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NEWS | May 22, 2024

Australian AUKUS Divers Conduct Training in Pearl Harbor

By Claudia LaMantia, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility

With meticulous attention to detail Royal Australian Navy divers don their equipment in preparation for a familiarization dive with a Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility diver.

As part of their inaugural trip, the Australian divers are spending two weeks with their American counterparts as part of AUKUS, a trilateral partnership of Australia, United Kingdom, and the U.S. that seeks to deliver conventionally armed, nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) capability to Australia.

Their visit focuses on gaining a better understanding of shipyard divers, specifically their work with nuclear-powered submarines, according to Australian Chief Warrant Officer Gavin Kemp, Submarine Rotational West, Royal Australian Navy.

The four-member AUKUS Australian team is shadowing members of PHNSY & IMF dive teams in whatever tasks are on the calendar. They will be diving “every day that we have jobs as long as they are not flying out the same day,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Tuft, PHNSY & IMF, diving officer.

Divers from both nations have worked together during naval exercise RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) and other joint operations, such as harbor clearance or salvage operations but this time the effort is on diving around nuclear-powered submarines.

They begin by testing the waters.

The dives commence from a diving boat berthed on a pier next to a submarine. The atmosphere is calm but focused on safety while about 15 people move around multi-colored air hoses neatly coiled next to each other. A U.S. Navy diver leads two Australian divers on a half-hour mission that centers on a cofferdam.

When they are done, they are met with keen eyes from those aboard the boat as they exit the water and are aided in removing their air hoses, masks, fins, and weights.

The steps for getting in and out of the water will be repeated for each dive but the mission is determined by the type of job required, according to Tuft. The list of what Navy divers do can be infinite. Anything that cannot be done in dry dock or maintenance is done by the divers, from changing components to repairing torpedo doors to cable fittings, all jobs that divers are trained on.

The Australian team will work with every dive team “getting different perspective and getting as much time in the water and seeing all the jobs they can while they are here,” said Tuft. The schedule may include cable runs inside ballast tanks, troubleshooting electrical hull fittings, looking at thin-line towed array assemblies, and helping with retractable cofferdams.

Some of the Australian sailors will also attend production meetings and learn how the shipyard staff and divers interact. “We are going through cradle to grave, when we need a job, how do we get it done, what paperwork is required, scheduling and completion,” said Tuft.

The two-week visit is scheduled to cover the basics in what the PHNSY & IMF divers encounter in their day-to-day work, all part of the AUKUS timeline.

This is just the beginning. The AUKUS Optimal Pathway was announced in early 2023 and it has three phases which are expected to last until the early 2040s.

For the divers, future visits are in the planning phases, but they agree when Kemp emphasizes that best part about being here is the people and the relationships being cemented.

They get to understand the restraints of diving around a Virginia class submarine.

The Command Diving Officer for PHNSY & IMF, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Tuft echoes his sentiments.

“Having them here diving side-by-side with our guys, they get to see and understand the challenges of diving around a Virginia class submarine,” he said. But this bond is not new, they have worked together before and will continue to do so. The best part about it all is “the friendships that we form.”




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