Naval Support Activity Panama City has several missions that are unique to only this base. One of them, the Navy Experimental Diving Unit, has a new program that enables deep sea diving anytime, anywhere, and for longer time periods.
NEDU’s Saturation Fly-Away Diving System, or (SATFADS), is actually reviving some of the same diving principles pioneered at the base more than 50 years ago.
“It’s a mobile saturation system, that we can deploy anywhere in the world,” said NEDU Commanding Officer Jay Young.
The U.S. Navy designed and built SATFADS between 2008 and 2011.
SATFADS allows divers to conduct salvage operations, support underwater construction projects, or submarine rescue missions.
“What it does is it allows us to compress up to six divers, in the living compartment to whatever storage depth we want to take them to complete the mission on the bottom,” said Young.
The living compartment, and the diving bell which mans up to three divers, can go underwater for about 30 days. A typical mission for the diving bell is four hours. Eighteen divers maintain, operate, and deploy the bell out of the control van.
“We’re constantly monitoring the atmosphere, the pressures of the gas, the mixtures of the gas to ensure it’s within the tolerances that support the guys that are inside. So it’s a constant support mechanism outside,” said NEDU Command Master Chief & Master Diver Bill Dodd.
NEDU certified the system in 2012, using if the following year in Lake Seneca, New York. It’s now housed here in Panama City, but hasn’t been used much, if at all. Divers are trying to get SATFADS moving again.
“We’re working to revitalize SATFADS as a system, develop a saturation diving team, with the tools and training to execute saturation missions around the world, and then maintain the same saturation as a capability for the Navy,” said Young.
Divers believe SATFADS is what the Navy’s missing for saturation diving.
“We don’t have the capability to put a man in the sea at this point. So we’re bringing back operations from 300 to 1,000 feet of sea water,” said Dodd.
“The citizens that are out there I would think they would have peace of mind knowing that you know, operationally, if we needed to conduct operations underwater or shallow water for extended periods of time, we would have a system that’s capable to go out and support operational needs of the command.”
NEDU plans to have the system re-certified and have navy divers properly trained next spring before conducting unmanned, and manned runs. Divers are planning joint operations in the Gulf of Mexico with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) starting 2019.