The Evolution of US Combat Diving. Part 7, the Summary.

Summary of the Combat Diving Evolution Thesis.

This is Part 7 of 7 taken from my Submarine Medical Officer Thesis “A Review of the Combat Diving Evolution of US Naval Special Warfare with a Focus on the Necessity of Disruptive Technologies and Innovative Scientists.”


In conclusion, NSW and SOCOM leadership must critically assess SOF roles and capabilities and the development and implementation of currently available technologies. It is their duty “to first define the niche of operations that are important for the SEALs under water and then to achieve those operational purposes.”1 As discussed previously, disruptive technological advancement largely initiated and shaped the US Navy combat diver evolution and will always be intricately intertwined with NSW. Although technology will never fully replace the warrior, it will always complement and extend capabilities if utilized correctly. With its versatile skillset, NSW combat diving continues to offer SOF and conventional commanders an indispensable, unrivaled, and powerful maritime capability.

Another SOF truth – “most special operations require non-SOF support” – honors the importance of support elements in SOF missions, and DDS operations are a prime example. For every SDV SEAL that participates in a real-world mission, there are hundreds of intricately involved support personnel – submariners, divers, researchers, scientists, technologists, physicians. NSW must be careful to cultivate this network of operators and support entities, for it is only as this team of teams is truly integrated that the effort of manned undersea warfare will continue to evolve.

And with the continued necessity of manned undersea SOF, it is incumbent upon the medical research community to find a viable solution for mitigating the detrimental effects of hypothermia and hypovolemia in extreme underwater environments. Research over the last three decades has produced much data, but unfortunately very few significant, practical changes have been made operationally. While scientists and technologists are creating the DCS and refining UUVs, medical scientists must continue to invest valuable effort into resolving the physiology dilemma.

NSW must also continue to cultivate appropriate beneficial relationships with the private sector. The last decade witnessed massive improvements in warfare technology throughout the DOD due to novel downrange requirements being fulfilled by a robust military and civilian symbiosis. By nurturing similar relationships and increasingly involving the competitive private sector early in the technological development and procurement process, NSW may avoid future ASDS-like blunders. But developing this relationship may require a judicious lowering of the perpetual shroud of secrecy surrounding certain operational capabilities in order to evolve further and faster. Unfortunately, many DDS and SDV technologies remain decades old. Significant improvement is possible, but if there is no information sharing and relationship cultivating with entities outside of NSW and the military, then the current institutional inertia will remain unchanged as the surrounding warfare environment rapidly evolves. 

But, by continuing to research, develop, and exploit their tactical and technological advantages, US Navy combat divers will master the littorals and ensure their future existence. RADM Olson explained, “Our purpose for diving is to get to places where we are not expected to be with capabilities that we’re not expected to have.”2 But to do that, NSW must “operate outside the protective umbrella of the fleet with more sustainability, more stealth, more maintainability, higher speeds, greater sea keeping abilities, and longer duration missions than we currently do.”3 NSW must continue to flex its capabilities to the rapidly evolving geopolitical climate and the numerous complex conflicts. NSW must “improvise, adapt, and overcome”4,5 as it has in the past to continue dominating the maritime realm of the future.

Figure 20: SDV and Submarine.6


  1. Joiner, Naval Forces: A Look Back, 2-57.
  2. Ibid., 2-71.
  3. Ibid., 2-73.
  4. Although this is one of the Marine Corps’ unofficial mottos popularized by Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge, this quote is applied widely to a variety of ventures, and is applicable to the work of the combat diver.
  5. Will Pinnell, “How to Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome in Business Travel,” Entrepreneur (March 10, 2014), accessed February 1, 2015,
  6. Michael Wood, SDV and Submarine, picture, accessed December 20, 2015,

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