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Saturday, May 6, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
At the Navy SEAL training center yesterday, Bob Wilson
checks out the new minisub's screws.

Minisub at Pearl
will carry SEALS
close to targets

The new 65-foot vessel is
here to begin sea trials

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The newest member of the Navy's Pacific Fleet submarine service at Pearl Harbor hasn't got its sea legs yet.

In fact, the only water it's seen has been a freshwater test pond in Maryland.

But for the next several months, the Navy and Northrop Grumman Corp. will be testing the military's newest and only minisubmarine.

The 65-foot sub is called the Advanced SEAL Delivery System and looks like a midnight-black miniature Japanese bullet train without wheels.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The minisub is reflected in the training pool.

The Navy can't say much about its capabilities -- like its speed and capacity, the depths it can reach or even if it can fire any torpedoes -- until the testing is over.

But Lt. Cmdr. Bob Wilson, executive officer for SEAL Delivery Team One at Pearl Harbor, said the minisub's greatest asset is its ability to delivery a team of Navy special-operations specialists -- SEALS -- and their equipment anyplace in the world.

The goal is to keep the divers in a warm and dry environment ready for combat, said Wilson.

Currently, Navy SEALS, Army Rangers or Marine Corps reconnaissance teams are carried by converted nuclear submarines, such as the Pearl Harbor-based USS Kamehameha, and launched from platforms attached to the deck of the vessels -- called dry-dock shelters -- while submerged.

But larger nuclear submarines can't always get in close, and those special-operations divers have to get suited up in scuba gear and remain in the water for long periods of time.

The Navy's newest minisub means the divers will remain dry for longer periods of time, ready for any operation, said Wilson.

Cmdr. Joe Fallone, program manager for the Navy Sea Systems Command, said the minisub program was started in the late 1980s. Only one vessel has been built so far, at a cost of $230 million.

Testing the 65-foot, 55-ton minisub is as complex as testing its regular 18,000-ton, 560-foot cousin, said Fallone, whose command is responsible for shepherding the project through its initial phases.

Lt. Cmdr. Dave Warner, Pacific Fleet submarine spokesman, said the USS Kamehameha, which is the only one of two submarines specially outfitted to carry the special cone-shaped shelters, is scheduled to be decommissioned next year. Six years ago, the Kamehameha shed its 16 Poseidon intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the tubes were converted for use by special-operations divers.

Two other Pearl Harbor Los Angeles-class nuclear submarines -- USS Charlotte and USS Greeneville -- have been configured to carry the new experimental minisub on their decks.

The battery-powered electric-motor minisub also can be transported by the Air Force's largest cargo jets -- the C-5 or the C-17 -- and by land on a flatbed truck and then coupled onto a nuclear submarine.

Wilson's unit is moving from Ford Island where it has been since 1994. Its first new building -- which includes a 326,000-gallon, 20-foot-deep freshwater test tank -- was completed in November.

Two other buildings, totaling nearly $24 million, are part of the military construction budget being reviewed by Congress. Wilson said current plans call for moving his 200-member unit to the Pearl City peninsula fronting Middle Loch by 2003.

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