SOCOM Develops Dry Submersible Mini-Sub for SEALs

SEALs-in-LibyaU.S. Special Operations Command and sub-maker Electric Boat have partnered up to develop a dry submersible mini-submarine designed to deliver Navy SEALs into hostile, high-threat areas beneath the surface of the ocean.

The 31-foot long underwater vehicle, called the User Operational Evaluation System 3, can carry as many as six people. It is currently being tested and developed through a three-year, $44 million contract with General Dynamics Electric Boat.

The idea with the dry submersible is to minimize risk and fatigue for special operations forces, such as SEALs, who are adept at quietly swimming into hostile areas to complete high-risk missions.

“Combat submersibles are used for shallow water infiltration and exfiltration of special operations forces, reconnaissance, resupply, and other missions in high threat, non-permissive environments,” Capt. Kevin Aandahl, SOCOM spokesman told

The pressure hull and motor of the UOES 3 have already been built and are slated for key tests this coming June, Electric Boat officials said.  Engineering plans call for the inclusion of a standard suite of submersible navigation systems, gyroscopes, sonar and obstacle avoidance technology, said Franz Edson, director, mission systems and business development, General Dynamics Electric Boat.

“Right now, when we deploy SEALs they typically go in what’s called a wet boat – so they are in the ocean breathing through scuba gear. What the SEALs really want is something where they can get the guys to their objective dry, so they don’t have to endure this harsh water environment,” said Edson.

While SEALs are known for their training and long-distance swimming abilities, a dry submersible could lessen mission fatigue and reduce their exposure to harsh elements such as cold or icy water. Therefore, the UOES 3 would seem to be of particular value in cold or stormy waters given that it would protect them from the elements, one analyst said.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. These are well trained SEALs, but operating in choppy waters or freezing waters is a dicey proposition. You have got to give these guys enormous credit for being as brave as they are.  You don’t want them to be out there and not be able to survive,” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Va.-based think tank.

This isn’t the first time the Pentagon has tried to build SEALs a similar vehicle. Called the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS), the submersible was developed and then cancelled in 2006. The ASDS was planned to be launched from a submarine.

It is not yet clear whether the 19-ton dry submersible will be launched from a submarine or from a surface ship, however those questions are now being explored, SOCOM and Electric Boat officials said.

The dry submersible will undergo developmental testing and early operational assessment through fiscal year 2015, Aandahl said.

The UOES 3 is currently being built to commercial specifications through a partnership between General Dynamics Electric Boat and an Italian firm called Giunio Santi Engineering, or GSE, Edson explained.  The idea behind using commercial specifications is to leverage the best and most cutting-edge existing technology while working to keep costs lower, he said.

Some of the navigational technology includes a sonar Doppler velocity log which bounces a signal off the bottom of the ocean to help provide essential mission-relevant location information, Edson added.

“After bouncing off the bottom, a signal comes back to an array which tells you how far you are moving,” he said.

Another analyst said such a technology could bring an advantage to the SEALs, who may be anticipating a greater emphasis upon maritime missions as land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and end.

“It is sensible that they would want to deploy in the stealthiest way available. It is something that fits with the traditional missions of the SEALs,” said Benjamin Friedman, research fellow in homeland defense and security studies, Cato Institute, a Washington-based D.C. think tank.

SEAL submersible

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Nicky

    What SOCOM should get it an SSK submarine with littoral capability. That way they can have a littoral SSK for special operations.

  • ziv

    Do we really need to know about this sort of development? It seems like the program is small enough that it could remain in the black part of the budget.

    • Why? It’s just a mini-sub, no secret technology, and seen in every James Bond movie since the 60s.

    • Tad

      I always assumed that groups like the SEALS would have subs like this all along. Heck, I’m sure James Bond had one of these several decades ago! :-)

    • sailor12

      Then some moron in DC will complain about transparency. The american people don’t need to know everything special ops does.

    • GWW


    • Drew

      What black budget? There’s no such thing

  • anonymous

    Now I want to take the front sight of my iron-sighted M4 so I can be like the guys in this picture.

  • john

    Am surprised we still can’t build a mini sub for our brave SEALS. Hell the Japs built hundreds of them in WW2.

    • But they didn’t work very well, nor did the Germans’ ones.

    • Tiger

      Ask the drug runners. They seem be the leader in small sub making today……

  • Jeff M

    That picture of it at the bottom is pretty amazing, gonna put pixar out of business with that.

  • hibeam

    Total waste of money. Use drones to pound our adversaries into dust. Our recent experiences in Somalia come to mind. The seals chased back into the sea. The drones came back later to get the job done. Drones drones and more drones. That’s what we need. Especially along the Mexican border.

    • Argospete


    • Tiger

      Dim bulb, not everything can be done from the air… The Mexican border? What you need is to do is, build the damn fence.

  • jamesb

    How are these guys suppose to see?

    The thing pictured doesn’t have any window’s?

  • SJE

    The drug cartels are pretty adept at the minisub business

    • sailor12

      Those aren’t mini subs but low profile boats

  • mpower6428

    but seriously guys, keep it a secret ok…?

  • thearock

    All SEALs are issued two Mark II Series W/SW/IR Eyeballs.

    My question is if they arrive dry and underwater how do they get on shore without getting wet or filling the sub with water? Does it come with a moon pool, or does it beach like a whale?

    • Joe Schmo

      THe idea here is to get them from whatever ship/sub they come in on to the beach without being detected. Stand-off distance from the ship/sub can be significant. Presently they use a wet submersible as described which exposes them to the cold water and immediately starts sapping their energy. A dry submersible will get them as close as the wet sub but without exposture to the cold water. Therefore they will have more energy and be more alert when they depart the dry submersible and swim the final distance.

    • Curt

      It would need some kind of a airlock for the passengers and crew. Hopefully it will turn out better than the ASDS. Traditionally, SOCOM has sucked at this kind of development (to be fair the services aren’t much better) due to requirements creep.

    • TM1(SS) RET

      They will probably use a floodable lock-out system, like the forward emergency escape trunk on fast attack subs.

  • Big-B

    dont worry in the end it will be too expensive to be kept secret :-)

    however a nice idea but why not go a little further and buy a german uboat class 214?

  • Jay

    Totally reinventing the wheel. Again. The ASDV was exactly what we needed 10 years ago.

    I have become so completely disappointed with my Navy, and it’s total lack of efficiency in fielding new platforms.

  • Dfens

    This guy is building one in his basement using an F-16 canopy and electric motors. Maybe he could help the Navy out? Of course, he wouldn’t charge them $44 million so what’s the point, right?

  • bob

    There are dry subs for tourist in the bahamas, just take that “technology”, paint it grey and get on with it

  • Matt

    I experienced this technology in action, in a little known backwoods Florida town, back in 1978. Fella named Walt Disney had this thing set up and called it 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and you would get in and ride along under water and watch stuff happening. Fascinating that the military is looking at something similar now.

    • Joe Schmo

      Walt’s submarine ran on tracks under the water. No tracks where these guys need to go.

  • oblatt2

    Equipment that doesn’t exist for a mission that doesn’t exist.

  • blight

    A blast from the blast; and perhaps presaging cost-overrun-hell.

  • Willie

    With the help of the Italians? Does the flopped JSF ring a bell? We need to do it ourselves without other countries low bid input.
    Or is it Pasta powered?

    • blight_

      Italians have a longer track record of minisubs, stemming from their early record with frogmen operations going as far back as WW2.

      That said, maybe we should look at some captured Nork minisubs…

  • blight_

    I guess ASDS is dead again and something else always seems to rise back up again.

    “The project dies, but it gets up again…”

    • Curt

      Hopefully SOCOM learned from ASDS, and this is certainly less ambitious, but I won’t hold my breath. Preventing requirements creep is not SOCOMs strength.

  • Is that Putin on the right?

  • bob dobbs

    Do we need a new terror weapon? Useless parasites dingldberries. Get a real job.

  • hibeam

    I tried to tell them we needed a SOCOM version of the F-35. But noooo!!

    • Steven

      even if you put it in development for the next 50 years , its still not going to cost as much as the Non functioning , Cracking at high speeds , causing pilots to faint – F35
      which is STILL in development

  • Hunter76

    Small submersibles for bringing in combat specialists is sensible and certainly being pursued by our competitors, like Russia, Iran, NK, etc. Here’s my list of design considerations. Ymmv:

    Dry. Makes sense.
    Air droppable. Quickly get the asset near where it’s needed. C-130-able would be a reasonable max.
    Towable. Powerful endurance multiplier. Everything from regular Navy ship to submarine to trawler is in play.
    Avoid the submarine service. These boats have little in common with nuke-powered capital ships. Bad mix. Wet-deck assault ships are a better fit.
    Avoid bloat. The 16 passenger ASDS was clearly too big. 6 passengers might be right-sized.
    Avoid advanced tech. Fear of loss of the technology shouldn’t be a factor in planning such hi risk missions. Be ready to lose the inbound taxi. Plus reduce costs at least 90%.

  • Tiger

    Can we get Q branch to loan us 007’s underwater Lotus? The SEALS could arrive in dinner jackets with PPK’s…….

  • Guest

    This is great news. I was just wondering if they were going to do a follow up to the ASDS a few days ago. I never understood how they messed up that program, I mean a minisub isn’t exactly a radical concept. But better late than never I suppose.

  • vincent

    We put a man on the moon forty years ago. This sub should present little problem. Why such a comotion?

    • Dfens

      And today we not only can’t put a man on the moon, hell, we can’t even put a man in low earth orbit. We have to buy rides on Soviet Union designed Russian rockets just to put one of our hot shot asstronauts on our own damn space station, and John Glenn first orbited the Earth 52 years ago. Are you starting to catch on to why there’s some concern?

  • Dr.Mik Atoms

    It is not our space station; or does International mean something else?
    How do you guys do it? If I read and responded to the number of articles you do I would have no time for work and hobbies (surfing, sailing, kite flying/ building, model building, go, backgammon and Chinese chess and sex) get a life oh and I’m 60 years old.

    • Dfens

      Maybe if you were smarter, you could figure out how to use the “Reply” button.