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NUWC’s Engineering and Diving Support Unit’s 60-year legacy began during Cold War

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs | Oct. 22, 2018

NEWPORT, R.I. — This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport Engineering and Diving Support Unit (EDSU). Much like when the team formed in 1958, the EDSU of 2018 employs diving and engineering expertise to provide waterborne engineering solutions for the fleet.

Typical duties may include troubleshooting for towed array handling systems, cleaning and inspection of submarine wide aperture arrays, inspection of waterfront infrastructure, search and recovery of unmanned underwater vehicles, and development and testing of various port security technologies.

The EDSU also has experience executing waterside security scenarios utilizing divers, swimmers and surface craft. They have a great understanding of systems and the ability to provide effective feedback coupled with the thorough data analysis of test results needed to support test teams in making informed recommendations.

“The benefit to Division Newport and the Navy is the value of the technical fleet support we provide. We combine engineering, diving capabilities, strategy, and in-water technical support that results in cost-effective solutions for the Navy,” said Jack Hughes, NUWC Newport’s command diving officer. “There’s a long history and tradition in this group.  We rely on each other to accomplish difficult tasks in very challenging situations.”

1950s–1960s

During the early years of the Cold War, many members of the U.S. Navy and Underwater Sound Laboratory staff participated in oceanic expeditions studying deep-water environments where submarines were now capable of operating. It became apparent that to fully understand underwater acoustics, some of those civilian scientists, engineers and technicians — typically confined to shipboard lab spaces — would have to be trained to work within the environment.

Over the next decade, several more Sound Lab engineers trained as Navy divers. Originally a loosely organized team, diving was and continues to be a collateral duty in conjunction with each diver’s primary engineering tasking. In the 1960s, ocean acoustics drew the divers into many off-shore research operations, some of which saw the use of deep submergence vehicles.

1970s–1980s

The successful acoustics research during the Cold War led to the development of high-powered antisubmarine sonar for surface ships in the 1970s, including what became the hull-mounted sonar array with an active and passive capability. Carrying this new sonar, ships accompanied carrier groups into all of the oceans, anticipating that Soviet submarines would lurk unseen and always be a potential threat. When a problem occurred with the sonar, there was an opening in the protective bubble surrounding the sonar system, and a tiger team would immediately deploy to assess and correct the damage. When divers were required, a phone call from the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) would send divers within hours to meet the ship in locations such as the coast of Africa, in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, in the Philippines, Singapore, the Panama Canal, and nearly every naval base in the United States.

By the mid-1980s, the Naval Underwater Systems Center (NUSC) divers had transitioned the sonar dome tiger team activities to fleet divers, and shifted their emphasis to submarine sonar. The EDSU had already begun work on the hull-mounted Wide Aperture Array, and the Seawolf-class submarine (SSN 21) bow sphere would soon follow. Meanwhile, the new thin-line towed arrays were being designed for installation on all Los Angeles (SSN 688)-class attack boats. Several of the divers were fully involved as research, development, test and evaluation engineers for these systems.

1990s

The threats from Soviet submarines remained a focus of sonar development, and the EDSU was fully engaged. Towed arrays and their handling equipment continued to be improved, and as 688-class boats were commissioned and sent out to sea, they carried one of these systems. Already well versed in the system design and the implementation of pierside upgrades, EDSU divers worked directly with fleet divers, conducting formal training and participating in fast-response tiger teams around the world. Having received training with diving systems for ballast tank entry, the team became familiar with naval bases in Scotland, Norway, Japan, Guam, Hawaii and any continental U.S. base and shipyard where a submarine needed assistance.

The 1990s were also a decade of transition for NUSC, which became NUWC in 1992. In October, 1996, the New London, Connecticut-based laboratory was decommissioned and the staff and facilities moved to Newport.

2001-2010

Soon after the move to Newport, the EDSU became established at NUWC’s Stillwater Basin waterfront facility – what is now known as the Narragansett Bay Test Facility. Towed array support continued uninterrupted throughout the move, but the EDSU divers were soon faced with a new mission. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, the EDSU was called to participate in NUWC’s overall response. A Memorandum of Understanding was established with the U.S. Coast Guard, which had been assigned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the EDSU became the waterfront NUWC asset working on underwater anti-terrorism technologies. The DHS work soon merged with the Navy’s force protection mission. Tests were held to evaluate multiple systems designed to detect and deter divers conducting simulated terrorist attacks on the mothballed aircraft carriers berthed along the Naval Station Newport pier.  During this time period, Hughes and the EDSU team completed several memorable dive jobs.

“For one fleet job, we replaced the wide aperture array panels on a waterborne submarine in Groton, Connecticut,” Hughes said. “That repair effort prevented the submarine from going to dry dock. At the completion of the job, the submarine got underway with no speed restrictions. Working together to accomplish jobs like this are very rewarding as the stakes are so high. You either get the job done or you don’t.”

Frank McNeilly, 16 years as EDSU diver, was part of a team that installed a flow velocity sensor in the torpedo tube of a submarine in January. 

“We designed a dry capsule to slide down the tube to provide a space to make a dry cable connection. We had to swim down the torpedo tube, through the shutter way with the capsule to make the connection, then drill holes in the torpedo tube to fasten the velocity sensor,” McNeilly said. “That was a cold, dark and cramped job, but very satisfying when completed.”

2010–Present

In addition to supporting integrated swimmer defense, the EDSU continued to support towed array handling systems including the Virginia (SSN 774)-class boats, and other special projects such as HALO Maritime Defense Systems’ security barrier, recovery of artifacts from the USS Revenge which sank off the coast of Rhode Island in 1811, repair of waterborne equipment at NUWC’s test facility on Fishers Island, New York, and the four years of NUWC’s Advanced Naval Technology Exercises, to name a few.

“The job on Fishers Island was challenging, and we overcame obstacles in a fairly remote location to efficiently and effectively get that system operational,” Hughes said. “We saved NUWC a lot of money, and it was rewarding to work together to develop solutions and solve problems in real time.”

In its 60th year, the EDSU has 15 members who provide a high level of support for NUWC Newport and the fleet.

“I am very proud to be part of a team that has had a real impact on the fleet since its inception 60 years ago,” Hughes said. “As those who came before us, we are a team of technical specialists who are extremely dedicated and committed to solving problems. We combine positive attitude with technical ability, mechanical skills, teamwork, and Navy diving to get the job done.”

Click here to view a slideshow of the Dive Team throughout the years.

NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.