Against the backdrop of the world’s largest submarine escape and rescue training event, NATO exercise Bold Monarch 2008 (BMH08), the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated its new Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System (SRDRS) off the coast of Norway from May 26 to June 5, 2008. During the eleven-day exercise, which demonstrated the ability of NATO allies and participating nations to perform life-saving operations in support of a distressed submarine, the Navy completed a successful Operational Evaluation of the Rescue Capable System (RCS) portion of the SRDRS and proved its functional readiness to serve as the Navy’s primary submarine rescue asset.
Airlifted from its home base at the Deep Submergence Unit (DSU) in San Diego, Calif., the RCS was mobilized aboard the Military Sealift Command fleet ocean tug USNS Apache (T-ATF-172) in Stavanger, Norway for the exercise. With exercise submarines from Norway, Poland, and the Netherlands “disabled” on the bottom to depths of 460 feet, the DSU/MSC team performed 13 manned dives, executed 13 successful submarine mates, and “rescued” a total of 203 sailors (transferred between the rescue module and submarines).
Among many “firsts” achieved were full backboard and half-back stretcher transfers from submarine to rescue module, followed by surface triage exercises involving the DSU active and reserve medical team. During the culminating “massive exercise” at the conclusion of BMH08, the DSU/MSC team worked around-the-clock to complete four successive SRDRS mates, and transfer 64 personnel from the Dutch submarine HRMS Dolfijn, which simulated the rescue of her entire crew. Throughout BMH08 the DSU team, comprised of active and reserve military personnel and civilian contractors, consistently demonstrated the ability to expertly execute a rescue.
Commenting on the significance of his team’s performance, Cmdr. Jay Spencer, commanding officer of DSU, noted “It proves that the rescue system works. [BMH08] validated the T-ATF as a viable platform to support the SRDRS. We have had no material issues that have impacted operations. We worked the system hard for five days, which is about twice as long as what a submarine rescue would take. We are confident in the capability we have to rescue the crew aboard a distressed submarine.”
Completing 50 hours of incident-free operations during BMH08, with no equipment or personnel casualties, was particularly satisfying for the NAVSEA team that certified the system just two months prior. “Immediately following the SRDRS certification we prepared and deployed Apache from South Carolina, flew the SRDRS components to Norway on a commercial Antonov-124 aircraft, and re-constituted the system aboard Apache for Bold Monarch.” said Capt. Gary Dunlap, Program Manager for Advanced Undersea Systems and the officer in charge of SRDRS’s acquisition and certification. “Everything came together as planned,” Dunlap added.
(Above)The SRDRS Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) Falcon is recovered following submarine rescue training during NATO exercise Bold Monarch 08, off the coast of Norway. A tethered, remotely-operated vehicle, the PRM can rescue up to 16 submariners per trip from depths to 2000 feet. (Below; Top row, left to right) Rear Adm. Joe Leidig, Deputy Commander for 6th Fleet and Commander of NATO’s Allied Southern Submarine Command, returns to the PRM following a visit to the Dutch submarine Dolfijn. The PRM was mated to Dolfijn in 350 feet of water during NATO exercise Bold Monarch 08 to demonstrate rescue capabilities; Lt. Jesse Skidmore prepares to climb through the escape hatch of HRMS Dolfijn and return to the PRM. (Bottom row, left to right) The PRM rests in the LARS on the fantail of Apache as she steams to the Bold Monarch operating area off southern Norway; The SRDRS Rescue Capable System consists of the PRM, a Launch and Recovery System (LARS), and auxiliary support vans, all shown here mobilized aboard the Military Sealift Command fleet ocean tug Apache in Stavanger, Norway.
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