A pair of recent mishaps involving a super-secret SEAL mini-sub and the much-maligned littoral combat ship program remain under investigation, US Navy officials told Coffee or Die Magazine.
The most recent accident happened on Oct. 25 in the Pacific Ocean, when a Mark 8 SEAL Delivery Vehicle participating in a routine training event suffered an allision.
That’s not to be confused with a collision, which is what happens when two or more moving vessels collide. An allision is when a moving vessel strikes an inanimate object, like a stationary ship, a concrete pier, or a reef.
In a prepared statement released to Coffee or Die by California-based Naval Special Warfare, officials would only confirm that an allision occurred and no one was injured.
“We cannot provide further details at this time due to the ongoing investigation,” the statement read.
Naval Special Warfare operators on board a SEAL Delivery Vehicle Mark 11 conduct routine navigation training in the Pacific Ocean on May 13, 2020. This photo was altered by the US Navy for security purposes. US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communications Specialist Christopher Perez.
It remains unclear if the SEAL Delivery Vehicle struck another object, or if it was stationary and rammed by another vessel. But the Naval Safety Command marked the incident as a Class A mishap, which means the allision caused more than $2.5 million in damage.
Headquartered at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Naval Special Warfare Group 8 oversees two detachments operating in the Pacific Ocean, one in Coronado, California, and the other in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
For the past few years, they’ve been swapping out the aging Mark 8 SEAL Delivery Vehicles with Mark 11s, which cost about $30 million each, a price tag that includes program support services. Crewed by two operators and powered by lithium-ion batteries, the Mark 11 submersible is designed to carry four SEALs at roughly 6 knots to a target up to 90 nautical miles away, staying under the waves the entire time.
Relying on silver-zinc batteries and cruising at only 4 knots, the Mark 8 totes the same number of crew and commandos, but with a smaller cargo hold and shorter range.
Both the Mark 8 and the Mark 11 upgrade can be deployed from shore, surface vessels, and the dry deck shelters of submarines.
SEAL mini sub (1920x1080, AR: 1.78)
Freedom-class littoral combat ship Wichita suffered an undisclosed mechanical failure while returning from counter-narcotics duties in the Caribbean Sea on Oct.19, 2022. US Navy photo.
The other Class A mishap involved the littoral combat ship Wichita.
Lt. Cmdr. Jason S. Fischer, spokesperson for Commander, Naval Surface Force, Atlantic, told Coffee or Die the Freedom-class warship suffered an unspecified mechanical failure on Oct. 19.
Florida-based Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2 is probing the cause of the accident, which occurred two days before Wichita returned to its homeport in Mayport following counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea.
Despite the malfunction at sea, officials lauded Wichita’s crew and embarked US Coast Guard law enforcement detachments for helping to seize 4,520 kilograms of cocaine worth an estimated $316 million and detaining 20 suspected drug traffickers.
The Freedom-variant littoral combat ships Wichita (LCS 13) and Billings (LCS 15) sail the Caribbean Sea, Sept. 10, 2022. Wichita and Billings were deployed to the US 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter-illicit drug trafficking missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. US Navy photo by Mineman 2nd Class Justin Hovarter.
Wichita also conducted bilateral maritime exercises with the Dominican Republic Navy and conducted deck landing qualifications with US Army pilots assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras.
“It has been a tremendous honor to command this amazing crew on an incredibly successful deployment,” said Capt. Eric Meyers, Wichita’s commanding officer, in a prepared statement released on Oct. 21. “The Wichita team excelled by working with our partner nations, strengthening our interoperability, and taking narcotics off the streets. We look forward to the continued success of our fellow Freedom-variant crews deploying to support this critical mission area.”
But there’s an open question about how much longer the Pentagon will give them to run missions.
In April, the Navy released its long-range plan for both constructing new warships and breaking obsolete and unwanted vessels. The sea service earmarked eight Freedom-class for scrapping in 2023, including Wichita, which was commissioned less than four years ago and cost roughly $362 million.
“Decommissioning allows for investments in higher priority capability and capacity,” the Navy’s construction report tersely decreed when writing off the Freedom-class warships.
Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Benjamin Chellew, a "Dragon Whale" with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28's Detachment 8, overlooks the Freedom-class littoral combat ship Billings (LCS 15) in the Caribbean Sea, Sept. 10, 2022. Wichita and Billings were deployed to the US 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter-illicit drug trafficking missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. US Navy photo by Mineman 2nd Class Justin Hovarter.
Although long bedeviled by cost overruns, technical gremlins, and concerns that the warships couldn’t survive the punch of sea combat, none of those issues sank Wichita and the rest of the Freedom fleet.
Death came from an anti-submarine warfare mission package that didn’t pass muster.
Developed by contracting giant Raytheon, the sub-hunting system was lauded as a potential “game changer for the surface Navy.” But officials said it didn’t test well at sea.
The brass shifted sub-slaying chores to the new Constellation class of guided-missile frigates being built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo’s 1-228th Aviation Regiment performs deck landing qualifications on board the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship Wichita (LCS 13) Aug. 4, 2022, off the coast of Honduras. US Air Force photos by Tech. Sgt. Amber Carter.
ts deactivation. It’s now being used as a test ship, according to the Navy.
That leaves the remaining six Freedom-variant vessels for surface warfare duties.
Fifteen trimaran-hulled Independence-variant sister ships also are slated to replace the increasingly antiquated Avenger-class minesweepers.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include a Navy statement about the Mark 8 SEAL Delivery Vehicle.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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