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USS Dolphin (AGSS-555)

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Ordered:10 August 1960
Laid down:19 December 1964
Launched:6 August 1968
Commissioned:17 August 1968
Fate:in service
General Characteristics
Displacement:805 tons light, 861 tons full, 56 tons dead
Length:160 feet
Beam:19 feet
Draft:16 feet
Propulsion:diesel-electric -- two General Motors V71 diesel 12-cylinder, 425hp engines, two electric main motors, two 126-cell main storage batteries
Speed:10 knots surfaced, 7.5 knots submerged (10 knot sprint, 3-4 knots sustained)
Operating Depth:1500 feet
Test Depth:>3000 feet (915 meters)
Complement:three officers, 18 men, four scientists
Payload:12 tons on external mounting pads, six port, six starboard, forward and aft of sail
Endurance:15 days

USS Dolphin (AGSS-555) is the United States Navy's only operational diesel-electric, deep-diving, research and development submarine. Her keel was laid down on 19 December 1964 at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. She was launched on 6 August 1968 sponsored by Mrs. Daniel K. Inouye, and commissioned on 17 August 1968 with Lieutenant Commander J.R. McDonnell in command. She is presently homeported at San Diego, California and berthed at NCCOSC RDTE Division (NRaD) Pier 160.

The single most significant technical achievement in the development of Dolphin is the pressure hull itself. It is a constant diameter cylinder, closed at its ends with hemispherical heads, and utilizes deep frames instead of bulkheads. The entire design of the pressure hull has been kept as simple as possible to facilitate its use in structural experiments and trails. Hull openings have been minimized for structural strength and minimum hull weight, in addition to eliminating possible sources for flooding casualties. The submarine has no snorkel mast; her one hatch must be open while her diesels are running.

Employed by both civilian and Navy activities, Dolphin is equipped with an extensive instrumentation suite that supports missions such as acoustic deep-water and littoral research, near-bottom and ocean surveys, weapons launches, sensor trials, and engineering evaluations.

Because she was designed as a test platform, Dolphin can be modified both internally and externally to allow installation of up to 12 tons of special research and test equipment. The submarine has internal and external mounting points, multiple electronic hull connectors, and up to ten equipment racks for project use.

In August 1969, Dolphin launched a torpedo from the deepest depth that one has ever been fired. Other examples of Dolphin's work include

Dolphin was overhauled in 1993.

In the late 1990s, Dolphin tested a new sonar system. AS a result of Dolphin's efforts, this new system will now be retrofitted into the fleet.

On 21 May 2002, at about 1130 PDT, while operating approximately 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, California, Dolphin was cruising on the surface, recharging its batteries, when a torpedo shield door gasket failed, and the boat began to flood. Due to high winds and 10- to 11-foot swells in the ocean, approximately 70 to 85 tons of seawater entered the ship, an amount perilously close to the boat's reserve bouyancy. The flooding shorted electrical panels and started fires.

Chief Machinist's Mate (SW) John D. Wise Jr., realizing what needed to be done, dove into the 57-degree water of the flooded pump room. Not knowing if the room's equipment had been secured, and with less than a foot of breathable space in the compartment, he ensured the seawater valves were lined up allowing the dewatering to commence. Once the valves were aligned, he remained in the pump room for more than 90 minutes in order to keep a submersible pump from becoming clogged. His courageous efforts prevented the loss of the ship and crew. Wise received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his efforts.

After 90 minutes, Commander Stephen Kelety, Dolphin's commanding officer, ordered the crew of 41 and two civilian Navy employees to abandon ship. The Oceanographic Research ship McGaw was operating in the vicinity and immediately responded.

The fire and flooding was beyond the ability of the crew to control so they were evacuated by small boat to McGaw after the submarine hatches had been secured. All crewmembers were safely recovered with only a few minor injuries. Two crewmembers were recovered from the water by United States Coast Guard helicopter during the transfer. McGaw transported the crew to San Diego.

The quick response of the crew placed the submarine in a stable condition. USS Thach (FFG-43) came alongside Dolphin to assess the submarine's status, but the seas were too rough for recovery or towing operations. Submarine Support Vessel Kellie Chouest got underway from San Diego early on 22 May to assist in the recovery assessment. Dolphin was towed back to San Diego the following day.

The last time an American submarine caught fire and was abandoned was in 1988, when the diesel sub Bonefish lost three sailors in a battery compartment fire.

Formal requests for use of USS Dolphin should be submitted to the chairman of the USS Dolphin Advisory Group (DAG):

Attention: PMS-395A62
Naval Sea Systems Command
2531 Jefferson Davis Hwy
Arlington, VA 22242-5160

For other ships of this name, see USS Dolphin.