Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) and Seawolf-class fast attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) both surfaced in the Arctic Circle March 10, 2018, during the multinational maritime Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018 in the Arctic Circle north of Alaska.
Both fast-attack submarines, as well the UK Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant (S91), are participating in the biennial exercise in the Arctic to train and validate the warfighting capabilities of submarines in extreme cold-water conditions.
“From a military, geographic, and scientific perspective, the Arctic Ocean is truly unique, and remains one of the most challenging ocean environments on earth,” said Rear Admiral James Pitts, commander, Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC).
ICEX provides the U.S. Submarine Force and partners from the Royal Navy an opportunity to test combat and weapons systems, sonar systems, communications, and navigation systems in a challenging operational environment. The unique acoustic undersea environment is further compounded by the presence of a contoured, reflective ice canopy when submerged.
According to Pitts, operating in the Arctic ice alters methods and practices by which submarines operate, communicate and navigate.
“We must constantly train together with our submarine units and partners to remain proficient in this hemisphere,” Pitts said. “Having both submarines on the surface is clear demonstration of our proficiency in the Arctic.”
In recent years, the Arctic has been used as a transit route for submarines. The most recent ICEX was conducted in 2016 with USS Hampton (SSN 767) and USS Hartford (SSN 768).
The first Arctic under-ice operations by submarines were done in 1947-49. On Aug. 1, 1947, the diesel submarine USS Boarfish (SS-327), with Arctic Submarine Laboratory’s founder, Dr. Waldo Lyon, onboard serving as an Ice Pilot, conducted the first under-ice transit of an ice floe in the Chukchi Sea.
In 1958, the nuclear-powered USS Nautilus made the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean beneath the pack ice. The first Arctic surfacing was done by USS Skate (SSN 578) in March 1959. USS Sargo was the first submarine to conduct a winter Bering Strait transit in 1960.
The units participating in the exercise are supported by a temporary ice camp on a moving ice floe approximately 150 miles off the coast of the northern slope of Alaska in international waters. The ice camp, administered by the Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), is a remote Arctic drifting ice station, built on multi-year sea-ice especially for ICEX that is logistically supported with contract aircraft from Deadhorse, Alaska. The ice camp will be de-established once the exercise is over.