Greetings from APLIS. USS Annapolis (SSN-760) arrived today—a day early. After making sure that their tracking range system worked properly, we gave her the coordinates of a large expanse of thin ice about a mile southwest of camp. The helo shuttled several groups of camp residents down to the site (that we call “Marvin Gardens”) to watch Annapolis surface. Capt. Brunner [commanding officer of Annapolis] took the helo back to camp, giving him an opportunity to see what the surrounding ice looked like and how we on the surface are living.
Later in the evening, Annapolis dove and we are able
to start the testing 24 hours ahead of schedule.
Our first set of camp visitors arrived this morning—Lt. John Woods, an Oceanography professor
from the U.S. Naval Academy along with two students, Midshipman Julie Barca (the Brigade Commander) and Midshipman Leah Jordan. They are here to experience a unique aspect of Naval Operations and to get a first-hand look at Arctic Oceanography.
(Top to bottom) A crewmember of
USS Annapolis (SSN-760) drives under the Arctic ice; a view of the camp from above; camp members wait to assist the divers out of the water with the recovered torpedo. Photos by Officer 1st Class Tiffini Jones.
Greetings from APLIS. USS Helena (SSN-725) arrived during the pre-dawn hours this morning. In order to get here from San Diego, Helena came through the Bering Strait. This involved a 900 nm transit through shallow water, all of it covered with ice, sometimes requiring almost constant maneuvers to avoid threatening ice. With really shallow water, even small ice keels can pose a hazard to the submarine.
The first thing on Helena’s agenda was the same as for Annapolis—making sure the tracking range system and the ACOMMS [Digital Acoustic Communications System] were working. This assured us that we could track both submarines at the same time and communicate with them while we conducted our testing.
So what are we testing? I’ve already mentioned the ACOMMS tests and the ice avoidance sonar testing that we’ve had Annapolis working on. But our highest priority test is evaluating the effectiveness of our torpedoes in an under-ice environment. In order to accomplish this, both submarines have been loaded out with several exercise torpedoes and they will take turns launching these at each other. The results will enable us to determine how our torpedoes work in the Arctic sonar conditions and what we can do to improve them.
We got the first shot off early this afternoon. After the torpedo finished running, it bobbed up to the
bottom side of the ice about two nautical miles (nm) west of camp. Obviously, we aren’t going to leave it there so we needed to retrieve it. This involves a complex process developed over decades of Arctic torpedo exercises.
First we had to find the torpedo. Our tracking range helped us pinpoint its location to within about
50 yards. Travis Major led a team out into the field that used underwater acoustic and video sensors to locate the torpedoes precise position. Next, the helo delivered a melter to the site that was used to melt two 3-foot diameter holes through the five feet of ice.
Now the fun part. Two divers donned dry suits and hopped in the water through one hole then gently moved the torpedo to the other hole. There it was harnessed and lifted out of the hole by the helicopter. After a little loving care back here at the camp, it will be flown back to Prudhoe Bay tomorrow and readied for shipment back to one of our torpedo maintenance facilities.
Greetings from APLIS. An extremely busy day today. We’ve shot and recovered two more torpedoes, handled six flights of passengers & cargo, entertained our guests, kept a small village running, and hosted a party of VIPs from Washington. This party included: Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations; Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet; Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC); Representative John McHugh (R-NY, now Secretary of the Army); Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA); and Representative Todd Akin (R-MO).
This morning, Annapolis surfaced for the second time. Though the submarines will be making several surfacings while here at the camp, the amount of work by members of the camp and
precise shiphandling by the submarine crews should not go unnoticed. The submarine cannot surface right next to the camp as the ice is not predictable, and the force of the submarine breaking through could open up a lead that could spread for a long distance, possibly destabilizing the ice camp. Therefore, to protect the camp, the submarine surfaces at least a mile or more away.
Everything and everyone that goes from the camp to the surfacing site must be transported via
helicopter. It’s easy to see how quickly an evolution like this can become an all-day event. A “Marvin Gardens Team” marks the surfacing spot and stays in touch with the camp and the boat, while a
warming hut, a brow, and a sled full of chainsaws are only a few of the items that need to get out to
the site. After the camp personnel have established the site and the surfacing time with the boat, anyone who wants to watch the surfacing must also be transported, six at a time, to the site. After hours of
preparation, the surfacing itself takes less than a minute! And what a breathtaking minute it is.
After the surfacing is complete, the forward hatch on the submarine has to be cut out of the ice with
a chainsaw, a few shovels, and a lot of hard working individuals.
(Top) Adm. Kirkland Donald, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion; Secretary of Energy Steven Chu; Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ); Representative Lincoln Davis (D-TN); Representative Christopher Carney (D-PA); and Representative David Roe (R-TN) pose with other camp members. (Bottom) The aurora borealis at night over the camp.
Greetings from APLIS. We completed our last torpedo test this morning — two days ahead of schedule. A lot of people spent a lot of hours in the field searching for and recovering the torpedoes after they were launched.
This is the last day of testing for Helena. She surfaced again to debark the people riding to support camp testing and embarked two additional ASL riders to assist with the southbound transit of the Bering Strait.
The fantastic crew of Helena is now headed home to San Diego.
Annapolis also surfaced, not only to debark many of her riders but also to embark our second group of weekend VIPs. Escorted by Adm. Kirkland Donald, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion, this party included Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Representative Lincoln Davis (D-TN), Representative Christopher Carney (D-PA) and Representative David Roe (R-TN).