After decades of sustained land operations, the Navy SEAL Teams are pivoting back to their underwater roots. The acquisition of the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Mark 11 has marked this strategic shift.
SEAL Delivery Vehicles are used to clandestinely transport SEAL operators closer to a target. Naval Special Warfare currently uses the venerable SDV Mark 8.
But the Mark 11 is an improvement to the old design. The new mini-submarine comes with better navigational abilities and increased payload capacity. The new vehicle also weighs 4,000 pounds more and is 12 inches longer, 6 inches taller, and 6 inches wider.
SDVs are wet submarines, meaning that water flows in the vehicle. The SEAL operators have to have underwater breathing apparatuses and wetsuits to survive. They are cumbersome and taxing on the operators, but they get the job done. Naval Special Warfare, however, is looking to add dry submarines to its fleet of midget subs – what you would think of a submarine — in the near future.
Last October, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) awarded Teledyne Brown Engineering a $178 million contract for the ten Mark 11s. The company has delivered five midget subs already, the last one in June. The remaining five are to be spaced out between Fiscal Year 2021 and 2022.
Currently, the Mark 11 is undergoing operational testing. Of particular importance is the landmark test of deploying and recovering a Mark 11 from a submarine.
Expediting the date of initial operational capability is the fact that both the Mark 8s and Mark 11s utilize the same Dry Dock Shelter (DDS) platform. DDS are attached to a submarine and carry the SDVs closer to the target.
The improved SDV capabilities of Naval Special Warfare are in response to the National Defense Strategy, which has marked the shift from counterinsurgency operations to near-peer warfare and categorized Russia and China as the biggest threats to U.S. national security. China, in particular, seems to be the main focus of that drive for a potent and well-maintained SDV capability.
“After decades of combat superiority across nearly all operating environments, our military now faces a world in which every domain is aggressively contested,” had said Rear Admiral Collin Green, the commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare in a discussion about the future of his force.
To begin with, there is China’s pugnacious and expansionist foreign policy in the South China Sea. The Chinese Navy, moreover, seems to be going through an arms race reminiscent of the Dreadnaught race between the United Kingdom and Germany that adumbrated the First World War. It can field more than 700 ships in the case of a conflict.
“We are adapting to the evolving strategic environment in order to remain the NSW force the nation expects – flexible, agile, networked, sustainable, and lethal. I am proud to lead this incredible force of highly skilled and creative problem solvers. Our strength lies in the diversity of thought, background, race, gender, and experience found throughout our force,” had added RADM Green.
Last year, Naval Special Warfare Command decided to reactivate SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2 (SDVT-2) as the committed East Coast SDV unit after 11 years, further signaling its commitment to return its underwater special operations roots. SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1) is responsible for the West Coast.
Here’s an interesting fact about the SDV Teams: Master Chief Kirby Horrell – the last Vietnam era Navy SEAL to retire from active duty after an astounding 47 years in uniform – went through the three-month-long SDV school at the age of 56 (he was promoted to Master Chief while in the course). Training dives in SDV school and the SDV Teams are no joke. Some last eight hours or even more.