Advanced SEAL Delivery System

Advanced SEAL Delivery System

insertion platform.


ASDS was conceived to address the need for stealthy long-range insertion of Special Operations Forces on covert or clandestine missions. Previous mini-subs were of the wet variety, exposing Combat Swimmers to long, cold waits during transit that impeded combat readiness on arrival, and had limited blind underwater navigational capability.


The first study to define ASDS was performed in 1983. Competitive conceptual designs were developed in the late 1980s, the Request for Proposal was issued in 1993, and the first contract for design and construction of the ASDS was awarded in 1994.

The Navy has stated a requirement for six units, but that was established before it decided to convert four Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines to guided-missile submarines (SSGNs) with the additional mission of support of special operations forces. Each of the SSGNs will be capable of carrying two ASDS vehicles.

The first ASDS became operational (completed testing and evaluation) from its base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 2003 and last year completed its first deployment onboard an attack submarine, the USS "Greeneville", to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf as a unit of Expeditionary Strike Group One. The first ASDS has yet to be joined by other units, as the program has been slowed by escalating costs and technical problems. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study issued in 2003 cited two major technical problems: noisy propellers and silver-zinc batteries that depleted more quickly than planned. A new propeller made of composite material has been developed to rectify the noise problem. Development is under way on lithium-ion batteries to replace the silver-zinc batteries and enable the electrical system to meet the Navy's requirements. Yardney Technical Products of Pawcatuck, Conn., has been awarded a $44 million contract modification to provide four lithium-ion batteries for the ASDS program by May 2009.

In the end, however, technical, reliability, and cost issues have proven nearly insuperable. Indeed, the ASDS has been cancelled for all intents and purposes; all that's left is an ASDS-1 improvement program to boost the performance of the existing sub and complete its operational testing. The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that the ASDS mini-subs were originally supposed to cost $80 million each, but numerous problems with the first boat have ballooned its cost to $446 million so far (vendor and government facility costs inclusive). Instead of completing integration and entering service in 2000, testing continued and the first boat was officially delivered in July 2003. GlobalSecurity adds that the program was initially projected to cost $527 million (including delivery of all six boats), but it is now predicted to rise to more than $2 billion – significantly more than the $1.4 billion SSGN Tactical Trident conversion program to which it is related.

Funding was provided via Congressional line item to the Special Operations Command. The Navy Deep Submergence Office was selected as the technical design agent and program office. Technical assistance was provided by the Navy Experimental Dive Unit, Panama City; the Naval Special Warfare Command, Coronado;SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, Norfolk; and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Special Operations and Acquisition Logistics (SOAL), Tampa.

Construction of the first ASDS was started in 1996 at a government estimated cost of US$160 million, to a low bid for the delivery of the first ASDS of $69 million for the first ASDS, and subsequent copies for $25 million each. It was delivered for testing and evaluation in 2000 and cost US$300 million (vendor and program office costs inclusive) to develop. Subsequent submarines are estimated to cost $125 million (based on a 2001 estimate) a copy. Five more were planned, but production of the second system was placed on indefinite hold in December 2005 pending a production and cost review, and the resolution of many reliability problems (primarily wiring grounds). In April 2006, the program for new submarines was canceled and Northrop Grumman notified of termination. The current submarine is still in development and use.

Critical Design Challenges

Power - The long range requirement strained the ability of existing battery technology.

Shock - Shock requirements for the vessel and for equipment mounted inside translated to "g" acceleration forces four times that currently specified for fleet nuclear submarines. No existing submarine equipment of any kind existed that survived the shock. Displays, computers, mountings, and life support equipment were expensive to re-engineer.

Host Needs - Weight, size, and center of gravity all were limited by what could be carried on the back of a 688 class submarine.

Life Support - The large number of passengers for the small submarine, the need for fully automated and self-controlling systems, and the long periods of submersion (days) presented serious challenges that could not be met with Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) nor Government Off The Shelf (GOTS) systems. Existing systems used on large submarines required too much space and too much power. Existing systems on small submarines lacked capacity and the ease-of-use required for combat. Internal heating and cooling systems not usually needed for large submarines were needed for the smaller sub that would go into shallower warmer waters or colder surface waters.

Navigation - Sonar systems developed for attack submarines, but needed for the shallow water maneuvers, were large, power hungry, and gave off lots of heat.

Construction - Initial designs and bids were based on standard submersible construction. During later design phases the government imposed full nuclear sub shock, hull and piping requirements on the designers - nullifying the "off the shelf" design approaches requested by the government in earlier phases. To accommodate the larger piping and thicker hull, other systems had to be lightened. (Reference the GAO and RAND reports.)


Two Los Angeles class submarines have been modified to deploy the ASDS, and the new Virginia class submarine is being built with the inherent capability to deploy the mini-sub. Planners originally intended the ASDS to be piloted by one submarine officer and one SEAL. This occurred during initial testing and operational evaluation. However, so far, the first ASDS has been operationally piloted by two submarine officers.

Smaller swimmer propulsion devices such as the STD (Swimmer Transport Device) may be carried internally (basically smaller scooters), and small Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) or Inflatable Boat-Small (IBS) may be stored internally. However, such craft cannot carry gasoline engines due to safety issues on submarines and fuel issues in small spaces, and therefore have to be paddled or use small electric motors. Semi-rigid and rigid hull craft such as the zodiac cannot be accommodated.

Technical Data

* Length overall: 65 ft
* Beam: 6.75 ft
* Height: 8.25 ft
* Displacement: 60 tons
* Propulsion 67 hp electric motor (Ag-Zn battery) driving a single retractable propeller
* Max. Speed: 8+ knots
* Range: 125+ mi.
* Max. Diving Depth: classified.
* Normal operating depth: > 150 ft
* Accommodations: 2 Crew + up to 16 SEALs, depending on equipment
* Masts: 2
** Port: periscope
** Starboard: communication and GPS
* Communications Systems:
* Sonar:
** Forward Looking - detects natural/man-made obstacles,
** Side Looking - terrain & bottom mapping, mine detection
* Aircraft transportability: C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III
* Builder: Northrop Grumman Electronics Sensors and Systems Division, Oceanic Systems subdivision


* [,14632,Soldiertech_ASDS,,00.html]
* []
* [ Navy Public Affairs Office]
* []
* [ Defense Industry Daily article]
* [ RAND report 2005]
* [ May 2007 GAO Report]

ee also

*Swimmer Delivery Vehicle
*SEAL Delivery Vehicle

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