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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 21, 2003

Navy gets first of six minisubs based out of Pearl

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The Navy has taken delivery of a long-awaited new minisubmarine capable of transporting SEAL commandos closer to shore and allowing them to be more prepared for what lies ahead.

Members of SEAL Team Two use an older version of a SEAL delivery vehicle during training in the warm waters of the Caribbean. The older equipment required open-water transport.

U.S. Navy

The 65-foot Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS), which represents one of U.S. Special Operations Command's biggest investments, is based out of Pearl City Peninsula.

The battery-powered sub, operated by SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One, could be pressed into service in late summer or early fall with the attack submarine USS Greeneville, officials said.

The Greeneville and the USS Charlotte, both based at Pearl Harbor, are the only two submarines configured as host subs for the ASDS.

"This first-of-its-kind system provides a new level of operational capability to SEAL forces in high-threat areas," said Capt. Joe Fallone, ASDS program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command. "The delivery of ASDS marks a major milestone in ensuring that our naval forces have the most technologically advanced equipment for today's critical missions."

Although Northrop Grumman has delivered the first of the six planned minisubs, Special Operations Command and the Naval Special Warfare Command are awaiting the final results of combat testing completed May 9 off O'ahu before putting it into service.

"The official operational report hasn't been completed, so although we're certainly optimistic, no definite plans for how it would be deployed have been decided," said Navy spokeswoman Trish O'Connor.

Officials had said ASDS could deploy with the Greeneville as part of a new Navy battle grouping called an expeditionary strike group.

Based around the San Diego-based amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu, the Pacific Fleet strike group adds a submarine, cruiser, destroyer, frigate and P-3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft to the traditional amphibious-ready group of Marines and three ships.

The 65-foot Advanced SEAL Delivery System developed by Northrop Grumman rides atop the USS Greeneville off Pearl Harbor. The Navy has just taken delivery of the first of the new minisubs.

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The Pearl Harbor cruiser USS Port Royal has trained with the new strike group.

Operated by a crew of two and connected to a host ship via a watertight hatch, the boxy, eight-foot diameter ASDS is capable of dropping off eight SEALs close to shore.

The minisub has sophisticated sonar and electro-optical surveillance systems and a hyperbaric compression chamber. It is expected to have increased range, speed and capacity over the SEAL Delivery Vehicle now in use.

The SDV is akin to a convertible in that it exposes scuba-equipped SEALs to cold sea water during transport. Open-water SDVs are deployed from dry-deck shelters fitted to the top of submarines like the USS Buffalo, and the now decommissioned USS Kamehameha.

The ASDS has had more than its share of problems and is six years behind schedule. The first ASDS should have been delivered to the Navy in 1997.

The entire program, including six boats and facilities in Hawai'i and Little Creek, Va., was to cost $527 million, according to the General Accounting Office.

But the GAO has reported that the program cost could rise to more than $2 billion.

Battery problems and excessive noise have dogged the program, but Northrop Grumman in May said new lithium ion battery technology was making progress under several suppliers, and the Navy has completed and installed a new propeller system that addresses many of the noise concerns.

Four Trident ballistic missile submarines being converted to guided-missile subs will be capable of carrying the ASDS, as will Virginia-class attack submarines and the last of the Seawolf class, the USS Jimmy Carter.

In 2001, a contract for up to $25.2 million was announced for construction of an ASDS and dry-deck operations facility at Pearl City Peninsula.

SEAL activities by nature are not highly publicized, but an environmental assessment for the project said SEAL delivery vehicle operations would be similar to those off Ford Island, where the vehicles operated in the harbor once every one to two weeks.

Seal Delivery Vehicle Team One has about 30 officers and 200 enlisted personnel.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.