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(above) USSAlexandria(SSN-757) after surfacing through two feet of ice during ICEX 2007. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Navy and Royal Navy Sailors and civilians called a polar ice camp atop the harsh, frozen Arctic Ocean home in March while supporting Ice Exercise 2007 (ICEX 2007), a joint tactical exercise on and under a mile-long ice floe adrift off the northern coast of Alaska. A camp was established in the negative 30-degree Fahrenheit climate to support USS Alexandria (SSN-757) and HMS Tireless (S88) in their overall goal to improve the understanding of under-ice operations.

The U.S. Navy contracted the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington (APL/UW) in Seattle to build and maintain the camp, dubbed the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station (APLIS). The small village consisted of a command hut, mess tent, nine “hooches” or sleeping quarters with six bunks in each, two tents to house temporary visitors, a generator-driven powerhouse, a runway carved into the ice and a heliport—all in an attempt to make the extreme conditions in the Arctic more bearable.

But the cold did not deter visitors from making an appearance at ICEX. Some VIPs that made the trip included: Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter; Adm. Kirkland Donald, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion; Vice Adm. John Donnelly, Commander Submarine Force; Rear Adm. David Cooke, Commander Operations, Royal Navy; and Mr. John Casey, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Movie stars and a film crew even made an appearance to film “Stargate: Continuum.” APLIS also housed two students from the Naval Postgraduate School who were conducting research on under-ice oceanography.

In the end, despite harsh conditions and unpredictable ice, the personnel involved in ICEX 07 accomplished their goals and considered the exercise a success.

12 March 2007
Position: 73-06N/145-52W
Temperature: -29 degrees F

Welcome to Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station (APLIS)—our adventure in the great white north!

Why are we here? We’re establishing an ice camp with a tracking range so we can support testing and other operations by two submarines—one from the U.S. Navy and the other from the Royal Navy—which will be joining us in a couple days.

Where are we? We are on a drifting ice floe about 180 nautical miles (nm) off the north coast of Alaska. We’re dependent on airplane flights out of Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse, Alaska, to ferry supplies and people to and from the camp.

Who are we? APLIS is first and foremost a team effort. The camp is being manned largely by military and civilian personnel from both the U.S. and Royal Navies. In addition, we’ll have several visitors from a host of other military commands, news outlets, media groups, etc.

What is an APLIS? The Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington [APL/UW] built and is managing the ice camp for us. A few camps ago, they held a contest to see who could come up with the best alternative meaning for that acronym. The winner was “Abnormal People Living In Sheds.” You’ll be able to judge the accuracy of this alternate interpretation for yourself over the next couple weeks as I cover the daily events.

15 March 2007
Position: 73-06N/145-43W
Temperature: -2 degrees F

If you’ve been watching the temperatures, you’ll have noticed that it’s getting warmer. While passing through Prudhoe Bay, I found that some of the locals take these really cold temperatures so much for granted that they don’t even bother saying the “minus”—they would only remark on whether it’s above or below zero if it managed to get above.

During the night, we tuned in our tracking system. That done, we passed to USS Alexandria (SSN-757) the position of the feature where we want them to surface. Randy Ray, our Field Operations Coordinator, had scouted out the area around APLIS the day before to find a large, thin-ice area. As soon as the sun was up, Randy Ray headed back out to the feature he had scouted yesterday (“Marvin Gardens”) to ensure that it was still around—thinner ice is always in danger of succumbing to the forces exerted by the ice pack.

 

 

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APLIS camp at sunrise. Photo by Lt. E.J. Reynolds

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Vice Adm. Donnelley mines ice for drinking water. U.S. Navy Photo

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HMS Tireless breaks through the ice and slush. U.S. Navy Photo

 


Luckily, it was still there. With about half the camp standing by watching, Alexandria came bursting through several feet of ice. But the ice around her was too thin for us to walk on so she dove again. Lt. Jeff St. George in the Command Hut vectored her to a new spot and, for the second time in three and a half hours, a crowd of onlookers thrilled to the site of a sail emerging from the surrounding ice.

When a submarine surfaces through the ice, you don’t simply open a hatch to put people aboard, because there’s a thick layer of ice covering the hatch. In this case, about three feet of it.
Using chain saws, picks, and shovels, the APLIS team at Marvin Gardens hacked their way down through the ice to the submarine’s deck below, where a nice warm submarine awaited.

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