Navy SEALs have a well-deserved reputation as an amphibious force. The special operations teams, whose abbreviation is derived from “Sea, Air and Land”, are trained to operate from a range of vehicles and take off as needed to conduct missions through the water, air or ground. For decades in covert ocean deployments, SEALs have taken the SEAL Delivery Vehicle, a flooded transport in which the crew drives submerged and submerged in ocean water. Now the Special Operations Command says the new enclosed submarine — in other words, it’s dry inside — should be ready for use before the end of May.
This new submarine, unlike the open water SEAL Delivery Vehicle, is called the Dry Combat Submersible. It has been in the works since at least 2016 and is designed as a replacement for an earlier closed transport submarine, the Advanced SEAL Delivery System. This previous advanced sub, developed in the early 2000s, was canceled after a prototype caught fire in 2008. That, compounded by cost overruns in the program, halted development of the submarine vehicle. It also came at a time when SEALs operated largely on land and air, as part of the increased operational pace of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But now it looks like it’s going full steam ahead for the Dry Combat Submersible. The news was confirmed at the SOF [Special Operations Forces] Weekly conference in Tampa, Florida, which ran May 8 through May 11. The convention is a place for Special Operations Forces from all over the military to talk, meet vendors selling new and familiar tools, and come together as a chatting class of quiet professionals. It is also, like the Army, Navy, and Air Force conventions, a place for the military to announce news directly relevant to those communities.
“This morning we received an operational test report. So that means the Dry Combat Submersible will be operational by Memorial Day and we are approaching an end scenario,” said John Conway, submarine program manager in SOCOM’s Program Executive Office-Maritime, on May 10, as reported by National Defense Magazine.
The submerged submarine in use today allows four SEALs and two drivers, dressed in wetsuits, to travel for miles under the surface of the water undetected. With just the driver and navigator, the vessel can travel 36 nautical miles at 4 knots, a journey of nine hours. With the four SEALs, the distance is limited not only by the weight of passengers and their equipment, but also by the conditions of the submarine itself.
“Because the SEALs are exposed to the environment, water temperature may be a more limiting factor than battery capacity,” wrote Christopher J. Kelly, in a 1998 study of the submarine in joint operations.
Then Lockheed Martin announced in 2016 that it would produce Dry Combat Submersibles, it offered no details about the vehicle other than that it would weigh over 30 tons and could be launched from surface ships. (The current SEAL Delivery Vehicle is launched from larger submarines.) The Dry Combat Submersible, when announced, promised “longer endurance and operating at greater depths than the Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs)” used, the ability to travel long distances underwater , and an overall setup that “allows personnel to get closer to their destination before entering the water, and be more effective upon arrival.”
Concept art for the vehicle showed a passenger capacity of at least nine, although it would still be a fairly compact ride. The S351 nemesiscreated by MSubs, who is collaborating with Lockheed Martin on this project, and is the likely basis for the Dry Combat Submersible. As mentioned, the Nemesis has a capacity of eight passengers and one pilot. The nemesis can travel up to 66 nautical miles, traveling at a speed of 5 knots, or making the journey in 13 hours.
Once in Navy hands, the new submarine will provide a better start to operations for SEALs, who can go on missions with only brief wetsuits donned, rather than having to endure the fullness of the ocean for hours on end.
As the Pentagon shifts its focus from terrestrial counterinsurgency to the possibility of a major power war, especially in and over the Pacific Islands, the Dry Combat Submersible will expand how its SEALs can operate. It takes a lot of effort for a relatively small part of the overall army, but the precise deployment of specialized forces can have a huge impact on the course of subsequent operations, from clearing the harbor to covert action behind fortified lines.