MTI’s Proposed Combat Diver Competition

By Kelson Geber, MTI Coach & Researcher

The recent USASOC’s Best Combat Diver competition placed too much emphasis on physical fitness and not nearly enough on mission-direct combat diving skills.

Of the eight events, four were physical fitness challenges (one including an 800m straight leg dive), one was academic, one involved pool skills and two were diving events. Initially, 31% of the competition was supposed to focus on combat diving, but canceling the nighttime dive reduced this to 19%. Two of the three scheduled dives were straight-leg bearings dives, and the final one was a contour dive. While physical fitness is essential for a combat diver, the competition’s emphasis was inverted, with more focus on physical fitness than on actual combat diving skills.

Complexities of Combat Diving: 

Combat diving involves numerous challenges that require precise preparation and exceptional skill. Underwater navigation is difficult, relying on compasses and chart studies. The complex planning process demands extensive rehearsal to ensure accurate execution. Divers have limited time underwater due to air supply constraints, and poor visibility increases the risk of disorientation. Navigating underwater obstacles like debris and structures requires careful maneuvering to avoid injury.

Communication is another major hurdle, as divers cannot verbally communicate and must rely on hand signals. The inability to use light sources further complicates coordination and safety. Varying water temperatures affect physical performance and equipment functionality, requiring constant adaptation. These factors highlight the demanding nature of combat diving and the high level of proficiency needed to succeed.

MTI’s Dive Competition Event Framework:

Combat diving demands a tailored approach for each mission, but specific fundamental criteria can be used to identify the most proficient dive teams in a competition setting. For fairness and challenge, these competitions should occur in unfamiliar locations, and all dives should be conducted at night. Establishing sound Combat Diver principles is crucial for developing effective dive profiles for the competition. Below are the essential skills we have identified and incorporated into a one-week combat diver competition.

Essential Skills for a Proficient Combat Diver:

  1. Maintain depth control
  2. Maintain a consistent pace for a long duration
  3. Control off-gassing and light discipline (watches/ chem lights)
  4. Able to conduct subsurface terrain association
  5. Read a nautical chart
  6. Understands tides and currents and how to plan for them.
  7. Understanding of Dive medicine and can rescue his dive buddy

Day #1 Divers Arrive

  • Conduct dip check for ballasting purposes
  • Build rig
  • Chart Study
  • Tides and currents familiarization
  • Provide dive profile for Day #2

Day #2: Multi-Target Harbor Dive:

  • Identify a harbor where multiple target markers can be placed for combat divers to locate. Coordinate with harbor owners to choose suitable locations such as quay walls, moored ships, or piers. Ensure each site is safe and record the exact coordinates for diver planning. Develop a method for divers to attach a marker (carabiners work great) underwater as proof they were able to locate the designated target.
  • Scoring will be based on the number of carabiners each dive pair places. If multiple teams hit all targets, the winner will be determined by the fastest completion time, with the team spending the least amount of time on target emerging as the winner.
  • Roving lane graders need to be present to make note of any surface breaches, off-gassing, or light infractions.
  • Max Bottomtime: 3 hours

Day #3: Harbor Cross Current Dive

  • Identify a harbor entrance with a cross current that pushes divers to either side. Combat divers will need to analyze the current, use an offset approach, and possibly conduct a tactical peak. Plan for a single-leg dive of 500-800 yards, depending on the width of the harbor entrance.   Identify a permanent location within the harbor for the divers to maneuver to and surface.
  • Scoring will be established by who was able to complete the offset and make it the designated harbor location.
  • Event craft should monitor and note surface breaches and dive pairs that do not cleanly enter the harbor.
  • Max Bottomtime: 3 hours

Day #4: Contour Dive

  • Identify a location with a noticeable gradient that combat divers can follow based on depth changes. This should not be a quay wall. Suitable locations could include a large jetty, a rocky beach, or an area with an underwater shelf. The contour should lead to an identifiable endpoint where the combat diver can place their marker and then return to the starting point of their dive.
  • Scoring is determined by who can place their marker and return to the extraction point. If multiple competitors successfully place their markers, the winner will be the one who completes the dive the fastest.
  • Max Bottomtime: 3 hours

Day #5 Target Identification

  • Identify three locations to hang a placard with an identifying symbol 5-10 feet above the waterline. Record the exact coordinates of each placard and provide this information to the Combat Divers. The objective of this dive is to insert the divers 500 yards away. The divers will conduct shallow water observations (peaks) on each placard. After observing a placard, they will proceed underwater to the next placard location. Upon exiting the water, the divers will report to the laner grader with the details of what is on each placard.
  • Scoring is based on correctly identifying the symbols on the placards. If multiple divers successfully identify the symbols, the diver with the shortest dive time will be ranked higher.
  • Lane graders should monitor surface breaches, off-gassing, and signs of subsurface light.
  • Max Bottomtime: 3 hours

Common fail criteria for all events:

  • Exceeds allotted bottom time (safety concern)
  • Excessive sub-surface light infractions. (disco show underwater)
  • Excessive off-gassing (identification of human presence)
  • Unintentional Surface broach (Diver on the surface of the water)

Event Scoring: Cumulative scoring method

  • Event Completion: Ensure that each athlete or team completes all the events in the competition.
  • Ranking Each Event: Rank the athletes or teams based on their performance in each event. The best performance gets the lowest rank (e.g., 1st place gets 1 point).
  • Assigning Points: Assign points according to the ranks for each event. For example, 1st place = 1 point, 2nd place = 2 points, etc.
  • Total Score Calculation: Add the points from all events for each athlete or team to get their total score.
  • Determining the Winner: The athlete or team with the lowest total score across all events is the winner.

MTI’s proposed event framework aims to address these concerns by incorporating a series of meticulously planned diving challenges that reflect the real-world scenarios combat divers might face. By emphasizing underwater navigation, target identification, and subsurface operations, this framework ensures that competitors are tested on their ability to perform complex tasks under challenging conditions. This not only promotes a more accurate assessment of their capabilities but also enhances their preparedness for actual missions.

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