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Navy special operators test advanced high-speed craft.

The U.S. Navy is putting through its paces a sleek, fast, shallow-draft technology demonstrator that promises to reduce crew and passenger injuries caused by a combination of speed and choppy water. Current craft operating in comparable conditions have a mishap rate approaching 50 percent.

SEALION, short for SEAL insertion, observation and neutralization, is a test bed for examining technologies for transporting special operations forces on combat missions, explained Michael D. Anslow, assistant program manager at the combatant craft department of the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock division. The vessel was designed by Anslow's department, which is headquartered at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.

It is a multi-mission, high-speed, low-signature boat, intended for a variety of missions, such as covert delivery and extraction of a Navy SEAL team to and from a hostile beach, mine identification and deactivation, clandestine surveillance, reconnaissance and target interdiction.

SEALION was developed under a program called ship and force architecture concepts, Anslow told National Defense. The actual work was done by an integrated product team made up of representatives from Carderock, the boat's planned user--the Naval Special Warfare Command--and the builder, Oregon Iron Works, a metals manufacturing company in Clackamas, Ore.

In many respects, it is similar to the Alligator boat the company sold to the Israeli Army a decade ago, and the Mark V Special Operations Craft, the boat currently used for such missions.

There are, however, significant differences, Anslow said. Both the Alligator and the Mark V have open stern decks, while the SEALION is enclosed entirely. "That keeps the crew and passengers out of the weather--no heat, cold, rain or enemy fire," Anslow said. It also allows occupants to move about the boat without being watched by observers.

The SEALION is all aluminum. It is 71 feet long, 11 feet shorter than the Mark V, enabling the SEALION to fit on to a C-17 Globemaster air transport. The Mark V requires a C-5 Galaxy, which is larger and needs a longer runway to take off.

The Navy has 20 Mark Vs, divided into 10 detachments. Each detachment consists of two craft and two deployment-support packages mounted on cargo transporters. The detachment can be delivered rapidly by two C-5s or by a surface ship with a well or flight deck, or one with appropriate cranes and deck space. Each detachment can deploy within as little as 48 hours of notification and be ready for operations within 24 hours of arrival at a forward operating base.

The Mark V also can be deployed by truck. The SEALION currently has no regularly assigned ground transportation, but it was shipped--under escort--from Oregon to Little Creek on the back of a flatbed truck, Anslow said. It was delivered to Little Creek in January 2003.

Each Mark V is operated by five special warfare combatant-craft crewmen, known as SWCCs. Each can carry 16 SEALs or other troops. SWCCs--who trace their history back to the "brown water" patrol boat crews employed during the Vietnam War-receive training that is similar to that given to SEALs. They transport SEALs--and other special operators--on missions into shallow water areas, where larger ships cannot operate. They often provide cover fire.

The SEALION currently is not armed, but it could be outfitted with many of the weapons found on the Mark V, Anslow said. These include 40 mm, 25 mm, .50 caliber and 7.62 mm automatic weapons.

The Mark Vs, built by Halter Marine Inc., of Gulfport Miss., began entering service in 1995. They are scheduled to be retired beginning in 2008.

The SEALION, however, is not a potential replacement for the Mark V, Anslow emphasized. "Definitely not," he said. "There is no comparison between the two. The SEALION is a technology demonstrator. There is no intent for it to be an operational craft." Instead, he said, the SEALION is being used to experiment with new technologies that might be useful on the Mark V's replacement. The Navy and the manufacturer declined to discuss those technologies in detail.

Anslow did note, however, that the SEALION is designed specifically for "shock mitigation"--reducing the bruising that crew and passengers take as the Mark Vs crash through waves at speeds in excess of 40 knots. "I've been told that at any one time, up to 25 percent of the crews are injured," he said. (Related story below) "We're trying to find out what works in a special warfare platform."

The key to lowering those injury rates is improved seakeeping, Anslow said. "Seakeeping is how a boat performs in high sea states. "This boat can operate in sea stare five at high speed without bouncing around and injuring the crew and passengers."

Another important aspect to SEALION's design is modularity, officials said. Planners envision the ability to exchange the aft third of a SEALION craft to accommodate different missions.

SEALION is being subjected to limited operational evaluation trials by SWCCs from Navy Special Warfare Group 4, which is based at Little Creek. Group 4 is writing the requirements for the Mark V's replacement, the Mk 6. "They've worked with us through the entire process," Anslow said.

The tests are being conducted between Little Creek and combatant craft's special trials facility, which is located at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, in nearby Southern Maryland.

"The testing process has been underway for about 18 months," Anslow said. The process consists primarily of putting the boat through its paces up and down the bay between Little Creek and Pax River.

Officials also declined to discuss the SEALION's engines, but they noted that it is capable of speeds comparable to the Mark V, which is equipped with twin 2285 horsepower diesel engines and KaMeWa50S waterjets.

The Bush Administration did not request funding for the SEALION project. Instead, several Democrats in Congress--including Rep. Darlene Hooley, of Oregon and Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Brian Baird, both of neighboring Washington state--earmarked money in defense spending over the past three years. The 2004 budget included $9 million dollars for SEALION.

In December 2003, the Navy awarded OIW a $6 million contract for a second SEALION craft. The work will he performed in Clackamas and is expected to be completed in December 2005. When the testing is completed, the combatant craft department plans to maintain SEALION at Little Creek as a test bed for future littoral warfare concepts and equipment.

SEALION, however, soon may be getting some competition. The Office of Naval Research has awarded $2.36 million in grants to the University of Maine's Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center for research and development of a high-speed hull design to replace the Mark V.

In any case, demand for boats such as the Mark V and SEALION appears certain to grow, because Navy special operators are busier than ever fighting the global war on terror.

In Iraq, for example, SEAL teams have been given the task of securing strategic targets in littoral areas, which include oil terminals and the seaborne route for incoming humanitarian aid. In waterways all over the world, SEALs are training with forces of friendly nations to perform maritime interdiction missions to seize shipments of illegal drugs and weapons of" mass destruction.

To help keep up with the heavier workload, the chief of naval operations has approved a plan to expand SEAL teams by 15 percent by 2006.
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Title Annotation:United States. Navy
Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:1218
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