View Full Version : Article on ASDS

18 February 2002, 22:46
Advanced SEAL Delivery System
Defense Week
January 2, 2002
Pg. 1
Contractor Row Mars SEALs Sub Program: RAND
By Nathan Hodge

In Afghanistan, special-operations forces are engaged in a dramatic test of their capabilities. At home, they face a different kind of conflict: The Navy's two top shipbuilders are reportedly at odds over a program to build mini-subs for Navy SEALs. The Advanced SEAL Delivery System, or ASDS, is a small underwater vehicle that would be launched from an attack sub to transport Navy special-operations forces. The program-with a potential total price tag of $700 million-has been plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays. According to a draft RAND report obtained by Defense Week, the two main contractors collaborating on the program-Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics' Electric Boat division-have suffered from a "communication and expectation gap." Northrop Grumman, the lead contractor on the project,
fears losing control of the program to Electric Boat, which will manufacture the hull, said the report, to be published this month. RAND faulted Northrop Grumman for a "a lack of top management attention" as well as "poor design decisions and poor vendor performance." Northrop Grumman won a contract in 1994 to design and build the ASDS system. The company delivered the 65-foot, $275 million sub to SEAL Team One for deep water testing at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in June 2000. That first ASDS is still undergoing testing. RAND praised the program for its innovations and recommended serial production. But it remains to be seen if that will happen. Sources say it is not clear whether the Pentagon will fund an additional five subs. Littoral warrior
ASDS is a mini-submarine that would succeed the Mk VIII SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) now in service. The ASDS would allow SEAL teams to deploy stealthily from littoral waters-a feature that may prove important if the United States takes its war on terrorism to states that lie along coasts. Both SDV and ASDS can carry eight SEALs. But unlike the current SDV-which looks like a torpedo with an open cockpit-the ASDS would be a "dry"
submersible and therefore more like the submarine that launches it than the SDV. SDV crews must wear scuba equipment while operating, exposing them to cold seas and limiting mission endurance. The ASDS will allow the SEALs to remain dry and ready for combat, and it would deliver them much closer to
shore. The ASDS would be launched from a refitted fast-attack boat or from the proposed SSGN, a converted Trident SSBN ballistic-missile sub. It would also have a "hyperbaric" chamber in the floor of the craft that would allow it to dock with another submarine, much like a deep-sea rescue vehicle. At a recent Pentagon press briefing on special-operations capabilities, Robert
Andrews, principle deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, singled out ASDS as one example of how the special-operations budget can be used to develop customized equipment. Communication breakdown
However, the ASDS program has been plagued by cost overruns and schedule problems. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) placed $3.3 million for ASDS on his list of "objectionable provisions"-pork-barrel projects-in the defense-appropriation bill for fiscal 2001. Moreover, appropriations committee reports have been critical of the development and management of the ASDS program. According to the RAND report, undertaken at the request of
the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), those problems are compounded by infighting between Northrop and Electric Boat. The RAND report alluded to-but did not republish-acrimonious correspondence between the two companies, the last two major shipyards left standing after years of consolidation. The hull manufacturer for the first sub, Chicago Bridge and Iron, dropped out of the program. Then Northrop Grumman selected General
Dynamics' Electric Boat division in Groton, Conn., to produce the pressure hulls for subsequent models. Then, according to RAND, Northrop Grumman "became concerned that EB [Electric Boat] was trying to gain control of the program," and Northrop's worries strained its relationship with Electric Boat, the report said. However, there may have been an upside to the dispute. According to RAND, "as a result of this discord, [Northrop Grumman] took steps to reduce and control costs" and the company has "assembled a systematic approach to" do so.
Signs of discord Northrop Grumman referred questions on the program to NAVSEA, which is responsible for the program during the testing and design phase. U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the unified command for multi-service special-warfare units, has its own budget for research, development and
procurement. Neil Ruenzel, a spokesman for Electric Boat, said his company has no aim to become the prime contractor and there was "no friction" between the two teams. Another industry source, however, confirmed that there was an uneasy relationship between General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, but would not elaborate on the specifics. The RAND report offered a number of remedies. "To create a sense of trust, the Navy needs to reaffirm that [Northrop] is the prime contractor for the ASDS program," RAND said. Electric Boat "also needs to come forward and formally state that it is not interested in becoming the prime contractor (as it has done with RAND) and that [Northrop] should determine who does other production work." RAND also recommended that the Navy establish an advisory forum to encourage formal discussions between Northrop and the hull designer. Still in the air For the time being, however, a procurement decision regarding the next five boats is still pending. Maria Zacharias, a NAVSEA spokeswoman, said the fate
of the program was undecided, as testing had only just started. "At this point we're dealing with all unknowns," she said. David Caskey, another NAVSEA spokesman, said: "Once they get a funding number, they'll be able to talk" about the future of the program. He said the decision could come in early February. Some signs point to continued funding. According to one expert, SOCOM-which has seen its profile raised because of the Afghan
campaign-has a green light now for procurement. "Because of its role in combating terror, SOCOM is expected to be a major, major beneficiary" of the anti-terror war, said David Steigman, a senior analyst with the Teal Group, a defense consultancy. "If any command can be said to be getting a blank check, it would be SOCOM."