Guardians of Every Submariner
The Auxiliary, Rescue and DSRV
For nearly a hundred years, certain select ships, inclusive of their officers and crew, have provided the supply, repairs and support that contributed to the Submarine Force's ability to defend this country's interests by conquering the dominating the undersea realm. These ships are the Auxiliary Submarine (AS) or "Submarine Tender" and the Auxiliary Submarine Rescue (ASR) Ships.
These "Auxiliary" or support ships have served as the backbone of the Submarine Service shortly following the Submarine Force's inception.
Because of the early submarine's inherent limitations slow speed, range, and limited capacity to store food, fuel, weapons and other provisions a class of support ship was developed to serve as seagoing operating bases to allow submarines to operate where needed being repaired, refitted and resupplied near their advanced operating areas.
That era is coming to a close. Several factors have contributed to make both submarine tender and rescue ship obsolete.
Like today's submarines, the next generation of submarines will be capable of storing provisions and weapons for patrols of very long lengths of time. Unlike the old diesel-electric powered submarines, their nuclear power plants provide enough power to allow the submarine to reach patrol stations from stateside bases in days rather than weeks with enough power left over to generate all of the fresh water and oxygen needed by the crew even when submerged for months at a time.
At the same time, the weapons they carry have been improved so that while the early submarine patrols required the submarine to be with hundreds of miles of a potential target the newest generation of missiles can reach land targets from 4000 miles. Thus, the need for a "floating submarine base" has been significantly reduced.
Some of these new submarines are larger than many of the early tenders which makes it very difficult for the fixed cranes of a tender to reach all of the areas of a tended submarine requiring the submarine to be "repositioned" a time consuming and awkward task. Today, most of these task are now performed at the various submarine bases.
Still, other outside factors have added their reduction the fall of the Soviet Block, economic pressures to downsize our military, have also been factored into the U.S. Navy's decision to reduce the number of tenders to two one at Agana, Guam, covering the Pacific and the other at La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy, covering the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic.
These work horses of the Submarine Force have served as "floating forward bases" that allowed the United States to station submarines at advanced sites around the world in position to not only to be a capable threat but a credible threat to any aggressor that might consider attacking the United States or it's allies.
Like the Submarine Force itself, these Auxiliary Submarine (AS) Tenders played no small role in America's victories in both World Wars and in the Cold War, silently serving the Submarine Force.
The Auxiliary Submarine (AS) Tender
For most of the last century, when submarines have gone to sea to conduct sea trials, they have been accompanied by a small ship with an important mission the Auxiliary Submarine Rescue (ASR) Ship.
The Auxiliary Submarine Rescue (ASR) Ship
Today, the mission of submarine rescue is carried on by elements of Commander Submarine Development Squadron Five. Submarine Development Squadron Five was established in 1967, originally as Submarine Development Group One, as the operational focal point for Navy Deep Submergence, Submarine Rescue, Ocean Engineering and Research and Development Programs, which includes the Deep Submergence Unit.
The Deep Submergence Unit (DSU) was established in 1989 and is the home to the Navy's manned and unmanned deep diving submersibles. Located at the Naval Air Station, North Island (NAS-NI) in San Diego, DSU provides administrative, maintenance, operational and logistic oversight for the Navy's Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) MYSTIC and AVALON, and until recently for Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) SEA CLIFF, as well as for a variety of unmanned Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV), and Submarine Rescue Chambers (SRC).
Originally chartered as Submarine Rescue Unit (SRU) following the loss of the THRESHER (SSN-573) in 1963, DSU received its first DSRV, MYSTIC, in August 1971 and AVALON in July 1972, with a mandate to maintain the capability to locate a disabled submarine, accomplish reliable personnel escape and rescue and optimize survival of possibilities in a bottomed submarine.
The Navy's Special Projects Office, which had already made several efforts to develop deep-ocean technology to support the Polaris and Poseidon programs, was initially assigned responsibility for the new systems, collectively known as the Deep Submergence Systems Project. The Project was established in June 1964 and was made a separate Navy organization in February 1966, initially under the direction of Dr. John Craven, chief scientist of the Polaris-Poseidon programs. Two types of submersibles were called for: Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) to take men off sunken submarines, and Deep Submergence Search Vehicles (DSSV) for research, search and recover missions down to 20,000 feet.
The Navy's original plan calling for the development of a DSSV was ultimately never built due to the rising costs, the shift of interest and resources to the Vietnam War, and reduced emphasis on oceanography and related activities.
As for the DSRV program, these deep water submersibles were designed for quick-reaction to world-wide rescue of a downed submarine. These DSRVs remain the most advanced submersibles yet developed by any nation for submarine rescue.
The DSRV consists of an outer hull of formed fiberglass with three interconnected steel spheres which form the manned pressure capsule. Under the DSRV's center sphere is a hemispherical protrusion or "skirt" that enables the DSRV to form a seal over a submarine's hatch. By equalizing the pressure of the DSRV to that of the other submarine to which it is mated, passage to and from the DSRV and the submarine is permitted.
In an emergency the DSRV would be loaded into an awaiting U.S. Air Force C-5 aircraft at North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, and flown to a location near the disabled submarine, then loaded onto a specially configured submarine (called "mother submarine") and transported "piggy back" to the location of the downed submarine.
The "mother submarine," with the DSRV attached to the hull, would proceed to the disabled submarine and serve as a sort of underwater operations base for the DSRV while the DSRV transferred survivors from the disabled submarine. The mother submarine could launch and recover the DSRV while submerged.
The DSRVs, MYSTIC and AVALON, are capable of diving to 5,000 feet and are maintained in a high state of readiness with one vehicle always in standby status.
Another important unit of Submarine Development Squadron Five is the Squadron's Diving System Support Detachment (DSSD) consisting of U.S. Navy Deep Sea Divers and Submarine Rescue Chambers that provide world-wide submarine rescue capabilities to depths of 850 feet.
Early submarine disasters had led to development of several submarine escape and rescue devices. The term "escape" generally meant that the men in the downed submarine got out and to the surface on their own, by means of free ascent, in which the submariner leaves through the escape hatch wearing an inflatable emergency breathing devices which submarines themselves carry onboard. However, this means of rescue was limited to escapes of 300 feet or less.
At depths greater than 300 feet rescue is necessary. One such device, the McCann Rescue Chamber a steel diving bell that can hold up to eight survivors and one operator, requires the assistance of the submarine rescue vessel and deep sea divers. The divers from an Rescue Ship would place four anchored mooring buoys called "spuds" around the distressed submarine. The rescue ship then moves to the center of the four buoys and runs a seven-inch cable to each one, drawing herself directly over the submarine. Then rescue divers attach a cable to the stricken submarine. The cable would then be attached to the diving bell, which would then be winched down to the submarine's deck, "mating" with one of the escape hatches, and like the DSRV, allowing the submarine's hatch to be opened to permit access.
Like the DSRVs, the Submarine Rescue Chambers are manned and ready at the Deep Submergence Unit, at North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego CA.
Submarine Development Squadron Five (SUBDEVRON FIVE) is also responsible for long-range deep submergence planning and identification of new military requirements, maintaining a liasion with this country's top scientific, technical and oceanographic talent including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Scripps Marine Physical Laboratory. In addition, SUBDEVRON FIVE conducts cooperative programs with civilian scientific and academic institutions in pursuit of national science objectives through the National Undersea Research Program, and undertakes initiatives with federal and state organizations. These organizations include the Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation and the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.
SUBDEVRON FIVE also has two submarines attached to her PARCHE (SSN 683) and DOLPHIN (AGSS-555).
PARCHE is a nuclear-powered submarine employed in the research, deployment, test and evaluation of specialized submarine ocean engineering equipment including sonar, navigation and position keeping systems. PARCHE is one of the last remaining STURGEON class SSN submarines left in the Navy modified to provide additional space for research equipment. PARCHE is capable of assisting in submarine rescue and support operations. PARCHE is attached to SUBDEVRON FIVE DETACHMENT BANGOR which provides administrative, logistic, training and engineering support.
The Unmanned Vehicles (UMV) Detachment consists of state-of-the-art deep ocean ROVs, including two Super Scorpio units and an Advanced Tethered Vehicle. The UMV's charter and capabilities allows the Navy to conducts search and rescue missions, underwater inspections and surveys, and extensive support for scientific research projects. UMVs operate at the end of a tether and are controlled from a surface support ship. Working to depths of 20,000 feet, UMVs are capable of submerged operations for extended periods.
DSU features world-wide submarine rescue, deep ocean search and recovery and scientific research capability.
SUBDEVRON FIVEs high state of readiness insures the Submarine Force a reliable personnel escape and rescue method providing the capabilities for optimal survival possibilities for a bottomed submarine.
The Auxiliary Submarine Rescue Ship's mission has been to escort the submarine to the dive station, standing by in case of an emergency. The ASR acts as a safety vessel, patrolling the area to warn ships to keep clear of the submarine operating area. Divers stand ready on board the ASR to perform submarine rescue duties in the event of an accident.
Submarine rescue ships have enjoyed a long and proud history in the U.S. Navy. The need for these vessels was driven home early in the century by the tragic loss of the submarines F-4, in 1915, S-5 in 1920, S51 in 1925, and S4 in 1927. The exploits of two of the most famous submarine rescue ships serve as a testament to the dedication and bravery of the crews manning these ships.
In May of 1939 the submarine SQUALUS sank in 243 feet of water when its main induction valve failed to close. The submarine rescue ship FALCON, a veteran of the salvages of the S51 and S4, arrived on scene the following day. Through the extraordinary efforts of crew of the FALCON, 33 men were rescued from the SQUALUS using with the McCann Submarine Rescue Chamber and MK5 Deep Sea Diving Gear.
Later in the year, FALCON lead the salvage effort to raise the SQUALUS. SQUALUS was subsequently refitted and recommissioned as the USS SAILFISH and went on to serve proudly in World War II.
The last of the Navy's Auxiliary Submarine Rescue Ships, ORTOLAN (ASR 22), was decommissioned in March 1995, thus ending the illustrious era of the auxiliary submarine rescue ships that proudly stood by during most of this last century as guardians of the submarines and like their submarine tender counterparts, have silently served the Submarine Force with little fan fare.
Auxilary Submarine Rescue Ship
USS Grasp (ASR 51) [US Navy Photo]
DSRV being loaded on aircraft (U.S. Navy Photo)