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The career of a small, one-of-a-kind mini-submarine intended to carry U.S. special operations troops for covert operations has come to an apparent end, a victim of the high cost of repairs after an accidental fire burned out the vessel's interior.
The Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) submersible suffered major damage during a fire Nov. 9 while the craft was recharging its lithium-ion batteries at a special base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. No one was severely hurt in the accident, but the fire burned for several hours before it was extinguished.
Although an investigation still hasn't determined what caused the fire, the Navy estimates repairs to the 60-ton craft would cost $237 million, or $180 million more than the craft's operating budget, and take nearly three years to complete.
"Competing funding priorities … prevent the command from repairing the ASDS," said U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in a statement released July 24.
There are no plans to fix the ASDS in the future, said USSOCOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Fred Kuebler.
"Unless the funding becomes available, we will not repair ASDS Hull 1," Kuebler said Monday.
No decision has been made as to what will happen next to the craft, which is still at Pearl Harbor. "Final disposition of the support crew and facilities has yet to be determined, as well," Kuebler added.
The ASDS program already had been severely cut back after a string of exorbitant cost increases and technical problems. Although the ASDS was delivered by Northrop Grumman in 2003 and performed several real-world missions, the craft suffered from reliability issues and design flaws, made more difficult by competing priorities between the submarine community and the special operations world. In 2006, the Pentagon killed plans to buy more mini-subs, although the ASDS was kept in operation.
But the craft helped solved a nagging problem for special operations warriors making long underwater transits, providing a dry environment where they can avoid the debilitating affects of cold and submersion.
"This is a capability that USSOCOM has deemed as a requirement for our special operations forces," Kuebler said. "Whether that's an ASDS or a hull to be determined, the whole requirement for long-distance infiltration and exfiltration in a dry environment continues to be a high priority."
The next step for now is the Joint Multi-Mission Submersible (JMMS), a manned, dry combatant submersible to provide a clandestine mobility platform. According to budget documents submitted with the 2010 defense budget request, the JMMS "will provide improved performance over the ASDS and will permit small, highly-trained forces to operate in denied areas increasingly controlled by a sophisticated threat."
The Pentagon is asking for $43.4 million to begin analysis and technology development phase efforts.