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US Navy's Undersea Rescue Command: Rescuing submariners everywhere (pictures)

The US Navy's Undersea Rescue Command has a mission: To rescue sailors of all nations during a submarine casualty. Take a tour of its impressive training center in California.

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Lisa Brackmann
US Navy Undersea Rescue Command
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US Navy Undersea Rescue Command

The US Navy's Undersea Rescue Command is located in San Diego. Its mission: To rescue sailors of all nations during a submarine casualty.

The URC's goal is to reach a distressed submarine within 96 hours. For this to happen, the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM), Atmospheric Diving System (ADS) and associated equipment are loaded onto transport aircraft and brought to the closest capable vessel. The two launch and recovery systems (the LARS and the LRS, which are two different things even though they have similar names) are then installed on the deck. When you see how much equipment this is, it's really impressive that it can be transported and assembled so quickly.

Atmospheric Diving System
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Atmospheric Diving System

The ADS, or Atmospheric Diving System, is a self-contained, single-person submersible that can handle depths up to 2,000 feet. It’s designed to assess distressed submarines, communicate with their crews, clear hatches, and provide emergency life-support stores.

Atmospheric Diving System training pool
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Training pool

This is a training pool for the ADS. The Launch and Recovery System (LRS) – the blue equipment - lowers the human operator (the pilot), who is inside the ADS suit, into the pool. In an actual rescue, the LRS is what tethers the pilot to the surface ship.

Atmospheric Diving System training pool
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Training pool

Another angle of the LRS and training setup.

ADS training rig
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ADS training rig

A look at the cable rig that tethers, lowers and raises the ADS pilot.

ADS diving suit
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ADS diving suit

The ADS is a diving suit that is essentially a remotely operated vehicle capable of descending to a depth of 2,000 feet. The suit has an umbilical for power and communications, 24 hours of life-support, self-contained breathing (O2/CO2), thrusters for maneuvering, video and sonar capability and articulated joints.

ADS diving suit
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ADS diving suit

Although the ADS has 24 hours of life support, mission length is limited by the endurance of the human operator (pilot). Typically, this is about 3 to 4 hours, since the suit has no heating or cooling system, and in cold water it quickly cools to the ambient ocean temperature, which can be just below 32 degrees F. (Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water.) Also, though the arms and legs do move, they are not easy to maneuver.

ADS suit light and camera
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ADS suit light

The ADS has a light and camera over the right shoulder and a sonar transducer over the left shoulder for locating objects.

Suiting up in the ADS
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Suiting up

The ADS splits in half for the pilot to enter and exit.

ADS thruster packs
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Thrusters

The ADS also has two thruster packs controlled by pedals in the feet of the suit.

ADS hands
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ADS hands

Cdr. Kinsey (commanding officer of Undersea Rescue Command) demonstrates the mechanical clamp of the "hand" of an Atmosphere Diving Suit.

McCann rescue chambers
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McCann rescue chambers

These are McCann rescue chambers, which date from World War II and are still used today. The McCann bell made its debut in the rescue of 33 sailors from the USS Squalus in 1939. It can rescue up to 6 persons at a time and has a depth limit of 850 feet.

McCann Rescue Chamber
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McCann rescue chamber

Another view of the McCann rescue chamber.

McCann bell hatch
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McCann bell hatch

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McCann interior
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McCann interior

Interior of the McCann rescue chamber.

Atmosphere Control Station
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Atmosphere Control Station

The Atmosphere Control Station at the end of a hyperbaric Submarine Decompression Chamber (SDC) where rescuees are transferred after being brought to the surface. The operator of the control station monitors the life-support systems inside the SDC. You can see the interior of the chamber through the small hatch (the Medical Transfer Lock).

Medical Transfer Lock
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Medical Transfer Lock

This is the Medical Transfer Lock (MTL) in the SDC, in-between the Atmosphere Monitoring Station at one end of the SDC and the hyperbaric chamber. The MTL is used as a transfer lock. There is a door on each end, and you can open one door, place medicine or other supplies inside, pressurize (or depressurize) the small lock, then open the other door.

Submarine Decompression Chamber
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Submarine Decompression Chamber

This is the inside of one of the two SDCs. Each SDC can treat 36 people (32 submarine crew members and four "attendants" -- Navy divers who accompany the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) down to the submarine and back to the surface, depressurizing personnel from up to five atmospheres within 12 hours (The PRM can carry 18 people -- 16 submarine crew members and two attendants, and each SDC can accommodate two transfers from the PRM.)

Deck Transfer Lock
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Deck Transfer Lock

This is the Deck Transfer Lock (DTL), which connects the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) to the two Submarine Decompression Chambers (SDCs) via a flexible manway to the PRM and connection tubes to the SDCs.

Modified Transfer Lock
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Modified Transfer Lock

This is the Modified Transfer Lock (MTL, not to be confused with the Medical Transfer Lock), which is an entry/exit point to the Submarine Decompression Chamber, used by the attendants monitoring personnel inside the SDC. Each MTL can accommodate up to four personnel.

Undersea rescue ship
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Rescue ship

A ship with the LARS, PRM, LRS, control van and other associated equipment installed.

Launch and Recovery System
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Launch and Recovery System

Here's what the Launch and Recovery System (LRS) for the Atmospheric Diving Suit (ADS) looks like installed on deck.

Launch and Recovery System
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Launch and Recovery System

The Launch and Recovery System (LARS) and the Pressurized Rescue Module. The PRM is a tethered, remotely operated submarine rescue vehicle that can operate at depths as great as 2,000 feet.

LARS
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LARS

Another angle of the LARS and PRM.

Linking up
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Linking up

The bell-shaped element underneath is the articulating transfer skirt, which can change angles to enable the PRM to "mate" with a stricken sub.

Transfer skirt
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Transfer skirt

Inside the transfer skirt, looking up.

PRM entrance hatch
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PRM entrance

Exterior of the PRM and its entrance hatch.

PRM
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PRM

Looking into the PRM.

PRM
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PRM

The interior of the PRM, which can transfer 16 rescued personnel, along with two attendants.

PRM thrusters
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PRM thrusters

One of the PRM's black thrusters.

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