US Navy tests new submarine steam suits

The U.S. Navy is currently in the process of testing a new submarine steam suit that designed to protect sailors from steam leaks on nuclear-powered submarines.

The suit was recently demonstrated by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) at naval submarine base New London where former USS Toledo (SSN 769) jumped into the suit as part of the demonstration.

According to ONR, the time required to put on the new suit (2 minutes) is halved compared to the suit currently used in the fleet.

Meanwhile,  wrestled with the current, older steam suit used Navy-wide. First, he put on boots and a set of firefighters’ coveralls, followed by the air tank and breathing apparatus. Finally, he wriggled into a bulky, HAZMAT-style chemical suit. His time: more than double Lindner’s.

“It was pretty dramatic seeing the differences between the old and new steam suits—especially how they affect the speed getting into it, as well as mobility,” said Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Cameron Sebastian, one of the sailors involved in the test.

Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) TechSolutions Program, the new suit was developed by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility (NCTRF), and currently is being tested at sea by the Toledo’s crew.

If pressurized steam lines aboard a submarine rupture, they can leak steam at extremely high temperatures, potentially resulting in severe injury or death. To make emergency repairs or rescue crewmates, sailors must wear protective suits.

“In the unlikely event this piece of damage control equipment is needed, time is of the essence to protect not only the individual, but the entire boat,” said ONR Command Master Chief Matt Matteson. “The new steam suit provides enhanced flexibility, maneuverability and ease of donning during such an emergency.”

For the next few months, the prototype suits will be tested during at-sea drills aboard the Toledo and two other submarines. Afterward, NAVSEA will make suggested improvements and possibly see the suit issued throughout the fleet in the next couple of years.

“Our goal was to create a lighter suit that enables users to get around better, quicker and easier,” said Bob Bassett, NAVSEA’s branch head for in-service submarine propulsion and electrical systems. “It’s an all-around improved suit, and we can’t wait to get feedback from the Sailors after the trials.”