New Mini-Submarine ‘Dry Combat Submersible’ Will Make US Navy SEALs Even More Deadly

The SEALs and crew can both wear standard clothing and breathe air in DCS.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The US Navy’s SEALs (Naval special forces, Ed.) are evaluating a new mini-submarine for special operations, which can be crucial for mission execution.

The Dry Combat Submersible (DCS) is an entirely enclosed mini-submarine designed to protect Navy SEAL commandos as they approach their targets. This submarine can transport up to eight SEAL special forces operatives for more than twenty-four hours.

In 2016, Lockheed-Martin was tasked with a new programme dubbed “Dry Combat Submersible” [DCS] with more modest goals. Lockheed-Martin joined forces with the British mini-submarine specialist MSubs.

Based on MSubs’ S351 “Nemesis,” the Dry Combat Submersible will be declared operational by the Navy SEALs on “Memorial Day”, celebrated on May 29, despite additional costs and delays. 

The Nemesis is equipped with terrain following/evasion sonar and an RF countermeasures sensor, allowing the DCS crew to detect hostile warships based on their radar emissions and then plot a course to avoid them.

Compared to underwater thrusters, the DCS will provide a significant operational advantage in that commandos will no longer require diving equipment during their journey to their area of action. This will also limit fatigue and decompression stops based on the depth of the navigation.

With a length of 12 metres and a mass of 28 tonnes, the DCS can accommodate eight fully-equipped operatives, along with a pilot and navigator, in a pressurised environment.

This mini-submarine can dive up to 100 metres deep at an average speed of 5 knots (its maximum speed is classified) due to an electric motor powered by a General Atomics-supplied LiFT battery system [Lithium-ion Fault Tolerant]. Its autonomy would exceed twenty-four hours. It is also outfitted with sensors, including sonar, electronic countermeasures, communications, etc.

Mini subs for Naval Special Forces

The Italian Navy created a “self-propelled torpedo” during the First World War so their combat swimmers could more easily penetrate and damage ships in enemy harbours. On November 1, 1918, the battleship Viribus-Unitis belonging to Austria-Hungary, paid the price as it was anchored in Pula, which is located in Croatia.

This concept has evolved since that time. And today, special forces combat swimmers are equipped with “underwater thrusters” to infiltrate.

The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) operates the Mark VIII SEAL Delivery Vehicle. The Mark VIII is a so-called “wet” submarine, meaning passengers and crew must wear breathing apparatuses and wetsuits when submerged. The lack of a watertight hull simplifies the design, but wearing protective gear can be tiring for everyone on board.

In 2018, the Naval Special Warfare Command began replacing the SEAL Delivery Vehicles, which had been used since the 1980s. These vehicles were being phased out in favour of the MK11 “Shallow Water Combat Submersible” (SWCS), which can carry six commandos, navigate to depths of 58 metres, and travel at a speed of 6 knots. This is made possible by electric motors that are powered by lithium-ion batteries. This 4.5-ton submersible has an inertial navigation system, high-frequency sonar to identify explosives and obstructions, and an electro-optical periscope. The SWCS will have access to regions the DCS does not have access to.

But, the Navy SEALs have long needed a genuine mini-submarine. Northrop Grumman was entrusted with the “Advanced SEAL Delivery System” (ASDS) programme in the 1990s. The ASDS mini-submarine programme was once one of the SOCOMs most ambitious undertakings. The ASDS, a hybrid submersible combat vehicle, is one of the US Special Forces Command’s largest investments, according to a report sent in May 2007 to the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Opportunities of the Committee on Armed Services of the US Senate. However, this huge programme ultimately resulted in an equally grand failure. It was cancelled in 2009 due to cost overruns of $885 million instead of the initial budget of $70 million and reliability issues as the prototype caught fire. The estimated cost of repairing the “wonder weapon” was $237 million.

However, the US Navy did not abandon its pursuit of such a capability; the DCS project was approved.

The SEALs and crew can both wear standard clothing and breathe air in DCS. Then, once the SEALS have arrived at their destination, they can don wetsuits and breathing equipment and enter the water through the isolation chamber. If the DCS is at the surface, passengers can evacuate via two hatches on the hull’s top.

DCS Block 1 is designed to operate from surface ships and can be carried in a 40 ft shipping container.

DCS is a significant upgrade for the US Naval Special Forces. As SOCOM shifts its focus from fighting in the often landlocked countries of the Middle East to the prospect of a major conflict with countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea, the mini-sub is scheduled to enter service.


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