By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Kyle Carlstrom, Commander, Submarine Squadron 11 Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Crew members from Undersea Rescue Command (URC) and contractors from Phoenix Holdings International (Phoenix) completed an operational readiness evaluation (ORE) July 19, re-certifying the Navy's deep sea submarine rescue capability.
The submarine rescue system had undergone an extensive refurbishment period. The ORE, a component of crew certification, was the final step in a multistage process that enabled the URC-Phoenix team to become rescue-ready for worldwide submarine rescue.
"This was a tremendous effort by our rescue team, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) in restoring this unique capability," said Capt. Gene Doyle, commander, Submarine Squadron 11 (CSS 11), who is responsible for administrative and operational oversight of URC. "Whether it's a U.S. submarine, or a partner nation submarine, URC is ready to respond if called upon."
Dedicated and professional submariners combined with robust and redundant submarine systems ensure that submarines are inherently safe. In addition, the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System (SRDRS), operated by URC-Phoenix, provides a last line of defense for the rescue of a submarine crew.
The Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM-1) Falcon, which is the submarine rescue vehicle component of the SRDRS, is capable of diving to depths up to 2,000 feet and mating with a disabled submarine trapped on the sea floor. The SRDRS is capable of being flown anywhere in the world to rescue either U.S. or partner nation submariners in distress.
The initial effort of the overall re-certification process was the restoration of PRM. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) received the PRM in February 2013, completely refurbished the system and returned it to the URC-Phoenix team in February 2014 for final restoration.
"Without [Phoenix's] diligent and exhaustive work assembling the PRM and their exemplary operations, we would not have been able to conduct sea trials," said Cmdr. Andrew Kimsey, commanding officer of URC. "URC working alongside Phoenix was certainly key in getting past this big first step."
By late summer of 2014, URC and CSS-11 began a very deliberate re-certification process with the assistance of NAVSEA. While CSS-11 and URC focused on personnel qualification and re-certification, NAVSEA ensured material re-certification standards were met.
"The URC and Phoenix personnel went through a rigorous multistage evaluation process known as crew certification," said Cmdr. John Doney, CSS-11's deputy commander for undersea rescue. "Phase One is an intensive administration review, making sure the crew's training, qualification, material, quality assurance and internal monitoring programs were up to standards and would allow for safe, worldwide deployable operations."
The crew then began the operational certification process with Phase Two, which took place pierside aboard the rescue system mother ship, Hornbeck Offshore Services (HOS) Dominator. The two-day event ran from the safety of being pierside and involved progressing the watch teams through live evolutions and drills utilizing the installed SRDRS equipment.
"This event marked the first time the U.S. Navy submerged the PRM in the ocean since its overhaul and was an important step closer to our goal of deep sea diving," said Doney.
Overlaid into the crew certification process was NAVSEA's dock and sea trials testing to ensure the deep rescue system was materially operating as designed. Key milestones during sea trials included three deep dives, the first of which was an unmanned 2,000-foot dive to verify hull and component integrity at the crushing depth of 61 atmospheres absolute, which is more than 900 pounds per square inch.
"This critical event was successfully completed and led to the second dive, which was a manned dive to a depth of 485 feet," said Doney. "The PRM pilot and crew effectively landed and mated onto a training fixture on the ocean floor, positively testing all internal systems at this intermediate depth."
The third and final sea trials dive was a manned 2,000-foot dive in the PRM to a training fixture called "Deep Seat" to verify full system operational capability in the harshest conditions expected in a submarine rescue.
"It was during this dive that the rescue team mated PRM to Deep Seat and conducted open hatch operations simulating a submarine rescue, including having Navy divers and inspectors standing on Deep Seat at 2000 feet of sea water," said Doney. "This monumental moment was the culmination of hundreds of engineers, technicians and operators spending tens of thousands of hours in pursuit of bringing one of the Navy's most complex deep submergence systems back to 100 percent material certification."
The final phase was the ORE, which was a scenario-based event that took the entire URC-Phoenix team through a rigorous simulated submarine rescue using SRDRS aboard HOS Dominator off the coast of Santa Catalina Island in Southern California. The crew had to execute SRDRS evolutions and PRM dives, including drill anomalies, under timed constraints to conduct a simulated submarine rescue. In addition, PRM open-hatch operations were conducted at depth along with treatment of simulated medical conditions expected from those rescued.
"This was a complex and extensive process that required constant focus, teamwork and dedication," said Doyle. "Everyone involved absolutely delivered. Being certified for submarine rescue is an immense accomplishment that we're all very proud of, especially knowing that our brothers and sisters serving beneath the water can count on us."
The re-certification of PRM is not only a big step for the Navy, but for international engagements as well.
"Re-certifying the Falcon put us right back into the deep sea rescue world," said Kimsey, "Not only can we supply a deep sea rescue response for our submarines, but for anyone else in the world. We're already looking to future engagements and exercises in 2016."