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After the THRESHER loss in 1963, the Navy embarked on a program to provide a viable method of rescuing personnel from a submarine that was disabled on the ocean’s floor with one or more compartments relatively intacl The primary method selected was the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) with the associated equipment needed to operate from specially configured attack submarines of the SSN 637 class and from the two PIGEON class ASRs. Two DSRVs were contracted for and buill After delivery, a long and arduous testing phase was carried out to verify that the DSRVs met the requirements set forth by the Navy. Since 1977, the two DSRVs have been maintained in an ashore facility (Deep Submergence Unit) at the Naval Air Station, North Island. Over the period of time, these DSRVs have operated in several areas, including Scotland and Norway, using various support submarines and both ASRs. These vehicles are operated by Navy crews and are assisted in their maintenance by Navy personnel at the DSU and by contractor personnel.

The vehicles were originally designed for a ten year life with specific criteria on the number of dives to maximum depth per year. It was determined that the pressure hull was not being subjected to the number of cycles anticipated and the service life could be extended. A modernization program was begun that was designed to extend the service life to the year 2010. One of the DSRVs has had a new control system installed and the second DSRV will have a similar system installed together with other mechanical improvements during an overhaul that began in mid-1990.

Although the modernization is ongoing (at a slower pace than was anticipated due to funding availability), the year 2010 will soon begin to play a significant factor in the planning for future operations. The need to establish criteria for follow-on vehicles is rapidly approaching in order that an orderly planning and acquisition cycle can be carried forward.

After the requirements for replacement units are specified, it may be difficult to persuade Congress to spend the money on such a project. Instead of acquiring replacement DSRVs in the normal manner, it might be the time to approach the problem from a different aspecl A possible way to fund the replacement is to allow industry to provide the equipment and personnel as a service. To a degree, it would be much the same as having a tug under long term hire, answerable to a specific Navy command. The selected contractor would design the vehicles, construct them, man them, carry out training and actual rescues as designated by the Navy, maintain the vehicles and update them as required or as specified by the Navy. This method would call for the amortization of the cost of the vehicle, its maintenance and personnel over the period of the hire. The contractor would provide in his proposal a yearly price to cover the costs of building and testing of the new vehicle, the training costs of the various personnel and the costs of repairing, modifying and supporting the vehicle. This yearly cost might be more heavily weighted in the early years of the program to allow the contractor to recover his acquisition costs and would allow for escalation of the costs based on a mutually agreeable formula. In this mode, the Navy would specify the characteristics that the system must have and the period that the hire would be funded. Industry bidders would then be free to ascertain how best to build a replacement DSRV, how to acquire and train personnel for operating and maintaining the units, and how to maintain and upgrade the units over the period of the hire.

The heart of this concept would be the design and construction of the new units. Certain constraints in the form of requirements would define how the task could be undertaken. For example, to avoid causing significant cost to the support submarines, it would be necessary to specify that the physical interface between the DSRV and the support submarine in the form of the attachment points would remain as at present. But other items such as specific sonars, design of the hydraulic systems, and type of the life support systems would be at the discretion of the builder. Since the builder stands to gain by keeping the price low, it would encourage him to not overdesign but to meet the requirements at the minimum cost. The vehicles would still have to conform to the Navy’s certification for manned non-combatant submersibles. It should provide a means of allowing alternate approaches to the same problem with the added incentive of saving money.

The contractor would be responsible for providing personnel for operating and maintaining these units. The expected advantage of th~ method is in the lowering of the turnover rate now experienced when using Navy crews. The current method of manning with Navy personnel is always fighting the short time that personnel are assigned and the lack of continuity that arises by the continual training mode. Although the present crews of the DSRVs are drawn from submarine qualified personnel, due to the uniqueness of the two vehicles, a qualification program for new personnel ~ required. It is expected that many of the personnel would be drawn from people that have separated from the Navy and the Submarine Force and who desire to utilize their talents in this field. However, well trained technicians that have not served in the Submarine Force can well be used in the maintenance functions. This manning method should decrease the overall number of personnel needed as they would not be required to carry out military duties and the rotation of personnel would not be a factor.

The contractor would have the responsibility for the coordination of repairs between the maintenance personnel and his subcontractors to insure the minimum down-time of components. The contractor would have to conduct maintenance actions similar to the current Restricted Availabilities and Overhauls. The periodicity of these actions might be different than now, but it would probably be a function of equipment that was installed. Within the constraints of certification requirements, the contractor would be free to determine how best to maintain the efficiency of the vehicles and what repair methods are the most usable. Since the contractor ~ in full control of the repair of components and usage rates, he would be attuned to determining components that have a higher than normal failure rate, or that require excessively large amounts of effort to repair, and could act to replace or improve the discrepant components.

Over the period of the contract, improvements to the vehicles could come about in at least two ways. The first would be to improve the operation of the vehicle by changing systems, components or other units on a replacement type arrangement. An example of this improvement might be the change of the type of valves used in a particular system. This improvement would be funded by the contractor as it would contribute to his improved operation of the vehicle. The second would be as the result of the decision of the Navy to install a new capability in the vehicle over and above that originally required. The requirement for a new sonar which was not specified at acquisition might be an example. The cost of this type of change would be a matter of negotiation between the Navy and the contractor, similar to the existing system for modifying the DSRVs.

As in any new way of accomplishing a task, there are problems that must be addressed and overcome. One of the foremost in this plan is the need for a different method of contracting than is normally used. The Navy would be asking a contractor to build, maintain, man and upgrade vehicles for a long period of time, probably 25-30 years. Much of the early cost will involve designing and building vehicles to carry out the task. Additionally, projecting costs over a 25 year period is a very risky task. Therefore, the contracting procedure should have the capability of alJowing mutual modification of terms as the years pass and that can be used over the life of the vehicles.

The Navy presently has certain fiXed facilities such as the buildings presently housing the DSRVs which could and should be used in the new scheme. Because the facility needs to be adjacent to a large military airfield to allow transporting the rescue vehicles world-wide to conduct the rescues, it would appear that the present location is excellent and the facility should continue to be used to support the new vehicles. Also some maintenance and support equipment could be used. The usage of these items would lessen the costs, and therefore, should be made available to the selected contractor.

The contractor’s crew would have to be embarked on the ASRs or support submarines during actual or practice rescue missions. They would have to have access to areas which are under security clearance requirements and therefore, must be able to be properly cleared and allowed access. Given the proper attention, this aspect should not be a large problem. There may be need to revisit the existing (and future) Memorandum of Understanding with foreign governments and amend them as necessary.

NATO is currently conducting a study to determine whether NATO should acquire a Submarine Rescue System for the many submarines of the NATO nations. This study is to determine what type of rescue system should be acquired, how many systems should be acquired, where they should be based, and how the system should be owned, i.e., should it be owned by one or more countries, owned by NATO, owned by civilian contractors. NATO is looking at a ready date of 1998 for their system, if acquired. This study is on-going and the results are to be completed early in 1992.

The program specified above could provide the Navy with new Rescue Vehicles in a time of decreasing budgets by utilizing a different mode of acquisition. Further, it would reduce the personnel demands on the Submarine Force by passing the operation and maintenance of these vehicles to a contractor. This idea is presented as one possible means of providing new assets but there are many more ways that it could be accomplished. It is hoped that this article will cause some interest in the process and that this (and other) methods will be explored. One point is very clear, however, and that is that specific requirements for the new vehicles must be the product of the Navy,s need. The specific requirements should be carefully drawn to encompass the lessons learned from the many years of operating the present DSRVs and they should be limited to those necessary to carry out the rescue mission without incurring high costs to achieve minimal results. Unless the Submarine Force is prepared to remove the possibility of personnel rescue, the program for new Rescue Vehicles should be approached in a timely manner.

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