Fire ruins special forces mini submarine

A six-hour blaze damaged a special-warfare minisub Sunday

Navy to start probe of sub fire

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2008

The Navy will begin investigating today a battery fire that damaged the nation’s only special-warfare minisub, a costly and problem-plagued stealth boat that was getting a recharge at Pearl Harbor’s 22-acre SEAL facility on Waipio Peninsula.

Advanced SEAL Delivery System minisub

» In service: 1 (Pearl Harbor)

» Length: 65 feet

» Weight: 60 tons

» Crew: Pilot, submarine officer; co-pilot, SEAL officer

» Payload: Up to 16 SEALs

» Mission: Clandestine infiltration

» Range: Classified (at least 115 miles on a battery charge; can dive as deep as 200 feet)

» Transported: Piggyback on the deck of a nuclear attack submarine

Source: U.S. Navy

The Navy has not yet determined the cause of the fire or the extent of damage.

The black, 65-foot Advanced SEAL Delivery System minisub was undergoing routine maintenance in its shore-based facility at 8:30 p.m. Sunday when Navy personnel monitoring the battery recharging process noticed sparks and flames coming from near some of the battery compartments, officials said.

The building was immediately evacuated, and seven trucks and 25 federal firefighters responded but it took six hours to extinguish the fire and cool any remaining hot spots in the battery compartment, the Navy reported yesterday.

A investigation, led by the Naval Special Warfare Command and supported by experts from Naval Sea Systems Command and the Navy Safety Center, was expected to begin today.

The battery-powered minisub, designed to ride piggyback on an attack sub to within range of a hostile coast or other target, has been part of a troubled program that began in 1992. The vessel was delivered to the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command in 2001 and assigned to Pearl Harbor’s SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 in 2003.

There were initial problems with its propeller system, then problems with the electrical system and batteries.

A 2003 General Accounting Office report said the electrical system repeatedly shorted out and drained its silver-zinc batteries more quickly than the Navy projected. The zinc batteries were replaced with lithium-ion batteries.

The GAO report said the program, which initially called for six vessels, was to cost $527 million but rose to more than $2 billion.

Defense Industry Daily reported in April that “technical, reliability, and 400 percent cost overrun issues proved nearly insuperable.” Plans for six subs were halted in 2006, and the remaining ongoing effort was directed “to boost the performance of the existing sub and complete its operational testing,” the publication said.

The cigar-shaped minisub, which weighs 60 tons, is big enough to accommodate 16 SEALs, including two operators.


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