DCS Next: Return Of The U.S. Navy's ASDS Submarine
Good ideas never die. Even if they did not work out the first time around.
The U.S. Navy is a world leader in special forces submarines. The latest DCS (dry combat submersible) must be the envy of even the best equipped NATO partners. It gives the United States capabilities which its partners and adversaries can only dream of.
But already the Navy, with SOCOM (Special Operations Command), is already planning a follow-on submarine. This new program, labelled DCS Next, will bring even greater capabilities.
The DCS Next is conceptually remarkably similar to the ASDS (Advanced SEAL delivery System). So much so that the U.S. Navy uses old images of ASDS to represent it:
The DCS Next is represented as an ASDS
Dry Combat Submersible
The current DCS is only now in IOC (initial operating capability). It will be fully operational next year. Three of the British designed craft have been built by MSubs in the UK. These are supplied to US via the parent company Submergence Group, who are in turn subcontracting to General Dynamics.
The DCS can carry 10 people (2 crew, 8 combat swimmers) for long endurance missions. The dry interior, as opposed to the wet insides of the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) make longer missions viable. It is also particularly suited to colder climates for this reason. The increased range allows much greater stand-off distances, protecting the mother ship ('host vessel').
However, the DCS is a compromise. Unlike the proceeding (and ill-fated) ASDS, the DCS cannot be carried by a submarine. This limits its employment and ensures that the wet SDV Mk.XI still has a role. But the new DCS Next will remedy this.
Although it is surrounded by secrecy, unclassified documents give some indications of the new sub. The representative image used in the document is of the ASDS. This implies a similar mode of operation, even if the new craft is unrelated.
ASDS. US Navy photo.
The core of the ASDS concept is that it has a collar, similar to a rescue submersible (DSRV), which allows it to dock onto a larger submarine. This means that as well as being carried by the host submarine, crew can access the ASDS while it is underway. This allows maintenance and mission preparations.
This is key, and it is unique. Actually, the Japanese figured this out before World war Two, but no one has been able to do it since WW2. The barrier has been cost. But it makes eminent sense.
The unclassified documents state that the DCS Next will be able to "Launch, recover, replenish and maintain" while underway. This strongly implies a docking collar.
There are three ways this could be done. The most obvious way, and how the ASDS did it, was for the dry sub to attach to the outside of the host submarine. Access between the two would be via the escape trunk of the submarine. This is likely to be the way applied to the DCS Next.
Another way however is for the dry sub to go inside a hangar, such as the existing Dry Deck Shelters (DDS). The Navy and SOCOM experimented with this but abandoned it in favor of the current DCS. The main limitation is size - the dry sub needs to be very small. This limits capacity and endurance.
The last way is for the dry sub to fit inside a vertical payload bay of a submarine, such as the Virginia Block V. This is more streamlined, but adds a complication; the DCS has to be stowed vertically. The batteries and internal equipment needs to be comfortable with this. And possibly launch and recovery needs to be while the submarine is hovering.
The timeline for DCS Next has not been revealed, but it is impressive and interesting that the U.S. Navy is already working on the next generation SEAL delivery system.
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