Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle
When the USS Thresher went down in the early 1960s with all hands aboard, the Navy took steps to ensure such a tragedy never occur again. Following the recommendations of a special Presidential Deep Submergence Review Group, the Deep Submergence Rescue System was developed in the mid-1960s. The deep submergence rescue vehicles Mystic (DSRV 1) and Avalon (DSRV 2) of the Deep Submergence Unit are the product of that program.
The development of the DSRV may be traced to the USS Thresher disaster of April 10, 1963. The submarine, with 129 men on board, went down in 8,400 feet of water which was well beyond her collapse depth. Consequently, there was no possibility of survivors. Two weeks later the Secretary of the Navy established the Deep Submergence Systems Review Group (DSSRG). One of the responsibilities assigned to DSSRG was to "Review the Navy's plans for the development and procurement of components and systems related to location, identification, rescue from and recovery of deep submerged large objects from the ocean floor." The DSSRG effort was largely of the in-house type utilizing thenexisting experience and knowledge on submersibles for com- bat and oceanographic purposes.
On February 22, 1964, DSSRG submitted its report to the Secretary of the Navy and recommended, among other things, the development, construction, and operation of DSRVs capable of personnel rescue down to collapse depths of current submarines; independent of weather, surface, or ice conditions; and capable of quickly responding to emergencies at any location in the world.
During the period from its inception in June 1964 through February 1966, the Deep Submergence Systems Project was part of the Navy's Special Project Office. The Deep Submergence Systems Project Office was established by the Chief of Naval Material on February 9, 1966.
The estimated cost of this rescue system grew from $36.5 million for 12 DSRVs to $463 million for six DSRVs. In February 1964 the Navy estimated that a rescue system including 12 DSRVs could be developed in 4 years. The estimated cost for development and 1 year of operation was $36.5 million. Further, introduction of the DSRV system was to result in a savings of $37.2 million by permitting a phaseout of an existing rescue system. The Navy estimated in 1969 that obtaining a rescue system of six DSRVs would take a total of 10 years (1964 to 1974) and would cost about $463 million. Of this cost, about $125 million has already been allocated, $31 million was requested for fiscal year 1970, and $307 million wsa be needed during fiscal years 1971 to 1974. Moreover, the existing rescue system will not be phased out; and, conse- quently, the anticipated savings will not be realized. Navy officials estimated that about $200 million of the $307 million ap- plies to the four additional DSRVs. Annual operating cost, after fiscal year 1974, for the four is estimated at over $17 million.
The DRSVs were specifically designed to fill the need for an improved means of rescuing the crew of a submarine immobilized on the ocean floor. Mystic and Avalon are the first submersibles that could be transported by land, sea and on or beneath the sea. They could operate independently of surface conditions or under ice for rapid response to an accident anywhere in the world.
The primary mission of the DSRV is to provide a quick reaction, worldwide, all-weather capability to rescue personnel from disabled submarines (DISSUB) at depths of less than 610 meters (2000 feet). The DSRV's maximum operating depth is approximately 1524 meters (5000 feet). The DSRV could be transported by truck, aircraft, surface ship, or on a mother submarine. The DSRV could dive, locate the disabled submarine [DISSUB], and attach itself to the DISSUB's rescue seat. After the DSRV is properly attached to the submarine, the DISSUB's access hatches are opened and submarine personnel could enter directly into the DSRV. The DSRV then detaches itself from the submarine and transfers the rescued personnel to the support ship, which could be a specially modified submarine or a surface ship.
When notified of an accident, the DSRVs, the crew and their specialized support gear could be loaded on a C-5 galaxy cargo plane at Naval Air Station North Island and flown to the nearest airport. Once it arrives, the DSRV is transported via its special land transport vehicle and taken to the staging port for rendezvous with a specially equipped mother submarine. The mother submarine then piggybacks the DSRV to the accident site to rescue the crew members. It's this versatility and economy that makes the vehicles such excellent rescue assets.
Upon notification that a submarine is submerged and disabled, the DSRV and its support equipment are transported to a port near the submarine, then loaded on a support ship. For the rest of this discussion, the DSRV support ship will be assumed to be a submarine. The mother submarine, with the DSRV mated to the after rescue/escape trunk and supported by four pylons, proceeds to the area of the DISSUB and serves as an underwater base for the DSRV. The mother submarine could launch and recover the DSRV at either the forward or after rescue/escape trunk while submerged.
As the DSRV decends to the DISSUB, it uses sonar to detect the submarine's AN/BQN-13 submarine distress pingers. The DSRV could detect the afterview of the sail of the smallest U.S. Navy submarine at about 450 meters (500 yards) under good acoustic and reverberation conditions. The DSRV could also establish and maintain voice communications with the submarine using the emergency underwater telephone. After the DSRV has located the submarine's rescue/escape trunk and has landed on the rescue seat, the water in the DSRV mating skirt is pumped overboard or is vented to tanks on the DSRV. Depending on rescue conditions, such as depth of the submarine, underwater current, and angle of the submarine, the DSRV could use hold-down devices similar to those used by the SRC to ensure a watertight seal with the submarine.
When instructed by the DSRV, the submarine's crew drains the upper hatch cavity, which equalizes the pressure between the DSRV and the submarine. The submarine crew then drains the trunk, if necessary. On submarines that have been modified to use the threaded eyebolt, the DSRV crew installs them, if necessary. The DSRV crew installs the hold-down devices and then removes the submarine hatch fairing. Next, the DSRV crew installs a compensating weight onto the hatch or, on SSN 21 class submarines, unscrews a spring retainer screw to make up for the removal of the fairing. On submarines with permanently welded padeyes or staples, the DSRV crew removes the submarine hatch fairing, if necessary. On earlier classes of submarines with 25-inch-diameter upper access hatches, the fairing covers are not removed. The DSRV crew then installs the hold-down devices, if necessary. The DSRV crew then installs a compensating weight, if necessary, onto the hatch or, on SSN 21 class submarines, unscrews a spring retainer screw to compensate for the removal of the fairing. The DSRV crew signals the submarine's crew to open the upper access hatch and then the lower access hatch. The pressure in the trunk and the access compartment should be the same before the lower access hatch to the trunk is opened. The fairing plates, if removed, and supplies, as needed, are transferred to the submarine. These supplies could include oxygen, lithium hydroxide canisters, water, food, clothes, medical supplies, etc.
Submarine personnel are brought aboard the DSRV. Up to 1905 kilograms (4200 pounds) of variable ballast water could be transferred to the submarine to make up for the submarine personnel brought on board the DSRV. After the ballast and supplies are transferred, the submarine crew is directed to close the upper access hatch and the hatch cavity drain valve, the trunk flood valve, and the trunk drain valve.
The Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) maintenance strategy involves a number of short to medium length Restricted Availabilities (RAV) between extended major maintenance availabilities which occur concurrently with mandatory 72 month hull surveillance for DSRVs. Even with this difference in maintenance strategies the similarity in systems and procedures is such that the provisions and intent of submarine trial requirements have been incorporated for DSRVs wherever possible.
One of the DSRVs is kept in rescue-ready status at all times, ready to respond to an emergency. Since their initial construction more than 25 years ago, both vehicles have undergone extensive upgrades and are widely recognized as the most sophisticated submersibles in the world. They stand ready every day of the year to support the submarine rescue needs for both the US Navy and its allies world wide.
The DSRV outer hull is approximately 15 meters (50 feet) long, 2.4 meters (8 feet) in diameter, and is constructed of formed fiberglass. The DSRV weighs approximately 36 metric tons (80,000 pounds). Inside the fiberglass outer hull are three interconnected spheres that form the pressure hull. Each sphere is 2.3 meters (7-1/2 feet) in diameter and is constructed of high tensile strength steel. The spheres are connected by hatches that allow personnel to move within the DSRV. The forward sphere contains the vehicle's sophisticated control and navigation equipment and is manned by an operator and a co-operator. The center and after spheres accommodate up to 24 passengers and two DSRV crewman.
Under the DSRV's center sphere is a hemispherical skirt and shock mitigation system that allows the DSRV to mate with the rescue seat on the submarine's rescue/escape trunk). The skirt allows a watertight seal to be made between the DSRV and the submarine. After a seal is made, the submarine's upper access hatch could be opened and swung up into the skirt cavity.
Propulsion and control of the DSRV is provided by a conventional, battery-powered, stern propeller in a movable shroud; and four ducted thrusters, two forward and two aft. Submarine batteries are consumable items which require replacement upon reaching the end of their service life. Batteries are MISSION CRITICAL equipment. Silver Zinc Batteries provide the only power source for the DSRV rescue vehicle, which provide the Navy with a capability for personnel rescue from a disabled submarine. A complete new battery is installed when an operating set reaches the end of its estimated 15 month life cycle. The system permits the DSRV to maneuver and hover in underwater currents. The DSRV could attach to a submarine inclined to angles up to 45 degrees from vertical in either the fore and aft or athwartships direction, with an internal pressure of up to 3-1/2 atmospheres, and exposed to a current of up to 2 knots.
All of the rescue assets, the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle system and Submarine Rescue Chamber system, routinely exercise in the waters off Southern California to maintain training proficiency and verify readiness. Two pre-positioned fixtures, simulating submarine hatches, are mounted to the sea floor and are used to support the DSRV. One unit, Deep Seat, is located at a depth of 2000 ft. The second training fixture, Deep Throne, is located at a depth of 250 ft and consists of mating surfaces at angles up to 40 degrees. In addition, these rescue assets exercise with U.S. submarines and participate in international rescue exercises.
Exercise "Pacific Reach 2000", was a submarine rescue exercise conducted in October 2000 and "Sorbet Royal 2000", a rescue exercise conducted in September 2000. Pacific Reach 2000 involved four participating nations, with observers from an additional eight additional nations, and consisted of a Submarine Rescue Chamber being flown to Singapore and subsequently mating with and transferring personnel to and from bottomed submarines from Singapore and South Korea. "Sorbet Royal 2000" involved three participating nations, with observers from an additional eleven nations, and included the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle being flown to Turkey and subsequently mating with bottomed submarines from Italy and Turkey and transferring personnel to and from the bottomed submarines.
Submarine disasters where rescue is possible are rare - there have been only two in the US Navy since 1928. On May 23, 1939, the U.S.S. "Squalus" sank in 240 feet of water. A McCann rescue chamber tended by a surface ship made four trips to the "Squalus" and rescued the 33 survivors. In addition to this peacetime disaster, there has been one wartime submarine disaster during this period from which rescue might have been possible. On January 25, 1942, the USS "S-26" collided with its escort and sank in 300 feet of water in the vicinity of the Panama Canal Zone. By the time the ASR rescue vessel, which was finishing overhaul, arrived at the disaster scene there were no survivors.
For rescue to be possible below the collapse depth of the internal bulkhead the submarine would have to be disabled with the external hull intact. Navy documents state that the actual occurrence of such a disaster was not probable. Navy documents showed that about 94 percent of the time submarines will be operating in water deep enough to make rescue either impossible or improbable if a disaster occurs.
As of 2000, only DSRV-1 remained in service. Following s recently completed and extensive maintenance availability, the DSRV Mystic would remain in a constant rescue-ready status until her planned inactivation in 2005, with the exception of one 3-week upkeep in 2003. Based on requirements to keep only one DSRV rescue-ready at all times, the Navy inactivated the DSRV Avalon in November 2000. DSRV-2, serves as a source of spare parts for DSRV-1. The new Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System (SRDRS) was being built. It was initially planned to be phased in and replace the current rescue system in 2005, though as of January 2006, DSRVs were scheduled for Inactivation in FY08. Mystic served until October 2008. During her operational career, Mystic was never utilized for a disabled submarine.
In 2008, the United States developed a submersible system SRDRS suitable for the special needs of the country. The system consists of an underwater operating system and a submarine rescue system. All components could be transported on standard trailers or airlifted by various types of aircraft. The ability to respond quickly to wrecked submarine rescues worldwide. Among them, the submarine rescue system has a single rescue capacity of 16 people, the maximum working depth is 610 meters, and the maximum docking angle is 60 degrees.
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