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Three U.S. and British Subs Meet at the North Pole

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    Posted: 22 Mar 2018 at 10:12am

March 22, 2018, War Is Boring

 

Three U.S. and British Submarines Meet at the North Pole

 

ICEX 2018 involved live torpedo-firing

David Axe


Connecticut and Hartford at Camp Skate. US Navy Photo Two American submarines and one British boat gathered near the North Pole in mid-March 2018 for one of the biggest Arctic undersea exercises in decades.

 

ICEX 2018, the 27th in a series of roughly biennial exercises dating back to 1959, kicked off in early March, when aircraft from the Alaska Air National Guard and the Canadian air force began delivering supplies to an ice floe inside the Arctic Circle.

 

The supplies allowed a military-civilian team to begin building Camp Skate. The camp boasted accommodations for around 50 people and the infrastructure for a wide range of civilian scientific experiments and military training events spanning five weeks.

 

For the U.S. Navy, the exercise was an opportunity to prepare for Arctic warfare. “The primary objective of this year’s ICEX is to test new under-ice weapons systems and validate tactics for weapon employment,” said Ryan Dropek, a test director at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport in Rhode Island.

 

On March 9, the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered attack submarines USS Connecticut and USS Hartford surfaced through three feet of ice near Camp Skate. The Royal Navy fleet submarine HMS Trenchant surfaced on March 14 to join the American boats.

 

To punch through the ice, the submarines conduct what’s called an “Arctic blow,” venting ballast to rapidly boost buoyancy.

 

With three submarines instead of the usual two, the 2018 exercise is the biggest in recent memory, and comes at a time of increasing competition for the rapidly-warming Arctic region and its shipping lanes, fisheries and mineral wealth. Climate change has thinned out year-round sea ice and put the region on track for nearly ice-free summers in coming years.

 

But military interest in the Arctic isn’t new. During the Cold War, the world’s leading navies considered the North Pole to be a safe haven for submarines. In 1948, three conventionally-powered U.S. Navy submarines first explored the edges of the polar ice cap. For the mission, the U.S. Arctic Submarine Laboratory, based at Point Loma in California, installed a special sonar aboard USS Boarfish.

 

Diesel-powered submarines require frequent surfacing, limiting their endurance for under-ice operations. Nuclear power allows for much longer voyages under the ice cap. In 1958, the nuclear-powered USS Nautilus made the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean beneath pack ice. In March 1959, USS Skate became the first submarine to surface through the Arctic ice.

 

Coast Guard Diver 1st Class Dylan Smith dives into a water hole during a torpedo exercise in the Arctic Circle in support of ICEX 2018.  U.S. Navy photo

 

Skate and USS Seadragon conducted the first two-boat rendezvous at the North Pole in 1962. Shortly thereafter, the Arctic Submarine Laboratory modified one of its tests tanks, allowing researchers to freeze a layer of water on the surface in order to test reinforced submarine sails that are better suited for punching through ice. Many modern submarine designs feature these hardened sails.

 

Naval interest in the Arctic peaked in the late 1980s. In 1986, USS Archerfish, USS Ray and USS Hawkbill completed the first three-boat North Pole rendezvous. A year later in 1987, HMS Superb, USS Billfish and USS Sea Devil converged on the Arctic for the first joint U.S.-British ICEX.

 

Arctic exercises ebbed during the “peace dividend” of the 1990s and in the early years of the U.S.-led war on terror. Climate change and a resurgent Russia combined to make the Arctic “hot” again. ICEXs in 2011, 2014 and 2016 each involved two American submarines. ICEX 2018 echoed the more-intensive Arctic operations of the 1980s.

 

While scientists studied the polar environment during ICEX 2018’s planned five-week duration, the crew of Connecticut and Hartfordsubmerged for torpedo trials — marking a major departure from previous iterations of the exercise. The U.S. Navy immediately recovers any torpedoes it launches during training.

 

In the Arctic, recovery poses a major challenge. “In 2016, divers tested and evaluated equipment which is being implemented for the torpedo recovery this year,” explained Lt. Courtney Callaghan, a U.S. Navy spokeswoman. ICEX 2018 involved divers from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.

 

After a submarine fired a torpedo, helicopters hauled divers and support crew to the area where the munition ran out of fuel. The team drilled holes in the ice for the divers, as well as a separate hole for the torpedo’s extraction.

 

“Our divers slip into the water to begin placing weights on a line attached to the tail end of the torpedo,” said Chief Warrant Officer Michael Johnson, a Navy diver at ICEX 2018. “The weights help shift the torpedo from a state of positive buoyancy to neutral buoyancy under the ice.”

 

Divers then installed brackets and cables around the torpedo so that a helicopter could reel it out of the water.

 

“There is a certain level of difficulty to complete a task on land,” said Builder 1st Class Khiaro Promise, another Navy diver at ICEX 2018. “To be able to go underwater and do the same thing such as cutting, welding and underwater demolition is such a unique challenge.” Especially under the polar ice cap.

 

With climate change only accelerating and the Arctic becoming more accessible by the year, the intensity of ICEX 2018 could signal a new normal. The next ICEX should take place in 2020.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sewer Pipe Snipe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 8:35am
Wonder if any Polar Bears were killed in support of this exercise? Also wonder how many teams were in the softball tournament. I figure they have gotten away from the heavy insulated overalls with the full length coat and Wolverine fur trim around the hood. The Mittens make holding a bat hard, and pitching usually results in the batter simply swinging at a ball someone has tossed up just as if he did it himself. Also wonder if any women were there? Did they  get chosen last for the teams?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote oldsubs Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 9:02am
OK, just trying to help
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2-one boat wanted cricket but was voted down 2 to 1
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Just guessing cause I wasn't there.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Runner485 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 11:41am

A question I have for all you olden day nucs, is how did you know the boat was at a point of thin enough ice to break thru and surface. Did you use the same method that was just used? And BTW, how did they know the ice was thin enough to surface and just what is "thin enough"? Confused

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote FTGC(SS) Lane Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 12:43pm
A top sounder is used to detect ice thickness. Some engineers determined that 4' was the maximum thickness a 637 class could safely break through.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sewer Pipe Snipe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 1:02pm
I think the term was planchia, areas deemed thin enough to bust thru. Those were closely tracked in case there came a need for one of them. It would seem that they knew where they were located before they went looking for them. They used the same sonar used to determine wave heights, I would guess. That was a long time ago, and what I knew or may have known I probably forgot. As I believe we all had been instructed to do.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote FTGC(SS) Lane Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 2:23pm
Originally posted by Sewer Pipe Snipe Sewer Pipe Snipe wrote:

I think the term was planchia,

It is polynya, a Russian word, meaning open water. We use the word to describe the areas between ice keels that is thin enough to break through. And, without aid from on the ice, they have to be searched for.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SaltiDawg Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 7:26pm
Originally posted by Runner485 Runner485 wrote:


A question I have for all you olden day nucs, is how did you know the boat was at a point of thin enough ice to break thru and surface. Did you use the same method that was just used? And BTW, how did they know the ice was thin enough to surface and just what is "thin enough"? Confused



Joe,

In the day, simplistically, we'd determine the draft of the ice canopy using an upward looking active portion  of the Under ice suite as we transited along.  We'd keep track of the areas where we thought we might surface in an emergency by marking them on the DRAI plot.  If too much time elapse... e.g. the distance to the last surfacing area became excessive, we would slow and do a search on either side of our track.  Finding one, we'd mark it and resume our transit.

Due to what some of us considered an "artificial restriction" on ice thickness we were permitted to surface thru, this safe surfacing feature came to be defined as flat refrozen areas called Polynyas.

Prior to that restriction being issued, we found that indeed the thinness areas were not at al the easiest to surface thru.  Indeed on Pargo, for example, we routinely surfaced thru ice many times that  "artificial restriction" which had not yet been dreamed up.  Also, note that I did not say we plotted polynyas or refrozen spots exclusively - we found some other features  that were generally much easier to surface thru and included those and thus plotted "Safe Surfacing Areas."

With the addition of a max ice thickness for surfacing, I would assume boats would plot "Open Ice" rather than "Safe Surfacing Areas."

That "restriction" was based on a concern that if you deballasted "too much" without upward movement thru the ice that the boat would become unstable in the athwartship plane.  This was a Naval Architecture concern.

A few years after that restriction was put in place, I had the opportunity to  work with Capt Harry Jackson during a summer at MIT.  At my request, the Class did an analysis of the issue and we concluded that the restriction from a Naval Architecture perspective could not be justified.

"
To punch through the ice, the submarines conduct what’s called an “Arctic blow,” venting ballast to rapidly boost buoyancy."

On those trips and my later trips on Trepang we did not Vertical Surface with MBT vents open. I have no idea what an "Arctic Blow" is, and I've participated in many dozens of Stationary Dives and Surfaces on SSN-637s.



Edited by SaltiDawg - 23 Mar 2018 at 7:35pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SaltiDawg Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 7:46pm
Originally posted by SaltiDawg SaltiDawg wrote:

Originally posted by Runner485 Runner485 wrote:


A question I have for all you olden day nucs, is how did you know the boat was at a point of thin enough ice to break thru and surface. Did you use the same method that was just used? And BTW, how did they know the ice was thin enough to surface and just what is "thin enough"? Confused



Joe,

In the day, simplistically, we'd determine the draft of the ice canopy using an upward looking active portion  of the Under ice suite as we transited along.  We'd keep track of the areas where we thought we might surface in an emergency by marking them on the DRAI plot.  If too much time elapse... e.g. the distance to the last surfacing area became excessive, we would slow and do a search on either side of our track.  Finding one, we'd mark it and resume our transit.

Due to what some of us considered an "artificial restriction" on ice thickness we were permitted to surface thru, this safe surfacing feature came to be defined as flat refrozen areas called Polynyas.

Prior to that restriction being issued, we found that indeed the thinness areas were not at al the easiest to surface thru.  Indeed on Pargo, for example, we routinely surfaced thru ice many times that  "artificial restriction" which had not yet been dreamed up.  Also, note that I did not say we plotted polynyas or refrozen spots exclusively - we found some other features  that were generally much easier to surface thru and included those and thus plotted "Safe Surfacing Areas."

With the addition of a max ice thickness for surfacing, I would assume boats would plot "Open Ice" rather than "Safe Surfacing Areas."

That "restriction" was based on a concern that if you deballasted "too much" without upward movement thru the ice that the boat would become unstable in the athwartship plane.  This was a Naval Architecture concern.

A few years after that restriction was put in place, I had the opportunity to  work with Capt Harry Jackson during a summer at MIT.  At my request, the Class did an analysis of the issue and we concluded that the restriction from a Naval Architecture perspective could not be justified.

"
To punch through the ice, the submarines conduct what’s called an “Arctic blow,” venting ballast to rapidly boost buoyancy."

On those trips and my later trips on Trepang we did not Vertical Surface with MBT vents open. I have no idea what an "Arctic Blow" is, and I've participated in many dozens of Stationary Dives and Surfaces on SSN-637s.  Albeit early 637s.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote FTGC(SS) Lane Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2018 at 8:14pm
Originally posted by SaltiDawg SaltiDawg wrote:

I have no idea what an "Arctic Blow" is, and I've participated in many dozens of Stationary Dives and Surfaces on SSN-637s.


As DOOW I did 35+ vertical surfaces and 40 stationary dives in '82 and '84 on two 637 class boats. I don't know what a "Arctic Blow" is either.
I only surfaced through ice. Once the sail broke through and the head valve opened we used an airless surface. If the head valve did not open then we did a normal MBT blow.



Edited by FTGC(SS) Lane - 23 Mar 2018 at 8:15pm
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