ONR Science & Technology Focus
               Oceanography       Space Sciences       Blow the Ballast!       Teachers' Corner   
Rescue of the Squalus Swede Momsen Submarines People Under the Sea Resources

People Under the Sea: Submersibles - Hardsuit 2000

Hardsuit 2000
Hardsuit getting wet in the open ocean for the first time.


by Mike Thornton, LT, CEC, USN1


The latest addition to the Navy’s suite of Submarine Rescue equipment is the HARDSUIT 2000. The HARDSUIT 2000 is an Atmospheric Diving Suit, or ADS. An Atmospheric Diving Suit is an anthropomorphic2, single-person articulated3 submersible that allows the operator, or "pilot", to remain at one atmosphere of pressure regardless of depth. Consequently, unlike the typical surface supplied diver, as was used in the rescue of the Squalus, the HARDSUIT 2000 can dive as deep as 2000 feet (or 609.6 meters) for many hours without any of the physiological hazards of depth, such as the "bends" or nitrogen narcosis.

Developed by Hardsuits Incorporated (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) at the request of the Navy, the Navy's first HARDSUIT 2000 is currently undergoing pier-side testing with the Deep Submergence Unit’s (DSU) Diving System Support Detachment (DSSD) and is expected to complete open ocean dives in time for an international exercise in the Fall of 2000.


The primary advantage of the HARDSUIT 2000, as with all Atmospheric Diving Suits, is the elimination of the compression and decompression hazards associated with the typical ambient pressure diver. Likewise, the HARDSUIT 2000 can make numerous excursions up and down the water column, limited only by its life support duration, without decompressing or the concerns of the bends. Additionally, since the diver is at atmospheric pressure, upon exiting the water, the pilot does not have to spend days decompressing, as would the typical saturation diver. A general rule of thumb for saturation diving is a day of decompression for every 100 feet (or 30.5 meters) plus one day, i.e. a dive to only 1000 feet (or 304.8 meters) would require approximately 11 days of decompression.

Hardsuit 2000


The concept of operation is similar to that of the divers involved in the Squalus rescue. Once a disabled submarine has been located, the HARDSUIT 2000 could be deployed to the site within hours and begin conducting an initial survey of the submarine while providing the rescue team with video, sonar and personal observations. The primary task of the HARDSUIT 2000 would be to clear debris from the submarine hatch, remove the hatch fairing and connect the downhaul cable from the submarine rescue chamber (successor to the McCann Rescue Bell) to the submarines hatch.

Additionally, the HARDSUIT 2000 could be used to deliver emergency supply pods and assist locking them into the sub. Emergency supply pods would contain life-sustaining consumables to be used by the confined submariners. Following these primary tasks the HARDSUIT 2000 could continue to provide support and observations on-site to further assist the rescue efforts.

Hardsuite 2000 being lowered in the water.


  • The HARDSUIT 2000 has 16 (four in each arm and leg) patented hydraulically compensated rotary joints which allow the pilot to physically move the arms and legs of the suit.
  • Manually operated manipulators at the end of each hand pod allow the pilot to grasp and maneuver objects underwater.
  • Two — 2.25 HP thruster modules, two directed vertically and two directed horizontally each having one thruster directed vertically and one directed horizontally, are controlled by footpads within the suit permitting the pilot to "fly" from point to point or maintain station within a current.
  • The suit’s life support system will allow it to work at depths of 2000 feet for up to six hours, with additional emergency life support for up to 48 hours.

For additional reading on the Atmospheric Diving Suit:

Harris, Gary L. (1995), IRONSUIT: The History of the Atmospheric Diving Suit. Flagstaff, Arizona: Best Publishing Company.

1Mike Thornton is an active-duty Navy Civil Engineer Corps Officer in the Ocean Facilities Program with eleven years of combined enlisted and commissioned active duty time. He is currently completing a Masters of Engineering in Ocean Engineering while doing graduate research for Texas A&M University, Mustang Engineering, and Offshore Magazine on the Atmospheric Diving Suit. He can be reached at michael.a.thornton@navy.mil.

2In the shape or form of the human anatomy. In the shape or form of a human being.

3Consisting of jointed sections (as in the case of the arms).

previous page next page