Two U.S. Navy fast attack submarines surfaced from below the in the Arctic Circle during a multi-national training exercise currently taking place north of Alaska.
The two submarines, the Los Angeles-class USS Hartford (SSN 768) and Seawolf-class USS Connecticut (SSN 22), both surfaced in the Beaufort Sea on March 10 as part of the ICEX 2018, a biennial exercise held in the Arctic and meant train submarine crews in extreme cold-weather conditions. This year, both fast-attack submarines as well the UK Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant (S91).
With the arrival of the submarines, the units participating will set up a temporary ice camp on the moving ice floe approximately 150 miles off the coast of the northern slope of Alaska in international waters.
“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).
According to Pitts, operating in the Arctic ice presents unique circumstances that can impact everything from communication and navigation to how submarines operate, especially due to the contoured, reflective ice canopy when submerged.
“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 increasingly 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 August 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.