PACIFIC REACH proves submarine rescue techniques

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Gary McHugh (author)

Topic(s): HMAS Sheean (S77), MV Stoker, MV Besant, Exercise PACIFIC REACH

Rescue Submarine LR5 is winched out of the water and onto the deck after completing a sortie to the Republic of Korea Submarine ROKS Lee Sun Sin located on the sea floor during Exercise PACIFIC REACH 2019. (photo: LSIS Bradley Darvill)
Rescue Submarine LR5 is winched out of the water and onto the deck after completing a sortie to the Republic of Korea Submarine ROKS Lee Sun Sin located on the sea floor during Exercise PACIFIC REACH 2019.

Exercise PACIFIC REACH 2019 has been deemed an outstanding success as the sea-phase of the exercise came to a close off the coast of Western Australia.

The exercise, conducted in two phases from 4-15 November, is a triennial, multi-lateral submarine search and rescue exercise that was last held in South Korea in 2016.

This year, assets from Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore and the United States took part in the exercise, which saw a number of simulated search and rescue attempts carried out on two participating submarines.

The Exercise Director, Captain Gary Lawton, said the aim of PACIFIC REACH 2019 was to enhance regional submarine rescue capabilities and to improve interoperability between partner nations in the area of submarine abandonment, escape and rescue (SAER).

“The focus of this exercise is to practice and prove established international escape and rescue procedures for the recovery of personnel from a simulated disabled submarine,” he said.

“In the event of a real-world SAER situation, mariners and submariners from across the world provide specialised skills and equipment to assist in the location, rescue and recovery of submariners. 

“The purpose of exercises such as PACIFIC REACH is to bring all those skills together to provide a global response in the unlikely event of a submarine incident,” Captain Lawton said.

During the sea-phase of the exercise, three different rescue systems were used over the course of a one-week period; that is, the Australian LR5 Submarine Escape and Rescue system, the Pressurised Rescue Module (PRM) from the United States, and the Japanese Deep Submersible Rescue Vehicle (DSRV).

Each system follows a similar standard operating procedure.

Onboard MV Besant, a submarine intervention ship, a side-scan sonar is deployed to locate the target, whether this be a bottomed submarine or pre-positioned target plate, and a Remotely Operated Vessel (ROV) is then dived to the site to assess the situation.

James Fisher Defence Operations Manager Andy McPherson said it was imperative that the ROV was deployed prior to the rescue vehicle being put into the water.

“This gives us a visual survey of the submarine and allows us to know what state the rescue seat is in,” he said.

“From the ROV dive we can see if the rescue seat is fouled in any way, deformed and so on.

“That would give us an indication of whether the rescue vehicle, in this case LR5, is capable of mating with the submarine and conducting a rescue.”

Once the rescue seat has been assessed and deemed intact, Besant recovers the ROV and moves aside for her sister ship, MV Stoker, to deploy the LR5 rescue vessel.

James Fisher Defence Senior LR5 Pilot Nick Gilbert said the biggest challenge for rescuers was the launch and recovery of the LR5.

“There are a number of factors that have to be considered, such as sea states, winds, tidal conditions and so on,” he said.

“But once the rescue vehicle is in the water and dived then the environment is pretty similar for most rescues.”

Once in the water, the LR5 ‘mates’ with the submarine and conducts a staged transfer of personnel from the stricken submarine to the rescue ship, where they have immediate access to a range of medical facilities, including decompression chambers if required.

Submarine Escape and Rescue Manager, Commander Matt Brown, said he was pleased to see all evolutions carried out successfully from day one of the sea phase.

“The first mating between the LR5 and the submarine was excellent,” he said.

“The team in the LR5 quickly located the submarine and was able to successfully mate with it - everything went according to plan.”

Over the course of the week-long sea phase, a number of simulated rescue dives, utilising the three different systems, were carried out on HMAS Sheean and Republic of Korea Submarine Lee Sun Sin.

As well as the international partner nations participating in PACIFIC REACH 2019, various nations were given ‘observer’ status - these countries included Chile, Thailand, China, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vietnam.

Imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: