By Larry Estrada
Director, Arctic Submarine Laboratory
Ice Exercise 1-2014 officially began March 17. Due to rapidly changing ice conditions, personnel at Nautilus completed an earlier than expected demobilization of the ice camp March 27.
Preparing USS New Mexico (SSN 779) and USS Hampton (SSN 767) started in late 2013 with the installation of specially designed sensors by the Arctic Submarine Laboratory and training for the unique challenges and procedures required to transit and operate in the Arctic. New Mexico and Hampton each departed their respective homeports in late February and transited to the Arctic from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For these two submarine crews, the Arctic training and employment of special sensors enabled them to transit distinctly different routes to the Arctic. They arrived at Ice Camp Nautilus on schedule, demonstrating the U.S. Submarine Force’s ability to operate in the Arctic using two different classes of submarines from different operational fleets. With embarked arctic operations specialists on each submarine assisting the commanding officer and crew, Arctic Submarine Laboratory continued to expand its operational knowledge of the Arctic.
This initial phase of ICEX 2014 also included planned environmental data collection and testing during the transit north. All of these objectives were met including a coordinated rendezvous and verification of the unique submarine tracking range installed and operated at Nautilus. The last Ice Exercise was conducted in 2011, and the ability to plan, coordinate and mobilize a remote camp and install a temporary tracking range that worked on the first day on the frozen Arctic is a significant accomplishment for the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N97) Submarine Arctic Warfare Program. The effort is much more complex than the appearance that plywood living shelters might give in pictures.
The second phase of ICEX 2014 (although abbreviated) included unique submarine surfacing and diving evolutions through the ice and mooring to an open lead in the ice floe. Both submarine crews demonstrated the ability to operate below the ice canopy and when required locate a suitable area to surface. With limited test days, some Sonar test objectives were met including one combat system test event. The ability to conduct these tests fully exercised the Ice Camp infrastructure, field parties and recovery evolutions including under-ice diving by the University of Washington (Applied Physics Lab). Despite the early demobilization, the Submarine Force and Arctic Submarine Laboratory met a critical objective of maintaining proficiency in conducting complex testing in the Arctic. Arctic Submarine Laboratory was able to partner with Lockheed-Martin and use a demonstration Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) workstation to receive secure message traffic and email, which was a first-ever accomplishment for an Ice Camp communication capability.
With New Mexico and Hampton resupplied with fresh food and repair parts using the logistics capability of the exercise, they departed Nautilus to focus on expanding operational experience in other regions of the Arctic and additional environmental data collection.
A diverse and multi-national team came together with more than a year of planning in order to execute the Ice Exercise. Besides Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT) and Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), Arctic Submarine Laboratory was supported by Submarine Squadron Eleven (CSS-11), Submarine Development Squadron Twelve (CSDS-12), the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, the Applied Physics Lab of University of Washington (APL/UW), Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), Applied Research Lab of University of Texas (ARL/UT), and Lockheed-Martin.
The Submarine Force has conducted operations in the Arctic for more than 60 years and is positioned to support national and strategic objectives in the Arctic if required. You can view some of the historical accomplishments in the Arctic in a timeline or in pictures at ASL’s website.
The Arctic’s significance in national defense has been recently highlighted in the following documents.
- A National Strategy for the Arctic Region was released by the President in May 2013. It states that the United States will, “Seek to maintain and preserve the Arctic region as an area free of conflict, acting in concert with allies, partners, and other interested parties.
- The Department of Defense 2013 Arctic Strategy paper listed two DoD objectives:
- Ensure security, support safety, and promote defense cooperation; and
- Prepare for a wide range of challenges.
- The recently updated U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap requires the Navy to be fully mission-capable in the Arctic.
The Submarine Arctic Warfare Program and ASL can serve as a model for other naval forces and DoD organizations to test and improve their own Arctic capabilities.
ICEX 2014 presented unique and untimely challenges and the team responded to frequently changing ice conditions in order to keep it operational. Before we concluded operations, we were able to host and provide an opportunity for the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, and a group of distinguished visitors to embark New Mexico. I know they will remember the experience for a long time. On March 27, Nautilus completed demobilization in a controlled fashion without loss of equipment and the ice floe restored to its original condition.