After an absence of 11 years, the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) decided to reactivate SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two (SDVT-2) to serve as the dedicated East Coast SDV unit.
An SDV task unit is an operational unit responsible for planning, coordinating, and operating submersible systems. Usually, SDV task units have numerous SDV/SEAL platoons. The SEALs serving on SDV teams have the same training as their brethren serving on regular SEAL teams but also receive additional specialized training on the operation of SDVs. SDVs are used to clandestinely transport commandos on their target. They have the ability to stealthily remain underwater for many hours and can evade most underwater detection systems.
SDVs and midget subs were first utilized during World War II. In 1942, Italian frogmen used SDVs to successfully attack the British fleet in Alexandria. The British later responded by using midget submarines to attack and damage the German battleship Tirpitz, which was nesting in a well-protected fjord in Norway.
Despite the numerous capabilities SDV teams offer to a commander, they also face a number of limiting factors. For instance, SDV operations are restricted by the speed and distance of their underwater vehicles. Environmental factors, such as water temperatures and sea conditions, can adversely affect SDVT operations. Extensive training and practice are necessary to maintain operational proficiency in the various underwater systems employed by SDV teams, and to develop the functional skills required to maneuver from a dry dock submersible—the area of a submarine that’s flooded to allow SEAL operators to exit. The SDVs are also limited in the amount of equipment they can carry.
With regard to logistical support, according to a capabilities report by the Army Command and General Staff College, “SDV task units require a host submarine as the optimum means of mobility to and from the objective area. SDV task units require a support base for extended employment. Specific logistics are required to support an SDV task unit that is unique to SDV teams.”
The reactivation of SDVT-2 highlights the strategic shift currently underway in the NSWC. Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations are gradually ebbing away, and the SEAL leadership is once again preparing for peer-level conflicts. And the South China Sea, where Chinese military is swamping the place with artificial islands, could be a point of interest for American frogmen.
First established in 1983, SDVT-2 was based on the East Coast at Little Creek in Virginia for over 25 years. It disbanded in 2008 as the Navy sought to consolidate its SDV operations. The other SDVT unit, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One, is now stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Both units will fall under the command of Naval Special Warfare Group Three.