ASDS Mini-Sub Program Goes to Davey Jones’ Locker
The Advanced SEAL delivery System mini-sub was intended to be the successor to the previous SDV (SEAL/Swimmer Delivery Vehicle) carried on US Benjamin Franklin Class (SSBN-640) attack submarines. The idea was that unlike the SDV, which is flooded and requires SCUBA gear, the 16 Navy SEALs, MARSOC, or other covert action personnel in an ASDS would be able to arrive at their mission drier, warmer, and less fatigued. ASDS mini-subs would be launched from the converted SSGN Ohio Class Special Ops/Land Strike submarines, from Virginia Class (SSN-744) submarines, from the improved Los Angeles Class (SSN-688I) subs Charlotte (SSN 766) and Greeneville (SSN 772), or from the well decks of amphibious assault ships like the LHD Wasp Class or LPD-17 San Antonio Class. It would also fit in a C-17 Globemaster or C-5 Galaxy aircraft for rapid transport to an appropriate launch platform.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. That’s all in the past now, because the program just sank. Failure to meet specifications, skyrocketing budgets, and the resulting political pressure have made the ASDS program a one-way mission.
Interestingly, Northrop-Grumman spokeswoman Debbi McCallam told Inside The Navy that “ASDS-1 has been an operational asset for the Navy for almost three years and has been an integral part of successful missions.” So… what now?
Inside Defense reports that Pentagon acquisition chief Kenneth Krieg’s April 6, 2006 acquisition decision memorandum directed the Navy and SOCOM to establish an ASDS-1 improvement program to boost the performance of the existing sub, and complete its operational testing. Funds for that purpose are appropriated until FY 2008. SOCOM acquisition chief Dale Uhler said that “Our primary objective at this point in time is to work with the Navy Department to make ASDS-1 fully operational.”
Meanwhile, US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the US Navy, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will look into alternatives that may fill the required role. A rebid with new designs is possible, but so is an approach that doesn’t involve a mini-sub or, one supposes, a rebuild and modification of existing assets like the older SDVs.
We’ll add a money quote here – plus a dash of dark bureaucratic farce just for spice. From Inside Defense:
“In 1999, James Roche, then vice president of Northrop’s electronic sensors and systems sector, said that developing ASDS was far more complicated than the lunar lander . . . and that complexity should have been in everyone’s head when it started” (ITN, March 8, 1999, p1).
Right, so much for the money quote. Same article:
When asked how officials might avoid repeating the mistakes of the past with a future ASDS-like program, SOCOM deferred to the Navy.
“While SOCOM established the operational requirement and provided the funding, ASDS from its inception was a Navy Department managed ACAT I program,” he said. “Consequently, the Navy Department is in the best position to answer this question.” The Navy, in turn, referred questions about ASDS to SOCOM.