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USS Dolphin (AGSS 555)

USS Dolphin (AGSS 555) completed her final cruise 09 September 2006 when she tied to the pier at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego. During the underway, the diesel-electric powered test and research submarine made her 1,560th and final dive to a depth exceeding 3,000 ft. The submarine was commissioned in 1968 and was the sixth oldest ship in the fleet. Dolphin was designed for research, development, test and evaluation and is one of the world's deepest diving submarines with a maximum operating depth in excess of 3,000 ft. Among many milestones, the ship launched a torpedo from the deepest depth ever recorded, developed a highly accurate target management system, and achieved the first two-way laser communication between a submarine and an aircraft.

Equal to the submarine's history of research, test, development and evaluation was the ship's nonpareil camaraderie. With a crew of less than 50 Sailors, Dolphin was smaller than its nuclear-powered counterparts.

USS Dolphin (AGSS 555), homeported at the Naval Research and Development (NRaD) facility in San Diego, was the Navy's only operational, diesel-electric, deep-diving, research and development submarine. She could carry scientific payloads of over 12 tons, a considerably greater capacity than any other deep diving research vessel operating today. Dolphin could also maintain more extensive onboard laboratory facilities than her deep submersible counterparts. USS Dolphin was the Navy's deep diving submarine designed to test advanced submarine structures, sensors, weapons, communications, and machinery systems. USS DOLPHIN served as a scientific platform capable of operations at unprecedented depths greatly exceeding that of any known operational submarine. In November 1968, she set a depth record for operating submarines that still stands. In August 1969, she launched a torpedo from the deepest depth that one has ever been fired.

Employed by both Navy and civilian researchers, the submarine was equipped with and extensive and impressive instrumentation suite that can support multiple missions. Since the boat's commissioning in 1968, she amassed a startling record of scientific and military accomplishments. Shortly after commissioning, Dolphin established an unmatched world depth record for operating submarines, with a recorded test depth in excess of 3,000 feet.

Because Dolphin was designed as a test platform, she could be adapted to accept projects more easily than most operational submarines. One example of this modification for research and development was Dolphin's test run of the Navy's newest sonar system. AS a result of Dolphin's efforts, this new system would be retrofitted into the fleet. The boat could be modified both internally and externally to allow the installation of special military and civilian research and test equipment. Normally the project's sponsor must fund these modifications, but the boat allows a variety of researchers to attain unprecedented flexibility in deep-ocean missions.

Utilizing a large payload (over 12 metric tons) and a highly versatile instrumentation suite, civilian and Naval activities employed USS DOLPHIN for testing a multitude of technologically advanced and complex equipment. Presently configured to conduct extensively deep water acoustic research, oceanic survey work, sensor trials, and engineering evaluations, USS DOLPHIN operated as a Unit of the U.S. Naval Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, under Commander, Submarine Development Group One.

In almost thirty years of operations, USS DOLPHIN proved most successful in assessing "the overall Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) significance of deep diving submarines" and exploiting "the limits of present technology in designing for deep depths." Her operations were broad based and far reaching, and they included development of operational concepts and testing of advanced engineering design features, weapons, launcher and fire control systems, and deep ocean acoustics. Much of this work is necessarily classified, but examples of USS DOLPHIN's specific achievements include:

  • First successful submarine-to-aircraft optical communications
  • Development of a Laser Imaging system of photographic clarity
  • Development of an Extreme Low Frequency (ELF) antenna for TRIDENT
  • Evaluation of various non-acoustic ASW techniques
  • Evaluation of various low probability of interception active sonars
  • First submarine launch of a MOSS system
  • First successful submarine test of BQS-15 sonar system
  • Development of highly accurate (10 cm) towed body position monitoring system
  • deepest launching of a torpedo
  • Development of a new Obstacle Avoidance Sonar system
  • Development of a highly accurate target management system
  • Evaluation of a possible "fifth force of nature"
  • First successful submarine-to-aircraft two-way laser communication

The USS DOLPHIN achieved a great deal of success in each of her endeavors and proved the feasibility of operating deep in the ocean. Dolphin has supported foreign threat simulation, ASW, torpedo testing, acoustic systems testing, acoustic communications testing and many others areas of RDT&E.

The single most significant technical achievement in the development of the USS DOLPHIN was the pressure hull itself. It is a constant diameter cylinder, closed at its ends with hemispherical heads, and utilizes deep frames instead of bulkheads. The entire design of the pressure hull has been kept as simple as possible to facilitate its use in structural experiments and trails. Hull openings were minimized for structural strength and minimum hull weight, in addition to eliminating possible sources for flooding casualties.

The USS DOLPHIN 's unique capabilities allowed her to conduct independent deep ocean research missions. She was a unique blend of the lessons learned of the past and the most advanced technology of the present. The USS DOLPHIN's contributions to research and development significantly influenced the design of 21st century submarine sonar, weapon, communications, and engineering systems.

Testing aboard this platform reduced the number of fleet units required to support RDT&E efforts. A major cost of this project was regularly scheduled ship maintenance. The remainder of the funds were used for purchase of supplies and equipment, fuel and petroleum products, repairs, and supporting modifications. Most costs are fixed and are associated with simply having these platforms in the inventory. A lesser portion of the costs varies with the tempo and type of ship operations and provides for systems improvements and replacement planning. The nature of the operations were determined by the overall Navy/DoD R&D testing program.

Dolphin was conducting acoustic torpedo experiments in May 2002 when its sail's side door failed to maintain a watertight seal, resulting in the flooding of the ship, which damaged electrical devices aboard. The Dolphin (AGSS 555) reported fire and flooding at 11:30 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday, 21 May 2002, while operating approximately 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. A torpedo shield door gasket failed and water began to flood Dolphin. Due to high winds and 10- to 11-foot swells in the ocean, approximately "70-to-85 tons of seawater entered the ship, an amount dangerously close to the reserve buoyancy of Dolphin. The Oceanographic Research Motor Vessel McGaw was operating in the vicinity and immediately responded. The fire and flooding was beyond the ability of the crew to control, so they were evacuated by small boat to McGaw after the submarine hatches had been secured. All crew members were safely recovered with only a few minor injuries. Chief Machinist's Mate (SW) John D. Wise Jr. received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal (NMCM) for his courageous efforts prevented the loss of the ship and crew.

After the incident, Dolphin's crew and the Navy repaired and upgraded the boat. The USS DOLPHIN completed an extensive refit (over $40M) following her Flooding/Fire incident in May 2002. AGSS-555 USS DOLPHIN successfully completed Sea Trials and INSURV. In FY05 DOLPHIN supported MK48 ADCAP CBASS Torpedo, MK54 Torpedo (Shallow Water ASW Target-SWAT Program, Low Frequency Sonar, Advanced Deployable system (ADS) AN/SQQ-89 ASW Combat System. USS DOLPHIN conducted periodic phased maintenance to maintain certification and procure material to support continued operations.

The crew of USS Dolphin (AGSS 555) got underway 12 December 2005 in preparation for shallow-water acoustic torpedo testing that is scheduled to take place in early 2006. The torpedo testing involved the submersion of Dolphin in shallow waters to near-bottom depths, at which point Dolphin will become the target of torpedoes. In shallow water, targets are harder for submarines to hit because noise and reverberation on the sea floor limit the ability of torpedoes to pick out their target. The Navy's goal in the experiment is to help develop a more capable torpedo armed with a more advance sonar system. The boat was modified to support a key CNO Project (MK54 FOT&E) in April 2006.

USS DOLPHIN provided support for numerous undersea surveillance, sonar, weapons, communications and imaging programs. DOLPHIN supported software upgrades testing of the MK50 and MK48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) torpedoes, the "VA Class" Submarine Material Qualification Program, ONR Littoral Warfare Advanced Development (LWAD) Program, Improved Extended Echo Ranging (IEER), Advanced Extended Echo Ranging (AEER), Advanced Deployable System (ADS), Submarine Mast Detection Radar (SMDR), Laser Airborne System - Hyperspectral (LASH), Airborne Low Frequency Sonar (ALFS), Tripartied Technology Cooperation Program (TTCP) and the Advanced Sea /Air/Land (SEAL) Delivery Program. Mobile Inshore Warfare Unit Arrays and the Seabased Weapons and Tactics School (SWATS) were also frequently supported by USS DOLPHIN.

AGSS-555 was deactivated at Point Loma Naval Base on 22 September 2006. As of 15 January 2007 here status was "Stricken, on donation hold as a museum and memorial".

On 31 January 2007 the Department of the Navy (DON) gave notice of the availability for donation, under the authority of 10 U.S.C. ect. 7306, of the diesel-powered submarine ex-DOLPHIN (AGSS-555), for use as a static museum/memorial for public display. The ex-DOLPHIN was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on January 15, 2007, and was located in San Diego, CA, its historic homeport. It is in the best interest of the Government to limit consideration of potential donees to entities that will provide permanent berthing in San Diego for public display of ex-DOLPHIN, thus recognizing the submarine's service in its historic homeport, while avoiding the DON's need to move the vessel to another location pending completion of the donation process. Eligible recipients include: (1) Any State, Commonwealth, or possession of the United States, or any municipal corporation or political subdivision thereof; (2) the District of Columbia; or (3) any organization incorporated as a nonprofit entity under section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code that will provide permanent berthing and display the vessel in San Diego.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:38:02 ZULU