the mission in jeopardy."

Unlike the ASDS, which is directly "married" to its host submarine, SDVs are carried in Dry-Deck Shelters (DDSs--special hangars attached to the submarine); the SDV is floated out of and into the DDS during a mission. The SDVs are "homeported" at two Navy bases­­with SEAL Delivery Team (SDVT) One in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and with SDVT Two in Little Creek, Va.

The operational difficulties of relying upon obsolescent SDVs were underscored by a recent accident in Hawaii. On the evening of 24 April, a team of Navy SEALs from Hawaii and from the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif., were in Morro Bay, training in a Mk VIII SDV. According to a Navy spokesman, Cdr. Jeffery Alderson, the SDV crew apparently did not detect whatever the craft struck­­a buoy anchor or chain, a jetty, a reef, or something. "Basically there was a malfunction," Alderson said. "The SDV appears to have run into something. We are not sure what it hit."

Working from an admittedly meager baseline, the ASDS will provide a quantum leap in SOF undersea mobility. The ASDS is faster, quieter, and has much greater depth and range than the SDVs. It is, moreover, a "dry" heated submarine and possesses a "lock-out/lock-in" capability for its crew of two and up to as many as 16 SOF personnel--"without their equipment," according to Norman Polmar's Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet (17th ed., 2001). The ASDS will be capable of remaining on station for several days, significantly widening the time envelope needed to conduct the missions assigned to it.

Mod I: Major Improvements

"While the ASDS provides unparalleled long-range insertion capability for the SEALs, the SDV continues to remain an extremely capable short-range SEAL insertion craft," said Capt. William H. McRaven, commander of Naval Special Warfare Group One, based in San Diego. With the advent of the new Mk VIII Mod I, everything from the hull to the electronics is improved; consequently, he said, the new SDV "is exceptionally reliable, easier to maintain, and, in conjunction with the SSN/Dry Deck Shelter, is unmatched operationally."

Built by Northrop Grumman Ocean Systems in Annapolis, Md., the ASDS has been designed to operate from modified Los Angeles-class or Seawolf-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), as well as from the Navy's new Virginia-class SSNs or the proposed SSGN (nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine) variants of Ohio-class Trident SSBNs (nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines). It also can operate from the well deck of an amphibious ship.

The Naval Sea Systems Command is overseeing the ASDS program under the sponsorship of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The program--which encompasses development of the ASDS submarine and its land transport vehicle (LTV) as well as host-submarine conversions--is "a top warfighter priority at SOCOM," according to a program official.

Navy spokesmen are understandably noncommittal about the types of missions the ASDS will carry out, and about its physical and operating characteristics. The vehicle is obviously seen, though, as a significant force multiplier for both the Navy and SOCOM.

Almost all of the current "states of concern"­­the new State Department term that replaced the now-out-of-favor "rogue states"­­are littoral states, including Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. With just an eight-foot diameter, the ASDS will be capable of operating in almost all of the world's harbors and rivers. "Give me a depth of ten feet," the same Navy official noted, "and I'll get the ASDS in and out­­with mission- success assured!"

The ASDS has three compartments: control, lock-out, and passenger-cargo spaces. It provides a SEAL rapid lock-out/lock-in capability as well as a hyperbaric chamber treatment capability. Its battery-propulsion system and streamlined shape, along with other stealth features, translates into low acoustic, magnetic, and visual signatures. Its 1,200-kW/hr Ag-Zn batteries are capable of being recharged by the host submarine while underway.

In addition to being covertly transportable by a host attack or converted SOF/guided-missile submarine, the ASDS can be carried by land or by C-5 or C-17 transport aircraft.

Full-Spectrum Capabilities

The ASDS is designed to cope with the operating environments and against the spectrum of threats that the host submarine is expected to face, in both littoral and open-ocean scenarios. It will be capable of use, while mated, in the full operating envelope of the submarine--i.e., at depths in excess of 800 feet and at speeds greater than 28 knots.

The ASDS's own operating profile, however impressive against littoral threats, is much less demanding. Speed and range improvements are critical, for example, but its ability to carry out stealth operations is even more vital to success.

"ASDS will significantly enhance Naval Special Warfare's capability to conduct complex and demanding operations in littoral environments," said Rear Adm. Eric T. Olson, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command. "The SEALs it carries will be safer, warmer, drier and more rested, and they will be able to conduct repetitive or sustained operations at an unprecedented level. Further, ASDS will enable Naval Special Warfare forces to support their operational commanders in mission areas that extend beyond the simple delivery and recovery of SEALs."

The construction of the lead ASDS already has been completed and shallow-water testing is currently underway at Pearl Harbor. By alternating the testing among three submarines, the test program will not adversely affect the operating schedule of the Pacific Fleet's submarine force­­a matter of concern as force levels continue to drop to the 55 SSNs called for in the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review.

Delivery of ASDS-1 to the fleet is anticipated sometime this summer. The Navy expects construction of five follow-on ASDS vehicles to begin in fiscal year 2002, at a rate of one ship every other year. The service has a requirement for six vehicles, and funding has been approved for three. (Polmar suggests the total requirement is as many as 11 ASDS vehicles.) While negotiations with Northrop Grumman continue, Navy program officials estimate that the in-production unit cost of the vehicle­­exclusive of the land transport vehicle and host-submarine conversions­­will average about $120 million.

The Navy plans to base the ASDS vehicles with SDVTs One and Two, which will use them to give the Navy a much-enhanced capability to operate clandestinely­­any time and anywhere. *

 

 

 

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