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MK-10 Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment (SEIE)

The Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment / Ensemble(SEIE) suit serves as an ejection seat, providing a means to escape with protection from the elements. The MK-10 Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment, a combined whole-body suit and one-man life raft, is designed to provide submariners protection against hypothermia. It is rapidly replacing the Steinke Hood rescue device. The Steinke Hood, which had covered only the head and neck, offered no insulation for the rest of the body, and had no life raft attached. The Navy's qualification of the Beaufort Air-Sea Equipment, Ltd. MK10 Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment for backfit on all US submarines introduced a dramatic improvement over the Steinke Hood escape systems they are replacing, increasing the capability for safe escape from a depth of 350 feet to 600 feet, while reducing the overall risk of injury to escapers from disabled submarines at all depths.

The SEIE MK-10, a British-designed suit, is scheduled to replace all Steinke Hoods aboard US Navy submarines. In 2000 the USS TOLEDO became the first US submarine to have the fully operational and certified British escape system. By 2002 twelve other SSN-688 Class submarines had received the system, and all Los Angeles Class submarines would eventually be equipped with this system. As of early 2007 all Virginia-class and Los Angeles-class submarines had been modified, and only two Seawolf-class submarines still had to be refitted. The ballistic missile submarines were also undergoing modifications at that time. The reconfiguration of escape trunks and training of the crews are requirements prior to installing the new system.

The Navy's renewed interest in submarine escape was brought on in part by the fact that US submarines now operate more frequently in shallow coastal waters. Today submarines spend a greater amount of time in the littorals or shallow water, which supports the overall concept of escaping from a possible distressed submarine.

The suit was developed by Beaufort Air-Sea, with associated submarine valve sets manufactured by Hale Hamilton of the UK. The Escape and Immersion Equipment was among 31 projects selected in October 1997 to be funded under the Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) Program. The FCT Program, authorized by Congress in 1989, is administered by the Director, Test, Systems Engineering, and Evaluation, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition and Technology). The FCT Program tests and evaluates foreign non-developmental items from US allies and other friendly nations to determine whether the equipment can satisfy U.S. Armed Forces requirements or to correct mission area shortcomings. Foreign non-developmental items offer cost-effective alternatives to new, and perhaps unnecessary, US developmental efforts and reduce the time to field equipment needed by the warfighter. By evaluating foreign alternatives, FCT stimulates competition from US manufacturers; however, safeguards are in place to ensure that US manufacturers are not placed at any disadvantage and that US industrial base issues are considered.

The MK-10 Submarine Escape and Immersion Equipment (SEIE) is a successor to the British Mark VII Submarine Escape and Immersion Suit. In 1970 the Mark VII Submarine Escape and Immersion Suit and the ACED Hooded Immersion Suit, Raft, were subjected to open sea evaluation using five inexperienced subjects and eight experienced Submarine Escape Tank Instructors/Divers as subjects. The sea states experienced varied from sea state 1 (smooth) to sea state 4 (rough). The British Mark VII Submarine Escape Immersion Suit (SEIS) which provides thermal protection and the Steinke Hood which does not, were evaluated by the Naval Submarine Medical Research Lab Groton CT in 1970 for single-man and group escape (2- and 3-man teams) from a simulated top egress United States Navy escape trunk. For both escape appliances, egress time increased linearly as a function of team size. Three-man teams and two-man teams escaped faster with the SEIS than with the Steinke Hood; there was no difference for one-man escapes. Single-man escape times with the SEIS were comparable to those obtained by the British. When compared with side and tube egress, top egress offers a substantial reduction in escape time and therefore in total bottom time. Safe escapes from depths in acesss of 450 feet by teams of more than two men are feasible from a top hatch configuration but are not possible from a side or tube egress configuration. A submarine escape system employing top egress and the exposure protection of the SEIS was recommended.

The SEIE MK-10 suit allows survivors to escape a disabled submarine at depths down to 600 feet, at a rate of eight or more men per hour. The SEIE is designed to enable a free ascent from a stricken submarine and to provide protection for the submariner on reaching the surface until rescued. The assembly is comprised of a submarine escape and immersion suit, an inner thermal liner, and a gas inflated single seat life raft, all contained in an outer protective stowage compartment.

The suit not only keeps the escapee dry and protected from cold shock during escape, but also acts as a thermally efficient immersion suit on reaching the surface. Full protection is therefore provided while deploying and boarding the life raft. The suit provides sufficient lifting force to take the escapee from the submarine to the surface at a safe speed of approximately two to three meters per second.

The Steinke Hood was designed for the same circumstances, but did not include a full-body, thermally insulated suit or life raft. It was at best a last ditch survival device but would not protect submariners from hypothermia or provide shelter or visibility at the surface, as the SEIE is designed to do.

To use the equipment, Sailors have to put on the suit and go into the rescue chamber on the submarine. Once in the chamber and ready, the Sailor signals by tapping on the inside of the chamber with a ball-peen hammer. Then the chamber is flooded, which takes about 90 seconds at 600 feet. When the water pressure in the chamber is equal to the water pressure on the outside, the outer door to the chamber opens and the Sailor shoots to the surface because of the buoyancy of the suit.

In the event of an emergency, the SEIE might just save submariners from an otherwise perilous fate. However, the device is designed to be a last resort in the event of a submarine emergency at sea. The goal in the event of a submarine mishap is survival. The second is rescue with a submarine rescue vehicle. Lastly, if a rescue vehicle is not available or cannot connect to a stricken submarine, the crew can escape using the SEIE.

Optimally, a rescue vehicle is preferred as it allows crewmembers to survive with essentially no injuries since they are protected from the great amount of pressure at ocean depths. A rescue vehicle connects directly to the escape hatch of a submarine, eliminating the threat of exposure to cold water and extreme pressure. In addition, the primary benefit of rescue before resorting to escape with the SEIE is that there would be resources available, including a recompression chamber, should it be needed by the rescued crewmembers. However, unlike the Steinke Hood, the suit provides the good protection from decompression sickness, hypothermia, and climatic exposure.

For the first time in Navy history, Sailors have practiced escaping from a submerged U.S. nuclear-powered submarine. A total of seven personnel practiced locking out from the attack submarine USS Los Angeles (SSN-688) and ascending to the surface wearing special suits that designed to enable a free ascent from a stricken submarine. The exercise, dubbed ESCAPEX, was held at the Navy's Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility in Ketchikan, Ak., on 02 December 2006. For the exercise, USS Los Angeles embarked six U.S. Navy divers, as well as a British diver from the Royal Navy. The submarine submerged to 130 feet, where each of the seven divers donned the SEIE suits, entered the escape trunk, and ascended.




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