US Special Forces are in for a drier time as Lockheed Martin and Submergence Group LLC sign a US$166 million contract to supply the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) with a new class of combat submersibles. Based on the Lockheed S301i and S302 commercial submersibles, the Dry Combat Submersibles (DCS) replaces the current fleet of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) with a new design that allows the soldiers to travel inside the vessel.

The American Special Forces have a deserved reputation as go anywhere, do anything troops, but it's often a dangerous and exhausting job. One example of this is the SDV, which is a standard insertion procedure. It works, but travelling in the open-top submersible is a bit like going to war in an underwater charabanc. Because the passengers must use scuba gear from start to finish, the SDV is limited as to how long it can travel and how deep it can go, and travel by scuba is exhausting.

According to Lockheed, the up to three 30-ton (27-tonne) DCS vehicles that it is contracted to build will allow warfighters to travel deeper and farther underwater than today. Instead of sitting in the open, the passengers will sit in a dry, shirtsleeve environment as the vessel brings them closer to their destination than the SDV. Once at the target location, disembarking is through a lockout chamber while still submerged.

Though no specifications for the DCS have been released, if it is similar to the S302 it will be around 31 ft (9.36 m) long, 7.7 ft (2.34 m) abeam, with a crane weight of 28,000 lb (13,100 kg). It would carry two pilots and six passengers, have a depth rating of 328 ft (100 m), a lock-out depth of 98 ft (30 m), and a top speed of 5 knots (6 mph, 9 km/h). Lockheed says the new DCS will boast improved hydrodynamics and propulsion compared to the previous vehicles.

"Our advancements in undersea technologies will ensure personnel are equipped with technologically capable and adaptable systems that can easily be refreshed with the latest capabilities," says Erika Marshall, general manager and program director at Lockheed Martin's site in Palm Beach. "These reliable undersea vehicles will protect personnel, ensure they arrive ready to execute their mission, and return them safely."

View gallery - 4 images