US armed itself with a mini-sub for rapid response operations

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The U.S. Navy has added its latest special operations mini-submarine, the Dry Combat Submersible [DCS], to the fleet. The DCS is a significant advancement in submersible technology, allowing personnel to stay fully submerged and protected during operations. This integration marks a significant achievement for the Navy. 

Photo credit: US DoD

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the DCS, announced in May that the submarine has reached its initial operational capability with the Navy. The Undersea Systems program manager at U.S. Special Operations Command’s [SOCOM] Program Executive Office-Maritime [PEO-M] had projected the DCS to be fully operational by the end of May. To date, Lockheed Martin has delivered two DCS units to the Navy, with a third one on the way. 

Jason Crawford, the senior program manager for Manned Combat Submersibles at Lockheed Martin, communicated his pride in the team’s effort in the design and delivery of the DCS. He anticipates the delivery of the third DCS and continued support as the DCS reaches Full Operating Capacity. 

The DCS is a variant of the S351 Nemesis, a mini-submarine design from UK-based MSubs. MSubs and Lockheed Martin have worked together on the design and construction of the DCS since 2016. 

Though full specifics of the DCS are undisclosed, some information is available based on the S351. This 30-ton, 39-foot-long submersible has an all-electric propulsion system, can travel 66 nautical miles at about five knots, and descend to roughly 330 feet. It can carry a crew of two, with extra room for eight passengers or equivalent cargo.

Photo credit: US DoD

The Navy’s latest SEAL Delivery Vehicle [SDV], the Mk 11, is just under 22 and a half feet long and can house a crew of two plus six passengers. This Shallow Water Combat Submersible [SWCS] is unpressurized which limits its operational depth compared to the Dry Combat Submersible [DCS]. 

The Navy and SEALs benefit from the DCS’s self-contained lock-in/lock-out chamber. Unlike the “wet” SDVs that expose occupants to water, the DCS offers a more comfortable ride. “Wet” SDVs can cause operator fatigue and health risks due to cold conditions. They also require hydration restrictions due to the need for wetsuits and scuba gear. 

Lockheed Martin states the DCS provides safe, stealthy transport over long distances in a dry environment. It leaves operators rested, warm, hydrated, and ready for their mission. It also allows for return in the same manner, possibly entirely underwater. This assists in deploying SEALs and other forces or extracting them. 

The Navy has pursued a DCS-like capability for decades. Requirements for the Advanced SEAL Delivery System [ASDS] began in the 1980s. The ASDS was canceled in 2009 after a fire and technical issues led to cost overruns. A Joint Multi-Mission Submersible program was also terminated in 2010.

Photo credit: US DoD

The DCS mini-submarine faced delays, with its initial operation capability slated for June 2021. The DCS’s size limits its launch from submerged submarines via Dry Deck Shelters [DDS]. Currently, only Virginia-class and Ohio-class submarines can carry DDSs. 

The DCS is transported by surface mothership, such as amphibious warfare vessels. The Navy is looking at using Air Force C-17A Globemaster III cargo aircraft to speed up DCS deployment. 

The Navy aims to develop an improved DCS that can be dispatched from a Virginia-class submarine. Concept art shows a mini-submarine that can dock externally on the parent submarine’s hull, similar to the original ASDS plan. It is unclear if the existing DCS will be retrofitted to this configuration and if it’s feasible. 

After years of work, the Navy has a new method of transporting SEALs and other special operations forces. This advancement offers enhanced comfort levels to these troops during missions.


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