A rare view of the 65-foot Advance SEAL Delivery System vehicle -- the latest Navy submersible used for covert operations and assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 at the Pearl City peninsula.

Slipping under the radar

The Navy's newest minisub
is operational after nearly
three years of testing

During its nearly three years of testing, the Navy's newest special-operations minisub would slip into Pearl Harbor waters at night to clandestinely survey the Pacific Fleet at anchor.

"We did it at least three times during the testing period, and they never detected us ... and I know they were looking for us," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Eggers, operations officer for SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1.

There is only one battery-powered, 65-foot black minisub, called the Advanced SEAL Delivery System. It is assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, which dedicated its new $47 million headquarters and maintenance complex Thursday. One of its first buildings fronting Pearl Harbor's Middle Loch includes a 326,000-gallon, 20-foot-deep freshwater test tank.

The Pacific Fleet's submarine force also has the only two nuclear attack submarines -- USS Greeneville and USS Charlotte -- that have been modified to carry on deck either the 65-foot minisub or a 35-ton, 39-foot-long dry-deck shelter.

The shelters are used to house smaller 22-foot-long, 2.5-ton torpedo-shaped submersibles, which also have a shorter range. Unlike the minisub, Navy SEALs using the smaller submersibles must wear scuba gear.

The larger, cigar-shaped minisub, which weighs 60 tons, is big enough to accommodate up to 16 SEALs, including two operators who don't have to slip into scuba gear until they are ready to start their mission.

Eggers, who has been in the Navy for 11 years, said the initial problems encountered by the minisub with its propeller system and batteries have been resolved.

"The screws (propellers) were redesigned," Eggers said. "They are no longer an issue."

The other problem, according to a 2003 General Accounting Office report, was the minisub's electrical system, which repeatedly shorted out and drained its silver-zinc batteries more quickly than the Navy projected. The GAO report said the program was to cost $527 million, but it is now predicted to rise to more than $2 billion.

Eggers said that problem was resolved and the minisub is now powered by 14 silver-zinc batteries encased in titanium bottles.

"The amount of power is truly impressive, given the size of this vessel," said Eggers, a Navy SEAL.

The Navy is exploring the possibility of using batteries power by lithium ions.

"It took impressive technology to keep this submersible so small and yet so strong," Eggers said.

The vessel's hull is made of the same materials that make up the F-117 Stealth jet fighter or a B-2 bomber, Eggers said, "but this has many more layers."

"This vehicle was built to take a shot," he added, pointing out that titanium was used as fasteners.

Like a submarine, the ASDS vehicle has its own life-support and propulsion systems.

"However, unlike a submarine, it is not intended for long-range oceans transits," Eggers said.

Much of what the ASDS vehicles can do is classified, although past reports have said the Navy wants it to go as far as 115 miles on a battery charge and dive as deep as 200 feet.

The 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, then coupled onto a nuclear submarine.

Eggers said when the ASDS vehicle arrived at Pearl Harbor in May 2000, it had been tested only in a freshwater pond in Maryland. Its goal was and still is to delivery a team of Navy special-operations SEALs and their equipment any place in the world, keeping them in a warm and dry environment as long as possible. After nearly three years of deep-water testing in Hawaii, it became operational in September.

Dry-deck shelters, like the three maintained at Pearl City Peninsula, were first tested on the Pearl Harbor-based submarine USS Kamehameha. They are used to launch Navy SEALs, Army Rangers or Marine Corps reconnaissance teams while submerged. The divers would generally be launched while riding in an 22-foot SEAL Delivery Team Vehicle. Five such submersibles are maintained at Pearl Harbor.

Divers enter through a hatch located at the bottom of the minisub.

Eggers said much of the ASDS vehicle's operations are controlled by computers.

"Computers can even drive the boat for us," Eggers said. "You can program with your route and navigation plans and the computers will do the rest."

There are numerous sonar and radar devices. What looks like a periscope rising from the center of the minisub is actually a communication mast, Eggers said.

"There is a periscope, but it is not one you normally see on a submarine," he said. "This one is actually a video camera."

The Navy plans to convert four Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines to guided missile submarines and modify them to carry up to two ASDS vehicles. Virginia-class attack submarines and the last of the Seawolf class, the USS Jimmy Carter, also will be configured to carry ASDS vehicles. Last summer, the Greeneville took the minisub on a deployment to the Persian Gulf with Expeditionary Strike Group 1.

Eggers said the special-operations people would like get three more ASDS vehicles.

The ASDS was designed and developed by Northrop Grumman Corp., Naval Sea Systems Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.

SEAL Delivery Team 1 is made up of 45 officers and 230 enlisted sailors. It moved to Ford Island from San Diego in June 1994. Construction on the 22-acre Pearl City site began two years ago and was completed in February.


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