Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force Fall 2003 U.S. Submarines… Because Stealth Matters Cover of Fall 2003 Issue
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Photo caption follows
Recovering exercise torpedoes in the Arctic requires some unique procedures. APL/UW diver Pat McKeown maneuvers a torpedo to a recovery hole melted through six feet of ice, where it will be retrieved by a helicopter. Photo by Paul Aguilar (APL/UW)

by CDR Bob Clark, USN

As one of the last true frontiers on earth, the Arctic has been a region that submariners have trained and operated in for the past 50 years. It is an extremely dynamic and challenging environment. Unpredictability is the norm, and adaptability is the key to success. USS Connecticut (SSN-22) and her officers and crew had the privilege of continuing the Submarine Force’s Arctic legacy during ICEX-03, when we spent several months under the ice pack, conducting training operations and Mk 48 ADCAP torpedo tests and collaborating with scientists at the APLIS-03 ice camp in executing several experiments. We also took advantage of the unique opportunity to host several national leaders onboard while underway in the Arctic. This was Connecticut’s second trip to the

northern region within a six-month period. At the end of our inaugural deployment, which concluded in the fall of 2002, the “Warriors of Double Deuce” conducted ICEX-02, which provided us our first Arctic experience and thoroughly tested out our systems in preparation for ICEX-03. In addition to conducting systems tests, Connecticut became the first Seawolf (SSN-21)-class submarine to surface through the Arctic ice, which was a huge morale boost for the crew and whetted their tactical appetite for ICEX-03.

Less than five months after returning from deployment and following a major upkeep, the Double Deuce set sail once again for the Arctic. During our period in port, we executed an aggressive training program including classroom instruction, watch-team seminars, and ship-control simulations to ensure we maintained our operational proficiency at a high pitch. Additionally, we would be validating Arctic procedures for the Seawolf class during our various ICEX operations, so one goal was to evaluate as many aspects of the procedures in the trainers as possible before attempting them at sea. The success of both our in-port training program and the overall operation was due is in large part to the guidance and assistance we received from the Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) and in particular from our ice-pilot, Mr. Al Hayashida. Mr. Hayashida flew to Groton on several occasions to lead seminars, evaluate our ship-control teams in the trainers, and help us refine our Arctic procedures.

As we set sail for ICEX-03 on the brink of the Iraqi War in early April, the Warriors of Double Deuce remained focused on and committed to our Arctic operations. Although not directly involved in a combat deployment, we still felt our time in the Arctic was vital to the War on Terrorism. The extensive Mk 48 ADCAP testing we conducted in the Arctic may improve our primary weapon in a broad array of employment scenarios, including many in the shallow-water littoral. The acoustic background and multi-path interference experienced by the Mk 48 ADCAPs we employed near the ice canopy are similar to the conditions the weapon would encounter in shallow water. Therefore, improvements made to the Mk 48 ADCAP as a result of our Arctic tests may well enhance the weapon’s littoral capability. Another very important aspect of our operations under the ice was maintaining operational proficiency in the Arctic for the Submarine Force as a whole. The shortest and most secure route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans takes you across the top of the world. Our two ICEXs (ICEX-02 and ICEX-03) yielded over 200 Sailors with Arctic operational experience. So as the Warriors of Double Deuce transfer ashore or to other commands, they will take with them the lessons-learned needed to train the next generation of Arctic submariners, thus sustaining our ability to operate confidently in this vital region of the world.

USS Connecticut (SSN-22) surfaces through the Arctic ice near the APLIS ice camp during ICEX 03.
Connecticut’s Navigator LT Sean Szymanski takes time out of his busy schedule to sit on Santa Claus’ knee (FT1(SS) Anderson).

In addition to maintaining operational proficiency and refining under-ice procedures, we seized a great opportunity to showcase the technology inherent in our submarines and the expertise and dedication of the Sailors who man them to a group of national leaders. Connecticut was honored to host Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Dr. Ronald Sega (Director of Defense Research and Engineering), former CNO ADM James Watkins (now chairman of the U.S. Ocean Policy Commission), ADM Skip Bowman (Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion), and RADM John Butler (PEO SUBS) for a day onboard, where they enjoyed a firsthand look at Arctic operations and the proficiency of the boat. The crew particularly valued our interaction with Congressman Bartlett, who made a point to visit and talk with as many of his new shipmates as time would permit. Following the VIP visit, we entertained several news agencies and enjoyed one of many days surfaced through the ice. In addition to football, golf, slide competitions, and a visit from Santa on the surface, the Warriors of Double Deuce hosted a (real) polar bear we affectionately named “Fred.” A good time was had by all, and our Sailors – and Fred – shared memories that will last a lifetime.

Certainly, Connecticut’s Arctic operations were tactically challenging and professionally rewarding. But more importantly, the Warriors of Double Deuce demonstrated that by exploiting the technology inherent in the Seawolf class and the operational flexibility of our submarines and crews, “Anywhere, Anytime” is not just a slogan, but a reality.

CDR Clark is the former Commanding Officer of Connecticut. He recently transferred to the staff of the Director of Submarine Warfare (N77) in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Why Submarines Operate In the Arctic

There are many reasons why the navies of the United States and the United Kingdom are interested in maintaining and improving their operational and warfighting skills in the Arctic.

The United States has interests that span the globe. In order to protect and preserve our nation’s interests, the Navy must be able to operate in any of the world’s oceans. The Submarine Force cannot afford to be limited to a single ocean area nor can it afford to be excluded from any of them. The challenges of the Arctic and cold water regions are so unique that, were we to allow our under-ice capabilities to atrophy, it would require an extensive period of time to re-establish operational competency.

While there is a reduced presence in the Arctic, this may not remain the case. Indeed it is likely that an adversary will mature whose climate is “Arctic-like” part of the year. Being able to operate and fight in the Arctic prepares the Submarine Force for any Arctic or near-Arctic conditions. In recent years, both the U.S. and Royal navies have been involved in activities in places like the Persian Gulf and the Adriatic. Neither of these major operations was expected. Recent decades have reinforced the lesson that world powers need to have navies with the flexibility to operate any place in the world on short notice. The Arctic Ocean therefore cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, the need for submarine presence, especially in wartime, has increased significantly in recent years. With the increased need to surge our undersea assets from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, or vice versa, the need to route these assets through the Arctic Ocean logically must increase. A submarine operating in the North Atlantic could reach the Far East faster going through the Arctic Ocean than by going through the Panama Canal. Ultimately, the Arctic route is shorter, quicker, and more secure, even in light of the challenges of the Bering Strait transit.

Being able to maintain the Submarine Force’s current Arctic capability requires frequent runs under the ice by submarines to ensure a continuing improvement in basic skills and a certain level of crew expertise. Likewise it is imperative that periodic ice camps be established to enhance Submarine Force weapons testing and tactical development. There is no substitute for the testing rigors of the Arctic environment. Therefore, there is no finer test bed for a submarine or its crew than actually being north of the Arctic Circle and under the ice. The end result will be continuing availability of a more secure and faster transit route. The advantages of less distance, less time, better crew deployment tempo, and faster flow of inter-theater assets in support of war plans cannot be ignored.