"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
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
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
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.
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. *