Tahoe site of Marine test
TAHOE CITY – At 10:36 a.m., the two men start receiving oxygen from their tanks. Within minutes, they kick forcefully and disappear beneath the surface of Lake Tahoe. All that remains is a red buoy indicating “Divers Below.”
These are not Tahoe’s typical recreational divers, however. Last week, a U.S. Marine Corps unit from Reno deployed to Lake Tahoe for a series of evaluations on a new military device they called a diver propulsion device (DPD) – a 7-foot-long, aluminum, battery-operated craft that resembles an underwater version of an Olympic bobsled. The device transports up to two Marines at a time and travels at least 20 feet below the surface, undetectable with the naked eye, for up to three hours.
On Wednesday, two Marines wearing heavy dry suits and carrying diving equipment tested the propulsion device with an entourage of spectators – a black Zodiac Marine Corps boat that carried the craft out from the shore and a Placer County Sheriff’s boat to provide emergency assistance. The unit performed evaluations in the waters off the Coast Guard station at Lake Forest for several days, rating the device on a scale of one to 10, based on its speed, range, maneuverability and other factors.
Gunnery Sgt. Michael Black, based at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., was brought to Tahoe to lead the evaluations. Black was assigned with building or finding a craft that enables Marines to travel underwater safely, quickly and using as little of their own energy as possible.
He’s been working on finding the right device for two years now, and this week, he thinks he may have found it.
“The comments on this device have been good. The Marines are critical of new equipment – they either love it or hate it,” Black said. “In this case, I think they’re liking it. I get a lot of smiles when they come to the surface.”
Combat has become so high-tech, said Black, that they’re always working on finding the latest, most advanced technology. The propulsion device uses top of the line rechargeable, lithium ion batteries, which are the most dense and powerful batteries made today. With one battery, the device weighs 159 pounds, with two batteries, it weighs 209 pounds.
With limited cargo, the DPD can travel up to 3 knots, a maritime unit for speed that equals about 3.51 mph. A strong human swimmer with fins can only swim between .5 and .8 knots, said Black.
Black said that these days, most military technology can out-power humans. “Even Rambo would have a hard time swimming long distances with 140 pounds of gear on his back,” he said.
As an amphibious reconnaissance unit, it is the Marines’ job to approach a shore undetected, investigate the land, and report back with information. “The reason we go underwater is to get to the objective undetected,” Black said. “The purpose of this device is to get them there faster and with enough energy to do their job once they get there.”
Black hopes to be done evaluating in other locations by December, and to distribute the devices to Marine units soon afterward. The DPDs cost somewhere between $35,000 and $100,000 each, depending on how many are purchased, according to Black, who predicted that the Marine corps will need between 120 and 240 devices for Marines worldwide.
Beyond that information, however, Black remains sworn to secrecy. “The fact that this equipment exists is not a secret,” Black said, “but what we do with it – I can’t really go into.”
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