In a year’s time, progress has been made in all programs ranging from Combat Crafts to mini submersibles to Unmanned Underwater Vehicles as USSOCOM gears towards peer nation challenges. Naval News presents a summary of the NSW programs discussed at Virtual SOFIC 2021.
Mini Submersibles, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, and Dry Deck Shelter
“Next year [FY2022], actually, is going to be extremely exciting as these programs mature and are operated in a real environment.”USSOCOM Program Executive Officer Maritime, Captain Slaff.
Seal Delivery Vehicles Mark 8 and Mark 11
The current free-flooding wet interior manned Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Mark 8 is 20-year-old technology, but Naval Special Warfare will be fielding a new submersible, the Mark 11 to replace the legacy Mark 8s.
“What you see here on the [above] slide are the main differences between the Mark 8 and the Mark 11, and the key takeaway here is that we’re delivering a more capable platform to the Fleet that is upgraded to capitalize on twenty years of improvements in computers and communications as well as miniaturization allowing more space within the platform for Operators and equipment, and much greater capacity for Situational Awareness, and delivery of products to Operators.”USSOCOM Program Executive Officer Maritime, Captain Slaff.
The next-generation SDV Mark 11 replaces the SDV Mark 8 that has been in service since the 1990s although the older MK 8s will remain in service until the full complement of MK 11s are fielded.
“The [U.S.] government has accepted a total of five of ten [Mark 11s] already; the remaining five are under construction and will be delivered to the government within the next year or two.”USSOCOM Program Executive Officer Maritime, Captain Slaff.
The longer, taller, and wider MK 11 is an improvement over the MK 8 design and the Dry Deck Shelters are being modified to accommodate the larger MK 11s.
A July 2020 inter-operability test had the SDV MK 11 work with a U.S. Navy host submarine and “that was a big victory for this program,” said Captain Slaff.
About Mark 18 Mod 1 UUV
Regarding the MK 18 MOD 1 UUV for NSW, Captain Slaff said, that this is a common U.S. Navy-provided platform that SOCOM modifies with Plug-and-play sensors and payloads that are special operations-unique requirements. “[The U.S.] Government has accepted four systems, each system has three vehicles, so we got twelve vehicles in all already, and Systems One through Five will deliver to the Fleet at the end of this year. [System] Six is already on contract and [System] Seven is the full inventory [for twenty-one MK 18s total].”
About Dry Combat Submersible (DCS) Block I
The Dry Combat Submersible (DCS) Block I Program is fully funded and consists of three boats with a dry and warm interior (unlike the MK 8 and MK 11 SDVs that have their interior crew and passenger compartments flooded to the outside ocean water temperatures). DCSs allow for a crew of two and eight SEAL passengers to have “less impact to the diver in transit to maximize their operational time on station,” said Captain Slaff, referring to the advantages of having dry interiors.
DCS Block I, Number Two is at Lockheed Martin undergoing factory tests and will have Builder’s Trials this Summer, and will be accepted by SOCOM in late Fall. DCS Number Three is in production at United Kingdom’s manufacturer MSub and is being outfitted with hydraulic and mechanical systems and will ship to Lockheed Martin for electrical integration at the end of 2021, progress made over last year’s Virtual SOFIC 2020 status.
A deployment issue with the DCS Block Ones is that they cannot be launched clandestinely from an underwater nuclear-powered U.S. Navy submarine’s Dry Deck Shelter, and thus have to be crane-launched from a surface transport ship, thus often visible to surface search radar(s) at night. The DCS Block II version (or DCS Next) is SOCOM’s effort to remedy this design issue.
DCS Block II Version (or DCS Next)
NAVSEA will certify the DCS Next is safe for the U.S. Navy’s host submarine and USSOCOM will certify that the DCS Next is safe for SEAL embarkation, but for now, meetings and studies need to happen before the DCS Next Program gets underway.
Dry Combat Submersible Next (DCS Next) will mate the DCS Block Two with the Virginia-class SSN attack submarine since the DCS Block Ones are surface ship launched only and thus aren’t as stealthy in deployment and retrieval as the MK 8 and MK 11 SDVs that can be launched underwater via SSGN’s DDSs. According to Captain Slaff, DCS Block Twos are in the middle of market research and are still in the nascent stages as most everything needs to be determined.
Dry Deck Shelter Modifications
“These things have been in service for a long time now.”
USSOCOM Program Executive Officer Maritime, Captain Slaff.
There currently are six Dry Deck Shelters (DDSs), each one certified and fitted to their specific U.S. Navy nuclear-powered host submarine. One of the six Dry Deck Shelter is undergoing extensive rehabilitation and modifications in volume and weight to allow it to carry larger payloads, such as the SDV Mark 11s, and will be able to be remotely opened and closed from inside the nuclear-powered transporting host submarine, and not just from the DDS.
The four Ohio-class nuclear-powered Guided Missile Submarines (SSGNs) are in the twilight of their service lives with their retirements pending. Converted from Ohio Trident Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs), the SSGNs carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles in place of their Trident missile tubes, or their Tomahawk payloads can be converted to piggyback two Dry Deck Shelters for transporting mini submersibles. The SSGNs are (or were) currently the only submarines that transport the NSW’s DDSs. Therefore, USSOCOM is looking to integrate the DDSs aboard certain Virginia-class attack submarines (SSN) for more flexibility and versatility than depending solely on the four aging SSGNs. The U.S. Navy did not disclose plans on building new SSGNs from the future Columbia-class next-generation SSBNs.
“SOF Carry-on Hardware approvals” deals with the certification and approval to carry Lithium-ion batteries that can have a tendency to short-circuit, explode, and/or catch on fire if not handled, stored at the proper temperatures, and/or charged properly.