PORTLAND, Ore. --
Note: Names have been left out of the following article due to mission requirements.
It would be pointless to swim subsurface into enemy territory in regular scuba gear, as the adversaries may notice bubbles coming out of the water. That’s why members from the 125th Special Tactics Squadron recently adopted a different type of diving.
U.S. Air Force 125th STS Airmen from the Portland Air National Guard Base, along with members of joint forces, participated in closed-circuit dive training at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., July 31, 2020, to train with new equipment and conduct recurrency dives for Special Tactics operators.
“What is unique about closed-circuit diving is it is an infiltration method that allows you to be subsurface and not have any bubbles showing, so as you are moving in to the beach, you are unobserved by the enemy,” said one 125th STS operator.
The training was the first time the Air Force has been certified to conduct closed-circuit diving with the new equipment.
“We recently procured the equipment, attained the appropriate certifications, and this last week we culminated all of those things with new equipment training,” said the 125th STS operations superintendent.
In the past, the U.S. Navy primarily conducted this type of diving.
“The Navy is the proponent for diving within the Department of Defense,” the superintendent said. “They are required to come in and certify your program before you can begin diving with this very particular type of equipment.”
He said it took about three years of obtaining equipment, writing instructions, inspections, and other preparation to make the training happen. Now, the 125th Special Tactics Airmen don’t have to rely on other branches for combat diving.
He said the unique gear, called Modular Oxygen Diving Equipment, can be donned in less than 15 seconds.
“It is literally a closed system that you wear on your chest in which you rebreathe your own air after it gets cleaned and goes through a chemical process,” the superintendent said. “There are no bubbles, it is very small and very light, and as a military employment capability, it’s very stealthy.”
The operator reflected on his experience.
“I feel as though I am not swimming in a straight line,” he said. “My compass is telling me I’m moving in the correct direction, and even though my brain is telling me that may not be the case, I have to have 100 percent confidence the equipment is working properly for me.”
He said the Airmen conducted this training in their initial entry courses, but did not stay current. For many years, the Air Force was primarily focused in land-based theaters, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the squadron is requalified in closed-circuit diving, which contributes to the operators’ global-access capabilities.
“Diving as a method of getting stealthily into an environment is just one of the many ways within special tactics that we say we, ‘get to work.’ It’s not the mission, it’s how we get to the mission,” the superintendent said. “We’re buying ourselves options to ‘get to work,’ get to the target, and get to where we can execute our mission on behalf of U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force.”
He said the closed-circuit certification and program at the 125th STS buys capability and capacity for USSOCOM.
“We troop led this from beginning to end. Now, within Air Force Special Operations Command, the other units will be able to follow on in a much faster way,” he said. “That gives a ground-force commander or a geographic-combatant commander operational agility and strategic flexibility. We’ve increased options and increased lethality within the force.”
The operator said they will now dive every six months to remain current in their training.
“We may be called upon at any time to use any of those qualifications,” he said. “If we lose those currencies for long durations of time, it is going to take a longer timeframe to become requalified to execute that mission.”
The superintendent said the Air National Guard here gets things done well.
“We’re very agile and forward thinking, and it allows us to do things like this,” he said. “The commander advises of his intent, places trust in individuals, and intent is executed at the lowest level. You’re enabling people to get things done — that’s what we did here.”