By Geoff Fein

While the Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) continue to work on reliability issues with the Advanced Seal Delivery System (ASDS), the cost of future ASDS hulls may make the program unaffordable, according to SOCOM.

“The original requirement for a small fleet of manned dry submersibles is unchanged, but it is clear that more than one of the current ASDS platform is unaffordable unless costs can be reduced,” a SOCOM spokesman told Defense Daily.

SOCOM had been banking on Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] effort to build a small submersible that could be deployed from an Ohio-class converted submarine to insert and extract special operations forces (SOF). But a series of reliability issues with ASDS-1 led to cancellation of the program in 2005.

As a result, only one ASDS hull exists today and only the correction of reliability problems on that hull remain to be completed, the spokesman added.

“The fiscal year 2008 funding is being used to correct these deficiencies through the installation of a series of design and reliability improvements. The Navy will be conducting an Alternate Materiel Solutions Analysis to determine how to best meet current and future SOF (special operations forces) undersea warfare requirements,” he said. “The analysis will examine a broad range of potential material solutions and will recommend a solution or combination of solutions to satisfy the capability gaps identified in a recent capability gap analysis performed by the Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command.”

The Navy established an ASDS improvement program with the goal of improving ASDS-1’s performance to the required level. Funds that have already been appropriated for ASDS will be used to conduct the improvement plan and keep ASDS-1 operational, the spokesman said.

“SOCOM and NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command) continue to work closely with Northrop Grumman to identify and execute technical improvements that enhance the reliability of the ASDS and increase its capabilities, such as the lithium ion battery, continued acoustic quieting efforts, and improving system reliability and maintainability,” he explained.

In November 2005, following a series of reliability issues with ASDS, the ASDS Reliability Action Panel (ARAP) recommended that a follow-on test and evaluation (FOT&E) planned for January 2006 and Milestone C planned for April of that year be delayed (Defense Daily, Dec. 1, 2005).

Since the panel’s report was issued in February 2006, there have been no more recommendations from the ARAP, the SOCOM spokesman said.

In December 2005, SOCOM and the Navy canceled further procurement of ASDS hulls, instead opting to work out reliability issues in ASDS-1.

“ASDS-1 is operational,” the SOCOM spokesman added. “Testing has already been conducted on the Ohio-class submarines.”

ASDS is the biggest maritime acquisition program in SOCOM’s history.

At the time of the decision to cancel further procurement of ASDS, SOCOM had invested approximately $446 million in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) on ASDS-1 (Defense Daily, Dec. 1, 2005).

In 2005, the president’s FY ’06 budget requested $71.6 million in advance procurement for ASDS-2 and $212.2 million for procurement in FY ’07. ASDS-3 had $70.9 million in advance procurement in FY ’08 and $161.7 million for procurement in FY ’09.

While SOCOM provides the funding for ASDS, the Navy manages the program.

The Ohio, which had to undergo a significant structural modification to carry ASDS, is not the only submarine ASDS was going to mate with. Built into the Virginia-class is a nine-man lock out tube that SOF will use to access the dry deck shelter (DDS) and ASDS (Defense Daily, April 3).

In 2005, when SOCOM and the Navy decided to cancel the program and realign funding toward improving reliability in hull one, some in Congress called for SOCOM to abandon ASDS and seek an alternative platform.

But SOCOM officials at the time said they were sticking with ASDS, although they left open the possibility that the path forward could change.

While SOCOM and the Navy continue to work on reliability issues with ASDS, the requirement to move SEALs from submarines to shore has not changed, the SOCOM spokesman said.

“While no future programs are currently in development, and despite the cancellation of the ASDS program, the requirement to clandestinely insert and extract Special Operations Forces into denied areas from strategic distances still exists,” he said. “SOCOM and NAVSEA are focusing on making ASDS-1 fully operational.”

While deciding to pursue alternatives to ASDS run the risk of adding additional cost to the effort as well as further delays to the program, should SOCOM opt to go another route, as long as the interface to mate ASDS to a submarine is not redesigned, then there shouldn’t be an issue as to what rides on the back of the submarine, a Navy official said earlier this year (Defense Daily, Feb. 15).