SDV Mark 11s, Dry Deck Shelters, and DCS Block I and II are all programs that are on track and moving forward
According to PEO Maritime, Captain Kate Dolloff (USN), at the virtual SOCOM conference in mid-May 2020, the progress includes fielding of new next-generation mini-subs (i.e.: submersibles) such as the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Mark Eleven (SDV 11), the sustainment and modernization of the six Legacy-age Dry Deck Shelters (DDS), and the testing and building of the Dry Combat Submersible (DCS) Block Ones in addition to studying the fielding of DCS Block Two.
Mark 11 SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Undergoing Testing Trials
According to virtual SOFIC 2020, the improved next-generation 22-foot long SEAL Delivery Vehicle Mark 11s (SDV MK 11) is a new build, wet, free-flooding miniature submersible that is being built by Teledyne Brown Engineering at a sole-source contract of $178 million for ten SDV MK 11s. SOCOM calls them the “Shallow Water Combat Submersible,” designed to insert and extract SEALs in high-threat environments, usually under the cover of darkness at night.
“The big takeaway here is we’re fielding a much more capable platform to the fleet, and we’ve got it out there with the operators…[we’re] really trying to get them the best capabilities that we can for a wet submersible.”
Captain Kate Dolloff at vSOFIC, May 2020.
According to SOCOM PEO Maritime, the Mark 11s are improved SDV versions with better capabilities that will replace the older Mark 8 SDVs on a one-for-one basis. MK 11s SDVs are twelve inches longer, six inches taller and wider, and 4,000 pounds heavier than the SDV Mark 8s.
The virtual SOCOM brief stated that SDV MK 11 submersibles Number One and Number Two were delivered in May and June 2018 whereas Number Three was delivered in March and Number Four was delivered in April of 2020. Mini-sub Number Five is planned for June of 2020 whereas Numbers Six to Ten are scheduled for delivery in FY 21 and FY 22, respectively. Submersibles One and Two are currently in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for fleet familiarization testing and training and SDV MK 11 Numbers Three and Four are currently in government acceptance testing.
Both SDV MK 8s and MK 11s still require the use of wetsuits and scuba breathing gear, exposing the crew and the riding SEALs to a possible (long) ride in a cold, wet, and dark flooded interior. Thus, SOCOM is currently working on upgrading and enhancing the SEAL divers’ Maritime Environmental Protection thermal regulation of heating and cooling of the SEAL divers’ wetsuits and improving the communications between diver-to-vehicle and diver-to-diver. SOCOM intends to remedy some of these SDV issues with the Dry Combat Submersibles that will allow the crew and the riding SEALs to stay inside a warm, dry, and heated mini-sub’s interior.
Captain Dolloff said that:
“…the big event this summer  is the launch and recovery [of an SDV MK 11] from a Navy submarine.”
At the Leonardo virtual Expo Conference (virtual due to COVID-19) in July, 2020, a viewer in the audience postulated on if the Leonardo’s Black Scorpion™ miniature ultra-lightweight torpedo could be installed inside the SOCOM SDV MK 11 or the Dry Combat Submersible. The Leonardo virtual Expo presenter said that incorporating Black Scorpion torpedoes into the SDV MK 11 or DCS would require installing five-inch diameter torpedo tubes that can allow for six Black Scorpion torpedoes on the port and starboard sides, for a total inventory of twelve torpedoes per SDV MK 11 or DCS. Leonardo stated that this engineering challenge of arming a covert submersible with miniature torpedoes has not been tried, but the Black Scorpion has been installed on a 10-meter long boat.
SOCOM is Upgrading and Modernizing its Dry Deck Shelters
PEO Maritime’s vSOFIC May 2020 brief stated that SOCOM and the Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM) has six Legacy-age Dry Deck Shelters (DDS). Five DDSs are undergoing sustainment, safety certifications, and maintenance to prolong their service lives with work being done to modernize one shelter by incorporating field changes. These shelters are either tailored for piggyback attachment to the back of Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) with other DDSs tailored for Ohio-class nuclear-powered Guided Missile Submarines (SSGNs). A DDS acts as a cylindrical garage and houses Naval Special Warfare equipment, or an SDV MK 11, a future Dry Combat submersible, a Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV), or a Littoral Battlespace Sensing Autonomous Undersea Vehicle, submarine (LBS-AUS-sub).
According to the SOCOM brief, the DDS modernization Engineering Change Demonstrator production started in January 2020. Field change modifications include: A Remotely Operated Hanger Outer Door, extending the DDS’s length by 50 inches, increased capacity payload launch and recovery system, reduced operator fatigue and risk to the host submarine, and remote control from the host submarine. The goals are to increase the payload volume by 30%, increase the payload capacity by 300%, and have remote hangar operation from Virginia SSNs. The maintenance of the DDSs is scheduled from September 2018 through September 2023 with the predicted retirement of all six DDSs in 2042 through 2051.
Captain Dolloff said at the virtual conference that the SDVs fit in the DDSs just fine, but SOCOM wants special operations forces (SOF) stowage and approval for carry-on hardware (such as Lithium-ion batteries) inside the DDSs. An issue Captain Dolloff mentioned was that each Dry Deck Shelter fits on a particular (a specific one) Virginia-class sub and PEO Maritime wants the DDSs to cross-fit on multiple Virginia-class U.S. Navy submarines. Furthermore, SOCOM and the U.S. Navy will mount and use DDSs on the backs of Ohio-class SSGNs for as long as the aging SSGNs are in service.
Dry Combat Submersible Block I and II Updates
The Dry Combat Submersible Block I (DCS BK 1) is a Lockheed-Martin-built submersible with a dry and warm interior, allowing the two crew and eight SEALs to ride in greater comfort for better mission endurance. Three DCS Block Ones are on order and all are surface-launched from a U.S. Navy support ship from around 60 nautical miles (110 KM, 69 miles) due to the range limit of the DCS BK 1’s Lithium-ion batteries.
According to Captain Dolloff, as of May, 2020, DCS Number One has been built, delivered, and is currently in testing at Palm Beach, Florida. DCS Number Two is being built by MSubs in England, and DCS Number Three’s Pressure Hull is in Germany waiting to be shipped over to England’s MSubs for build integration.
SOCOM and the U.S. Navy noted that surface-launching of a DCS BK 1 at night isn’t particularly stealthy, considering that the launching and retrieving mothership might be clearly visible to the surface search radars of enemy warships and coastal installations and well within the range of many Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) that are proliferating in and around littoral waters.
“We are working really hard with the Navy to try to get [a Dry Combat Submersible] back onto a submarine.”
—Captain Kate Dolloff at vSOFIC, May 2020.
Dry Combat Submersible Block II’s (DCS BK 2) goal is to get the DCS BK 2s into the Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) of a submarine since the three DCS Block Is have to be surface-launched. DCS BK 2’s future projects’ studies include market research exploration for launch and recovery from a DDS, the internal and external attachment solutions such as wet-mating of the power, air, communications, and additional umbilical support lines to the DCS, and study of submerged towing.