AIP to the Rescue: SSN Standoff Kills ASDS?
The U.S. Navy abandoned its 65 foot-long ASDS (Advanced Seal Delivery Systems) submarine April 6 due to cost, performance and reliability concerns with the Northrup Grumman project. Originally, ASDS cost was projected to be $80 million. The StrategyPage.Com reports the current estimate at $300 million per copy with daunting reliability problems. Thus far, over $460 million dollars has been spent on the program. "The ASDA did spend some time in the Persian Gulf for testing and training. But more problems were discovered."
Debbi McCallam, a Northrop Grumman spokeswoman, said vibration, noise and battery problems were identified, addressed and fixed last summer, according to the article, but in October 2005, the ASDS experienced a propulsion-related failure, and the Navy decertified the ASDS from operational test readiness.
The U.S. Navy had expected its first ASDS to enter service by the end of 2005. Instead, officials hope it will be fully operational by 2008.
Congressional heat even came from U.S. Rep. Robert Simmons (R-Conn), who stated “It worries me greatly that the Advanced SEAL Delivery System, which is something our special operations forces drastically need, is 700 percent over budget, 12 years behind schedule and still hasn’t delivered a workable first SEAL delivery system.”
There also appears to be a fatal flaw in the ASDS delivery concept. Designed to ride piggyback on Los Angeles-class submarines Greeneville and Charlotte, the boxy, 8-foot-diameter ASDS is designed to maneuver close to shore with two crew and up to 16 SEAL commandos. (The fact that the 55-ton ASDS is also air transportable by a C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster or sea deliverable by a landing craft are moot for most stealth objectives). That is exactly where the current delivery concept seems to have fallen apart. Read ASDS open source specs at SECRET DELIVERY: Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) here.
Author/Analyst Joe Buff wrote, "Capture of the DISSUB and/or its crew by the enemy would represent a major intelligence and propaganda coup for the aggressor regime. Rescue of the crew, removal or destruction of crypto gear and other sensitive materials, and retrieval or safe demolition of the DISSUB itself, would be extremely high priorities for American naval forces."
Author/Analyst Norman Polmar writes in last week's Back to the Future, "But the realities of U.S. submarine costs and the future littoral battlefield may cause a reappraisal." And, "a construction program, it was estimated, could lead to a production run of two or three submarines per year while providing Employment for up to 7,000 shipyard workers and supporting-industry workers in the United States."
The diesel submarine issue was intensified by the Falklands conflict of 1982. The inability of British nuclear submarines to effectively support commando operations forced the dispatch of the diesel-electric submarine HMS Onyx from Britain to the South Atlantic, a distance of some 7,000 nautical miles.
Former SecNav John Lehman observed, "The ability of a modern diesel-electric submarine to engage a naval task force that is essentially stationary while operating in a specific area is not surprising. These submarines are extremely quiet when operated at low speeds..."
If you took the time to read the ASDS specifications, you see it carries 16+/- commandos, their mission equipment, and a crew of only 2. AIP subs typically crew with 16 (skeleton) to 24. How can AIP be of any help? As a delivery vehicle for the ASDS successor, AIPs can probably get much closer to shallow waters and loiter without detection better than SSNs. This probably goes a long way toward minimizing the disabled, commando submanrine risk. The U.S. mother sub (AIP) would be about half as large as the Greeneville, somewhat larger than the little Gotland.
Does this mean SSNs are obsolete? Absolutely not. In my opinion, their number will probably be minimized (actually, this is what the Navy, not coincidentally, has already planned, isn't it?) From now onward, I would not expect new nuclear subs to be very much alike (short of a WWIII).