Submarines: Little Boat, Big Problems

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December 14, 2005: The U.S. Navy is having more submarine problems, this time with the 65 foot long ASDS (Advanced Seal Delivery Systems) submarine being built for SOCOM (Special Operations Command). After nine years of development, the first production boat has been training and undergoing tests in Hawaii for the last two years. It was expected to officially enter service this right about now, after spending some time in the Persian Gulf for testing and training. But more problems were discovered. So far, over half a billion dollars has been spent on the program, and Congress is getting antsy about all that money being devoted to one little boat.

The ASDS are 65 foot long, 60 ton mini-submarines. Battery powered and with a crew of two, the ASDS can carry up to 14 passengers (fewer if a lot of equipment is being brought along, the usual number of passengers is expected to be eight.) With a max range of 200 kilometers, top speed of 14 kilometers an hour and max diving depth of 200 feet, the ASDS operates from a nuclear submarine equipped to carry it on its deck. The ASDS is equipped with passive and active SONAR, radar and an electronic periscope (that uses a video camera, not the traditional optics.)

While a nice piece of engineering, each additional ASDS will cost over $300 million. The original cost per boat was supposed to be $80 million. Fortunately for the navy, SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is paying for the ASDS boats. That means that army rangers and marine recon troops will also train to use ASDS. Delta Force will probably get to try them out as well. Little is said publicly about how often, and where, ASDS will be used. The types of missions ASDS was designed for are often kept secret for a long time.

Reliability problems with a new system are nothing new, but the extent of the money and time overruns on this project, plus the problems the navy is having with the manufacturers of its standard size submarines, are adding fuel to growing anger in the navy over the poor performance of American warship builders.

 


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