According to a report in The Hill newspaper, which we first linked here on SOFREP back in September, the Navy SEALs are in the process of procuring a new mini-submersible vehicle to complement (and one day, perhaps replace) their fleet of SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs). I thought I would go a little further in depth on these new mini-subs, since they are a significant new capability for the SEAL teams.
While SDVs are “wet” submersibles, meaning that the SEALs are exposed to the water during the entirety of their operation, and must breathe from a self-contained breathing apparatus while operating them, the new vessels will be “dry,” or pressurized in the same manner as a full-sized submarine.
The new dry submersibles should help keep the SEALs more comfortable in the course of their underwater operations, thus allowing for longer mission profiles, and access to waters possibly heretofore too hostile because of cold temperatures. This is where the new vessels are a value added for the SEALs.
According to The Hill, the new mini-subs will be called Dry Combat Submersibles, and will allow SEALs more effective inter-squad communications as well. Instead of the usual use of hand signals and unintelligible grunting throughout an underwater operation, which currently often defines underwater communications for the SEALs, the dry mini-subs will have an internal communications system for use by the naval commandos while in transit.
Former SEAL and current Montana Republican congressman Ryan Zinke stated that the missions these SDV-based SEALs are undertaking are “national command authority missions. Can’t fail. So in those niche missions, it’s really important we have technology that’s cutting edge.”
The new Dry Combat Submersibles would seem to be just that, if reports about them are true. The Hill was able to tour a demonstration model of one such vehicle near Norfolk, Virginia, and reported that the “demonstrator” was about 39 feet long, seven to eight feet in diameter, and weighed about 30 tons. The vehicle has also traveled up to five knots for 60 nautical miles, according to The Hill, which might or might not be its normal operational capability, depending upon how much the Navy revealed to the newspaper during its tour.
The first vehicles were reportedly to be delivered in July of 2018, and would become operational as early as the fall of that year. Final testing would not be completed, however, until 2019. As with all new weapons and transportation systems, those schedules are always subject to changes and delays.
The Hill went on to report that the new mini-subs would hold eight SEAL operators and their gear, as well as a navigator and a pilot. They would be constructed with three separate compartments: one for the navigator and pilot, one for the SEALs in transit, and one from which the SEALs would lock in and out of the vehicle to undertake their dive operations. This is also significant, since it frees up the SEALs from having to focus on the operation of the vessel, as well as navigating to the objective. This is another added benefit of the new mini-subs.
The Dry Combat Submersibles would also be launched from the surface, instead of from a dry dock shelter (DDS) as current SDVs are. This means that, instead of being transported to the area of operations on the back of a Navy submarine, then launched underwater, the new vehicles would be lowered into the water by a crane or from a surface ship. This is a significant change, and should allow for easier deployment, as DDS operations are complicated and time consuming.
The total cost for the initial phase of the project, which would include three new vehicles, is reported to be $236 million. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) finalized the contract with Lockheed Martin in July of 2016. After delivery of the first submersible in July 2018, there is an option to procure two more by 2020.
While this appears to be a significant new operational platform for the SEAL teams, this author, at least, is a bit surprised that the Navy provided so much information about them to the press. Historically, these types of programs have remained shrouded in secrecy. Surely there is more that was not reported, and which shall remain classified. Either way, the new vessels appear to be a worthwhile addition to the Navy SEAL teams.
Image courtesy of the US Navy