29 July 2020

The US Navy SEALS is secretly testing its new invisible mini-submarines

Daniel Ilie

I was writing for the Defence and Security Monitor, at the beginning of the year, an article called “Minisubmarines for the undetected insertion and extraction of naval forces”, where I was saying that the famous US elite troops, the US Navy SEALS, known as the “frogmen”, were planning on replacing their “wet” combat submersible fleet, necessary for the secrete insertion and extraction of special operations divers at and from the targeted objective, through water.

Image source: Teledyne Brown Engineering

To that end, the US Special Operations Command/ US SOCOM has allotted a US manufacturer the amount of $178 million to create and deliver, within the “SOCOM Dry Combat Submersible Medium/DCMS” acquisition program, until the end of 2023, 10 Mk. Shallow Water Combat Submersible/SWCS.

We are talking about a “dry” combat submersible (its inside will not be flooded with water and the SEAL team will travel also on a dry land, even if they will still wear the wetsuits and the immersion equipment), able to carry a team composed of a pilot, a navigator and four operators, with an improved navigation and transport capacity. Having a 7 meters length and a 30 tones weight, it has a longer range of action comparing to the “wet” combat submersible, which the SEALS is currently using, it is propelled by an electric engine, fueled from a LiFT set of batteries (Lithium-ion Fault Tolerant), which proved to be reliable and resistant to underwater conditions and in extreme environments. Furthermore, it can be launched from submarines big enough to also carry them (having a dry deck shelter), but also from surface ships.

So, the U.S. Special Operations Command will soon conduct a first-of-its-kind test off Pearl Harbour port, Hawaii of the first two minisubmarines. The launch and recovery will be done from a new SEAL commando minisub, with cruise missiles and nuclear propulsion, from a Virginia-class submarine.

As I was writing before, among the procedures the Navy SEALS operators use to secretly infiltrate to the targeted objective they plan to execute specific missions in there is also the diving and underwater swimming. In this particular case, the underwater insertion can be executed from a floating construction (with or without self propulsion), such as a platform, ship or boat, but also from ships’ board which have mixed navigation possibility, surface and immersion, like submarines or submersibles.

Once reaching the target, bet it on land at the coastline or on enemy’s ship or boat, the Navy’s special operations forces operators are organized, equipped and trained to execute the special reconnaissance and direct combat kinetic actions, to provoke its neutralization or destruction. Then, after accomplishing the mission, they eventually leave (depending on the conception of the special operation) in retrogression to the submersible, which is a few miles away, in immersion, where they will get on board and back to the initial ship (the nuclear-propelled submersible).

Most likely, such tests will be done by the US SOCOM in the Pearl Harbour port, Hawaii, and the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, with the two new Mk. 11 Shallow Water Combat Submersible (SWCS) that were recently delivered. Due to security reasons, they are kept in a secrete place. When doing the tests, the manufacturer of these SEAL transport/delivery vehicles will come with its own divers, as he has the responsibility to test the delivered combat systems and of the integrated components and subsystems, both in close and open waters, like seas or oceans.

Such replacements of the old equipment that have operational limits are part of the modernization and transformation efforts of the US special operations forces capabilities, given the current US National Security Strategy (2018), which focuses on the big powers’ competition. It mentions that “A more lethal force, strong alliances and partnerships, American technological innovation, and a culture of performance will generate decisive and sustained U.S. military advantages”.  This was confirmed by the US SOCOM commander during the first 2020 Virtual SOFIC (Special Operations Forces Industry Conference), who was saying that “The National Defense Strategy is clear: we must build a more lethal force”. For example, for the current SEAL transport/delivery underwater vehicles (SDV Mk.8 0), which are being used for some time now by the US special operations naval forces, but also by the British ones, the operational limitations only refer to the range of action and  load capacity.

Renewing the submersible fleet of the US special operations naval forces will also ask for the modernization and adaptation of the current dry deck shelters of the host submarines with nuclear propulsion, a modernization effort which is still developing.

Furthermore, starting with April 2020, US SOCOM delivered a $54, 3 million contract for the equipment of a submarine operational training unit, placed in the Pearl City Peninsula, with a training “tank” for submarine vehicles.

The underwater training facility will cater for the Naval Special Warfare Group 3, dislocated at the Naval Base in Coronado, California, and the Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command, the San Diego, California place, where the SEAL operators, the so-called “frogmen”, are training.

As for the future, the US SOCOM plans the development, acquisition and equipment of the SEAL operators and with new “dry” combat submersibles which are electrically propelled, bigger, they have a 12 meters length, can take up to 10 passengers on board (including the two crew members), will have a bigger range of action, will operate up to a 36 meters depth and can be launched from surface ships.

Instead of conclusions

The US and the British special operations naval forces, but also the US Navy SEALS and the UK Special Boat Service-SBS are using such SEAL delivery /transport vehicles, starting with the 80’s, for the undetected insertion and extraction to and from the targeted objective which is on a ship, to the littoral or on land, miles away from the place it was initiated.

These are “invisible” and very silent transport methods (almost without leaving any magnetic or acoustic mark behind) the operators use to and from the place they can secretly develop reconnaissance and intelligence collection missions close to the enemies’ coastline, hydrographic reconnaissance missions, sabotage missions and recovery and extraction missions of undercover agents, hostages or sensitive materials and documents from enemy’s territory. Transported on the board of nuclear propelled submarines, such submersibles theoretically offer naval special operations combat capabilities and unlimited range of action along the coasts of seas and oceans.

Unfortunately, however, as I was writing before, for the ROU Navy SEALS, the special operations naval forces controlled by the Special Operations Forces Command, such modern combat methods only represent an unreachable dream. The last public information about the acquisition insertion/extraction methods of the ROU Naval Special Operations Forces goes back to 2017, when the Romanian Naval Forces was awarding a winner for its auction on the procurement, following the smallest price criteria, of Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats, to fill the military technique and equipment shortcomings at that time.

Last year, the U.M. 01016 Targu Mures, a military unit which is responsible for buying goods and services for the Special Operations Forces Command, as appointed contractor authority, was trying to award, through a public auction and a simplified procedure, a contract on services provision related to military products imports and exports, for the 2019-2022 period, for a (Special Operations Forces) military unit beneficiary, from the funding of the Major Staff of the Army /Strategic Command Program.

According to the provisions of the schedule of conditions, the products were supposed to be delivered according to the Letter of Offer and Acceptance signed from Government to Government, between the US Government – the Defence Department and Romania’s Government – The National Defense Ministry and the maximum value of the estimated military products to be imported/exported was around $15. 058.748.

Now, the same military unit launched an auction announcement for the acquisition, following the same smallest-price criteria, of 18 assault pneumatic-engine boats.

These things seem quite small comparing to the fact that the Romanian state, through its representatives, after four years since revealing details about the Strategic procurement program “Multifunctional corvette” could not sign the contract related to the construction of the four multifunctional corvettes, the Romanian Naval Forces need so much.

Eventually, the scandal provoked by these combat ships’ auction was recently solved by the Bucharest Court of Appeal, which rejected the Dutch Damen company’s request to cancel the 1,6 billion euro contract procedure for the multifunctional military corvettes’ construction, which was won by Naval Group and its partner Santierul Naval Constanta.

We will see if and when the National Defense Ministry will eventually sign the contract with the ones who actually won the action, the French-Romanian joint venture Naval Group-Santierul Naval Constanta.

Translated by Andreea Soare