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Focus on Service

The Diving and Life Support Depot

Keeping the Navy's diving rigs operational

Whether at sea, in the air or on land, the Navy's elite depend on their equipment to be mission ready at all times.

Sailors assigned to Naval Special Warfare and Explosive Ordnance Disposal units rely on two underwater breathing apparatuses while conducting missions beneath the surface - the MK-16 and Viper rigs.

"The MK-16 is a deep-diving set and electronically controlled," said Neil Patterson, a retired Navy saturation diver. "The Viper is a mechanically controlled shallow-water dive set. The MK-16 is for both SPECWAR and EOD, and the Viper is for EOD."

Although divers are trained to perform planned maintenance and corrective maintenance on the rigs, the Diving and Life Support Depot (DLSD) at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City, Florida performs extensive depot level repairs on the equipment.

"This is the only facility for the repair and maintenance of the MK-16 or the Viper UBA," said Patterson, now employed at the DLSD. "We're responsible for fleet safety, the knowledge to maintain the rigs and dive it safely."

The MK-16 uses 100 percent oxygen to maintain the breathing mixture, which can be very dangerous if not maintained properly, thus requiring special cleaning processes to prevent contamination.

Three thousand pounds of oxygen going through a small line, with contamination in it, will start a fire," - Neil Patterson

"High pressure oxygen can be very dangerous if you do not have clean tools or you don't clean your components properly," said Patterson. "That's why it is very important to have oxygen cleanliness when you are working on any of these sets. It has to meet [MIL-STD] 1330 standards, which is the oxygen cleaning document that you have to follow."

MIL-STD 1330 standards provide the requirements for precision cleaning and testing of oxygen or oxygen-enriched systems and components; oxygen generating plants including nitrogen, hydrogen and demineralized water support systems and components; and helium, helium-oxygen and hydrogen life support systems and components.
Photo collage of Navy divers.

With the amount of responsibility that the rig technicians have, they must be knowledgeable about all aspects of the rigs. Fortunately, they get a lot of practice.

"We work on these rigs every day so we've stayed proficient," said Patterson. "Remember this is life-support equipment, this is going to keep you alive. So when you send the item in, you want the system experts to be working on your equipment.

"When somebody calls us from overseas, a long distance phone call, and they got to get in the water [because] they got a mission to do and one of the rigs is acting up," explains Patterson. "They just call us, 24-7, they can call us up and I can walk them through that. Nine times out of ten, we can fix the problem over the phone. We have a lot of tools available for the guys in the fleet to get information from us."

As long as Sailors continue to use the MK-16 and Viper, the repair specialists at the DLSD will continue to support their mission.
Infographic on the MK 16. Facts provided at the end of story.

The MK 16 Underwater Breathing Apparatus
Weighs 64 pounds
Two 21-cubic foot gas bottles
Battery has a 24 hour operational life
Maximum depth of 150 feet on N202, 300 feet on HeO2
The MK 16 is a nonmagnetic, acoustically quiet, closed circuit, mixed gas underwater breathing apparatus. It's primary application is in mine counter-measure diving. Because the rig is nonmagnetic and acoustically quiet, it is reliable for divers working to render safe, recover or dispose of influence (magnetically or acoustically) detonated mines. Used by Naval Special Warfare and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).

For more information on Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City, click here.
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