The maritime strategy at work: ICEX 2009.
In October 2007, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commandant of the Coast Guard came together to sign "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower," also known as the maritime strategy. In it, all three services outlined how they can best work together to support maritime security and cooperation with coalition partners in the global community.
The maritime strategy lays out three priorities: to implement integration and interoperability, to enhance awareness, and to prepare Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsman to make the maritime strategy happen. The strategy consists of six core capabilities: forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.
Sailors have been bringing those core capabilities to life on deployments and on shore in a vast amount of mission sets. But, there is that one operational exercise that ties into almost every facet of the maritime strategy, but few are aware of: Ice Exercise (ICEX) in the Arctic Ocean.
The Navy conducts ICEX every other year, contracting with the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington (APLUW) and other partners. The APL-UW handles the construction and logistics of the Applied Physics Lab Ice Station (APLIS), built on a shelf of 5-foot thick Arctic pack ice approximately 200 nautical miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The crew at APLIS supports the entire ICEX mission.
Another supporting player is the Antarctic Submarine Lab (ASL) that is owned by the Navy and run by civilian contractors. ASL plans each ICEX and collects all the data gleaned from the Arctic. The agency also acts as the specialist in submarine operations in the Arctic. Through the efforts of ASL, submarines are provided with special equipment that allows them to operate under the ice canopy.
At the heart of ICEX 2009, conducted in March, were two Los Angeles-class attack submarines--USS Annapolis (SSN 760) and USS Helena (SSN 725). They conducted essential training and weapons exercises while operating under the ice. All of these exercises were supported by Sailors, Navy civilians and technicians from the Navy Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), Newport, R.I.
Additionally, students from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Monterey, Calif., conducted oceanographic research for their thesis while at the Ice Station. The contractors from APL helped with all the logistics of APLIS, from building the camp to retrieving and shipping the torpedoes that Annapolis and Helena tested while under the Arctic Ocean ice.
CNO Adm. Gary Roughead visited ICEX '09, and he explained why the Arctic region is critical to the maritime strategy.
"The Arctic is important to the nation and the Navy because it really is a maritime domain. We have some very fundamental interests--security interests in the Arctic region," Roughead said. "We've been here operating in this part of the world for a long time. This is one of many ICEXs that we've conducted, and as interests in resources grow and potential trade routes open in the Arctic, it's important that we maintain an awareness of this very important region of the world."
The Arctic Ocean is a critical waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This region is essential for the United States to operate in, especially for the submarine force. Lt. Cmdr. Chris Hover, executive officer of Annapolis, explained that for most of the year, surface ships are unable to move through the icy waters. He said that it is integral for the United States and its coalition partners to be able to navigate through the unique Arctic environment and that many people don't consider how vital it is to American interests and the security of the American way of life.
"The world is covered in 71 percent oceans. The ability to continue to operate our submarines underneath the ice gives us that short avenue to places around the world where we can project power in a much faster way than having to drive through the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean in a time of need," said Hover.
The continents of the northern hemisphere--Europe, Asia and North America--all share the Arctic Ocean and all the major capitals of the northern hemisphere are within 3,500 nautical miles of the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic Ocean is a strategic maritime domain, and it's important for the United States to operate in, especially for the submarine force. For submarine Sailors to maintain the core capabilities of deterrence and sea control, they need to keep their skills sharp and make sure they will be able to operate in the Arctic's harsh environment at any time.
"There is potential for conflict under the ice. That's not something people like to think about. But planes and surface ships wouldn't be able to participate in that type of battle--it would be a submarine only battle," said Hover. "[The Arctic] is truly a submarine atmosphere and we need to be able to continue our ability to operate [here] and provide U.S. presence and U.S. dominance underneath the ice as well as in open waters."
The Arctic waters pose unique challenges. Sailors have to execute every movement with exact precision because of the ice keels and other possible contacts that are even more difficult to detect because of the different water densities between fresh and salt water. The presence of an overhead ice canopy changes the methods by which the submarines communicate, navigate and maintain their habitability. River runoff and ice melt cause significant variations in the acoustic profile of the Arctic as well. This is further compounded by the presence of a contoured, reflective ice canopy under which Annapolis and Helena were operating.
Senior Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Tomas A. Garcia, chief of the boat aboard Annapolis, explained some of the difficulties he and his crew faced while operating under the ice.
"It's extremely hard navigating around the ice. We do have special systems on board--sonar systems--that allow us to identify the ice keels that could draft up to 110 feet below the surface," Garcia said. "We've had to train up here recently on how to execute and employ that system so that we can identify the keels early enough so that we can turn the ship and not collide."
Garcia said that operating in an open water environment gives Sailors more leeway on their exact positioning. Operating during ICEX '09, under the compact Arctic Ocean ice, was much more unusual.
"We are currently at 350 feet and it's extremely different. When we handle the ship under the ice we have to be dead on with respect to our depth and our ship's angle," Garcia explained. "Normally, you can relax your depth band by about 10 feet. But while we are under the ice we've got to maintain the ship at the ordered depth and we've got to do that with a minimum angle of the ship. We want to keep the angle of the ship right at 0 degrees."
One of the highlights of ICEX '09 was when the submarines practiced surfacing, or broke through the ice. Hover explained why it was imperative for Sailors to be able to surface in that environment. He said prior to the exercise, the procedures, operations and training the crew received was mostly for open-ocean navigation. ICEX '09 gave them the opportunity to experience what it's like to be outside their standard operating environment.
"Having an avenue to get to the surface is kind of our life blood, our lifeline, to get communications on and off the ship, to get tasking of feedback of things we are doing. And when we're underneath the ice, it hampers our ability to communicate back home and also to receive information," Hover said.
"We have no ability to come to periscope depth; we have no ability to surface the ship and use all of our means of communication, so maintaining communications is necessary and to do that, we have to surface through the ice to raise our mast and antennas to transit information off the ship."
For the submarines to surface, and perform their many other functions while underway, they relied heavily on the "command hut" at APLIS. Camp personnel monitored every movement of the submarines using an acoustic tracking range. They used underwater communications that assisted the submarine in its positioning relative to the camp sensors, coordinated the submarines' test activities with the personnel on the ice, and directed the Annapolis and Helena to areas of thinner ice when it was time for them to surface. Capt. Gregory Ott, deputy director of submarine operations, Commander Submarine Force, Norfolk, was the officer in tactical command of APLIS, was in charge of the overall camp and the operation of the submarines, as well as the logistics camp back in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. He stressed the importance of the command hut and the value APLIS brought to the overall ICEX mission.
"I learned something new every day up here--everything from the environment of the Arctic to how you make a camp like this go--from mining ice, to how do you get a torpedo out of the water after we're done shooting it? It's pretty amazing," Ott said. "I think the level of expertise [of our partners from APL] is another thing I see that is so important."
Integration and interoperability were a major factor in ICEX '09. So many organizations came together to make the exercise a success. APL-UW, Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), NPS, NUWC and various U.S. Navy submarine commands. In addition, two coalition partners from the Royal Navy supported the testing.
Not only was this exercise an example of integration and interoperability, it was also a prime example of how the Navy is preparing its people--another priority of the maritime strategy. The submariners test their skills, operational abilities and weapons systems while in the challenging Arctic environment.
"We have the latest fire control and latest sonar systems. We're doing a lot of testing of those systems which will aid the submarine force in the future when they bring other submarines to operate in this area--they'll be able to learn from the things we've seen and put the system through--the throes of the environment through various line-ups, and various settings to figure out the best settings," Hover said. "Strategically, it gives us the ability to test our weapons up here and to determine their performance in the cold weather and the Arctic ice."
The information that the Navy and its partners collected during ICEX '09 contributes to the entire fleet. The research and testing that ASL, Annapolis, Helena and the other components gathered are essential to the maritime domain.
"Submarines help out all the carriers, we're their protectors, so if we can dominate worldwide, especially under the Arctic, then that will be good for the whole fleet," said Sonar Technician 1st Class (SS) Jose Gutierrez, who was at APLIS supporting his shipmates. "There's no word for it [being in the Arctic]. We're in the middle of nowhere, but we have all this stuff going on, we're retrieving torpedoes and conducting all kinds of scientific experiments--it's awe inspiring."
ETC(SS) Phillip Adams is on his fifth trip to the Arctic aboard a submarine. He said he enjoys going back to share his experience with Sailors who have not been to the Arctic before. He also knows how vital ICEX is to the Navy.
"Not many platforms can go where we can go. With the intelligence we can collect, we can give that to other communities and they can learn from the data that we've accumulated," Adams said.
Garcia said that ICEX is the maritime strategy in action. While his shipmates are out and about doing their work every day, he wanted them to rest assured that even the farthest places on the globe are covered.
"The biggest take away for the rest of the service is that they can identify that we truly are a global Navy, even though a surface ship can't come up where we're at right now, that they know that our nation has got the globe covered--whether it's on the sea, air or land--we've got it on the North Pole," Garcia said.
The Sailors who participated in the exercise said that it was an amazing training experience as well as a personal one.
"Only a handful of people compared to the population of the planet can actually say they have been to the Arctic Circle. Even fewer can say they've been underneath it and broken through the ice in a submarine. That's something very, very cool we get to do; very few people get to do it," said Machinist's Mate 2nd Class (SS) Paul Andrew Scharf.
Story by MC2(SW) Rebekah Blowers, photos by MC1(SW/AW) Tiffini J. Vanderwyst
Blowers and Vanderwyst are assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C.
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|Title Annotation:||Sub-Zero Sailors; Ice Exercise|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2009|
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