The nations' problem-plagued effort to develop an effective means of landing special forces from submarines has suffered still another setback. The Navy's lone Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) suffered a six-hour fire in November that probably marks the end of that program.
The single ASDS vehicle originally was to have been the first of at least six such vehicles, intended to be clandestinely carry swimmers into forward areas by submarines. The swimmers would ride the ASDS vehicles to go ashore or to enter harbors to carry out secret missions such as sabotage, intelligence collection, and planting sensors.
Each ASDS vehicle, manned by a two- or three-man crew, would accommodate eight SEALs or other special forces and their gear in a dry, pressurized environment. Other than the single ASDS -- which has now been left a smoldering wreck -- troops can only come ashore from submarines in rigid-hull rubber craft or in the Navy's few Mk VIII "wet" swimmer delivery vehicles. Further limiting operations, the Mk VIII is carried in a Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) that is mated to the submarine's deck aft of the sail structure. The Navy has only seven DDS structures.
The program suffered several setbacks even before the fire that ravaged the ASDS vehicle. As is happening to most U.S. Navy ship programs, the ASDS "vehicle" was behind schedule and far over cost projections. The vehicle was completed in 2001 by Northrop Grumman's Ocean Systems in Annapolis, Maryland, and was "conditionally" accepted by the Navy. In 2003 it was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 at Pearl Harbor. The craft suffered major problems with its propulsor, electrical system, and batteries. (Its original zinc batteries were replaced with lithium-ion batteries.) Because of these and other problems, plus cost increases, in 2006 the U.S. Special Operations Command -- sponsor of the program -- and the Navy cancelled the procurement of the five planned additional vehicles.