Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force

Summer 2004 Cover of Undersea Warfare Magazine

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Summer 2004/Archives

U.S. Submarine... Beacause Stealth Matters


Washington Watch


Operational Depth

Ships At Sea

Letters to the Editor


6th Annual Undersea Warfare Photo Contest Winners

Former Commander-in-Chief Christens PCU Jimmy Carter

Hard-charging and Persistent: The Crew of PCU Virginia Looks Ahead

Pacific Reach 2004
U.S. Foreign Navies Practice Submarine Rescue, Foster Cooperation and Improve Interoperability

SSGN Conversions: Embodying the Sea Power 21 Vision

Heading North!
Traveling the Artic Region, U.S. Submarines Find Adventure, New Challenges, and New Friends

Saviors and Suppliers: World War II Submarine Speacial Operations in the Phillippines

Enhances Stability and Increases Interoperability in the Pacific Rim

Those in Peril - the S-5 Incident

Bringing Science to Life
Teaching Science Using Submarine Technology and the ex-USS Narwhal (SSN-671)

2004 Force Organization Map

Submarine Force Links

Director, Submarine Warfare

Commander, Naval Submarine Forces

Commander, Submarine Force Pacific Fleet

Navy News Stand

Undersea Warfare Photo Contest



Undersea Warfare 2003 CHINFO Merit Award

Heading North! Traveling the Arctic Region, U.S. Submarines Find Adventure, New Challenges, and New Friends
Honolulu Deployment Marks First First-Flight 688 to Surface at the North Pole
by CDR Chuck Harris, USN

Photo caption follows

While USS Honolulu (SSN-718) is the 24th Los Angeles-class submarine to surface at the North Pole, she is the first of the first-flight 688 to perform operations Arctic.

“Captain, the ship is ready to vertically surface.”

The OOD made the report from the darkened Control Room while watching the ship’s Control Party maintain the 7,000-ton submarine completely motionless at 170 feet. It was dark. The Control Room was rigged for low-level light and the OOD’s final sweep on the scope to confirm no ice overhead was in the image intensification mode because of the lack of light. It was early October and the sun was already three degrees below the horizon. This gave incredible permanent sunset views but produced little illumination 110 feet down at the level of the periscope head window. Ice keels dropping down to 40 feet were not visible in the normal image settings of the scope when they were as close as 90 feet.

A quick check of the side-scan sonar system to confirm the ship’s position, and all was ready. After months of work-up and practice, USS Honolulu (SSN-718) was finally set to carry out an evolution discussed, planned, and practiced by the crew numerous times. We would be the first first-flight 688 to surface at the North Pole. Getting to that point and then actually surfacing hadn’t happened quite the way anyone expected it to. As most submarines that preceded Honolulu had found, not much of anything in the Arctic happens quite the way it’s expected to.

After the long challenging journey to the Pole, the crew had struggled for the last 30 hours simply trying to find a place to surface. We had practiced and discussed the possibility of hovering under and surfacing vertically in a small open-water area. We all had expected that finding a suitable place would be relatively easy. We were mistaken. After a full day of searching, our hopes of surfacing at the North Pole began to fade. It didn’t help that the ship had not seen an open area in the ice for almost a week – the last being just 12 hours after passing under the ice edge at 750N. I began bracing the crew for the eventuality of not being able to surface. Everyone was disappointed. The schedule gave us less than 24 hours more to find a polynya near the Pole, and in hopes of finding something, we moved to a new area about four miles away.

12 hours later, the OOD, LT David Edgerton, informed me he had found a spot – small but with clear open water and a bit of slush ice. Initially we had little hope, because the ice was moving, and most of us were convinced the tiny area would close up long before we had the opportunity to map the region and prepare the ship. Soon after we began mapping the area, the movement became apparent, with the polynya plotter reporting almost a half a knot of current. Persistence paid off though, and six hours later, LT Edgerton had the ship hovering at 170 feet and stopped dead in the water. At this point, the next challenge revealed itself.

Hampton Crew Tours the North Pole with HMS Tireless in Joint ArCtic Exercise
by JOC Kevin Elliot, USNR

With a burst of air into the forward ballast tanks, USS Hampton (SSN-767) surfaced through a thin sheet of ice at the North Pole on 19 April 2004. The Sailors onboard that day had the chance to experience something few others have …surfacing at the top of the world.

“Of all the memorable things I’ve done in a submarine, this was one of the most amazing,” said CDR Robert Burke, Commanding Officer of Hampton. “I was struck by the dead silence, the absolute crispness of the air, and the absolute foreign feeling of the environment. I could have been on the surface of the moon.”

Hampton had sailed more than 5,000 miles from its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia during ICEX 04, an exercise to demonstrate a submarine’s ability to operate under the ice of the Arctic Ocean for an extended period of time.

ICEX is a joint United States and United Kingdom operation. The Royal Navy’s HMS Tireless surfaced first and advised Hampton of an open spot in the ice nearby.

After three weeks underway, Hampton’s crew was ready for a break. They tossed a football, hit a few golf balls, and generally played in the snow. They also capitalized on this rare opportunity to take each other’s picture in the desolate environment, and to visit HMS Tireless.

“I made some new friends up at the North Pole,” said Electronics Technician 1st Class Adam Burchette. “They gave us a tour of the ship, then we sat in the mess and drank tea. They told us about their country and we told them about ours.”

The blue ice fascinated LTJG Lawrence W. Thompson of Kansas City. “Being from the Midwest I’m not a stranger to snow, but you don’t realize how barren it is here until you walk around,” he said. “It’s just miles and miles of ice. A lot of the ice formations have a blue look to them because they have been compacted for years and there is no air left. It’s so compacted it only reflects the blue light.”

Hampton and her crew spent 16 hours at the North Pole and then submerged to continue the ICEX exercise. ICEX 04 has been in the planning stages for two years to ensure the Submarine Force can operate proficiently in every possible environment. Hampton’s crew made the most of their chance to participate in ICEX and their time on the ice at the North Pole.

Photo caption follows

USS Hampton sits at the North Pole. In recent years, both the United States’ and the Royal Navy have focused interest in maintaining and improving their operational skills and capabilities in the Artic, supporting their common goal for greater flexibility. Tireless surfaced with USS Hampton (SSN-767) for ICEX 04. After three weeks underway, Hampton crewmembers were happy to meet new people. The two crews enjoyed swapping sea stories and even shared a cup of tea together.

As the OOD surveyed the polynya through the scope, it became apparent that the ship was moving sideways with respect to the opening at an appreciable rate. Since the polynya was now less than 100 yards wide, and the surfacing would take about five minutes from 170 feet to the surface, the current definitely posed a problem. The ship would have to make another try. Putting the ship on the right edge of the polynya and stopping quickly set the ship up for the event.

“Officer of the Deck, vertically surface the ship”

With the precision that marks the performance of all submarine watch sections, the OOD gave the order, and the ship’s Control Party smoothly transitioned from motionless hovering to controlled ascent. Forced out by high-pressure air, seawater went overboard from the ship’s depth control system. 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 pounds were counted off by the Chief of the Watch. The Diving Officer of the Watch, ETCS (SS) Neil Davenport – the ship’s Assistant Navigator, monitored the ascent rate and quietly gave orders to blow even more ballast. A screen in front of the Helmsman showed the ship coming up through a strong salinity gradient. The water closer to the ice was less saline, which made the ship heavier. The Chief of the Boat, CMDCM (SS) Mike Keck remarked that coming up in the Arctic was certainly different than the practice sessions in the Hawaiian operating areas. There, the ship blew only 2,500 pounds from the Depth Control tanks to get a 35 foot per minute ascent rate. By 120 feet, Senior Chief Davenport had already blown 25,000 pounds and the ship was still slowing noticeably with every change of 10 feet.

As the ship passed 100 feet, LT Edgerton took one last sweep and lowered the scope. At this point, everyone focused their attention on the monitors showing the view from the overhead camera. The 25 men in the Control Room watched the surface move closer and closer until finally the sail passed through the slush ice and into history, making Honolulu the first first-flight 688 not only to reach the Pole ,but also to surface there.

The trip to the North Pole was not the main point of the ICEX, just an enjoyable side trip on a voyage that took Hono around the rim of the Arctic Ocean. For a crew that had seen more than most submarines in the past year, everyone reveled in their good fortune to have been chosen to participate in this lifetime event. Hono was halfway through an eight-month Arabian Gulf/Seventh Fleet deployment when the word came of the ICEX. “How’d you like to go to the North Pole in October” read the e-mail from Hono’s Commodore, CAPT Bill French. The crew was thrilled. Only four-and-a-half months after returning to Pearl Harbor, Hono was northbound for 28-degree water only 10 months after being in the 97-degree waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The task? Honolulu was charged with further evaluating the operation of our under-ice, forward-looking sonar system in order to improve SSN arctic performance. Hono was also tasked to evaluate operating and casualty procedures for deep-Arctic operations of first-flight 688 submarines. Because the ship carried the latest communications gear in her radio room, and little was known about using some of this equipment at very high latitudes, the Hono radiomen established their own objective of testing the limits of these new capabilities.

Like any extended operation, the trip had its challenges. Shortly after entering the shallow water of the Bering Sea, an external power supply for the forward-looking sonar system failed, threatening the mission and forcing the ship to scramble to find a nearby location suitable for transferring a new power supply to the ship. A quick check of the Sailing Directions suggested that Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians was the ideal place. COMSUBPAC turned to, assigned additional water south, and arranged for delivery of a replacement there. A two-day run south and Hono was off Dutch Harbor with the harbor-master alongside transferring the part. After only three hours, Hono had the subsystem replaced, and the mission was back on track.

Photo caption below

Photo caption below

Honolulu moored to the ice for almost 25 hours about 280 miles from the North Pole following the surfacing event there.

HMS Tireless sits at the North Pole. Tireless surfaced with USS Hampton (SSN-767) for ICEX 04. After three weeks underway, the two crews enjoyed swapping sea stories and even sharing a cup of tea together.


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