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U.S., Royal Navy Subs Test Tactics Under Polar Ice Pack

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070329-09
Release Date: 3/29/2007 4:23:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Barrie Barber, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Navy Reserve Public Affairs

ARCTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- An underwater range in the frigid depths of the Beaufort Sea allowed the U.S. and Royal navies to hone tactics, communication and navigation under the polar ice pack during Ice Exercise 2007 (ICEX-2007).

A camp atop a mile-long ice floe controlled the exercise as it monitored and guided USS Alexandria (SSN 757) and HMS Tireless (S88) during surfacings through the ice. The frozen maritime proving ground allowed submariners, engineers and scientists to conduct tests they can do nowhere else.

The harsh environment is unique and so different from open ocean that the Navy needs to test submarine capabilities in the Arctic, said Barry L. Campbell, head of operations at the U.S. Navy Arctic Submarine Laboratory in San Diego, Calif.

“We’re a worldwide Navy and the Navy’s position is we should be able to operate in any ocean in the world," he said.

Submarines can covertly maneuver the depths below the polar ice as a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Pacific compared to the more exposed route of the Panama Canal, which a vessel would have to surface to cross, he said.

“When you go through the Panama Canal, every terrorist and his brother knows you’re there,” Campbell said. “When you go through the Arctic, no one knows you’re there.”

Alexandria, an improved Los Angeles-class submarine, can silently cruise the depths beneath the sea ice. Among other features, the vessel has a strengthened sail and rudder, retractable bow planes and communication masts, the Submarine Remote Video System -- a low light underwater camera to look at the bottom of the ice -- sonar to spot ice keels and an acoustic top sounder system to measure ice draft.

“The Arctic Ocean is unique in the sense that submarines are the only platform that can operate there independently all year long,” said Capt. Ed Hasell, ICEX tactical command officer and officer in charge of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory. “We expect all our subs to be able to operate in the Arctic.”

The Royal Navy has the same mission, said Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stuart Capes, Fleet Submarine navigator based in Portsmouth, Enland, and an ICEX range safety officer.

“Our strategic position is to be able to operate anywhere in the world, and we see the Arctic as part of that,” he said. “It just enhances our cooperation with your Navy. God forbid, if we ever did have to fight a battle under there it would be a joint operation.”

Both the U.S. and Royal Navies, which have jointly participated in ICEX since 1986, will incorporate lessons learned at the latest underwater exercise in submarine force operations, Hasell and Capes said.

Once ICEX concludes, the Navy departs and opens the camp in April to National Science Foundation researchers who will engage in experiments during the International Polar Year. The Navy set up scientific equipment for the scientists prior to their arrival.

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