The U.S. Navy is conducting naval exercises in the Arctic as part of Ice Exercise 2011 (ICE-X 2011). The USS New Hampshire and the USS Connecticut are the two submarines participating in the exercises, which have been planned and are being overseen by the Arctic Submarine Laboratory located in San Diego, about as far away from the Arctic as one can get in the U.S!

Crews will practice navigating and surfacing the submarines in icy water. One thing sailors have to watch out for is ice keels, which are created when two icebergs smash into each other, piling downward into upside-down mountains of ice. This website has a good description of ice keels, along with the below illustration. A new subsurface communications system called DeepSiren, designed by Raytheon, is also being tested in the difficult conditions north of 60 degrees. According to Raytheon engineer Steve Moynahan, “heavy acoustic reverberation, changing surface and subsurface contours, and moving and cracking ice floes” make operating conditions different from anywhere else on earth.

Illustration of an ice keel. © Mike Hacking

With the help from the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory and members of the Canadian and British navies, U.S. soldiers are building an ice camp 150 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, on a rare patch of thick sea ice. Rear Admiral David Titley noted that finding thick, multi-year ice for the campsite was “difficult this year.” The temporary village includes everything from a mess hall to a command hut. On the Navy Live blog, the Exercise Director of ICEX 2011, Jeff Gossett, said,

“They have really shown how good our Navy people can be, even in circumstances as totally alien as the Arctic.”

The goal of these exercises is to make the Arctic a much less “alien” place to the U.S. military. Captain Rhett Jaehn, ice camp officer-in-tactical-command, observed in an interview with Reuters, “It is critical that we continue to operate and train today’s submarines in the challenging Arctic environment…”ICEX 2011 is the latest in a series of Arctic exercises, which are key to ensuring our submarines are trained and ready to support U.S. interests in this region.”

Though ICE-X 2011 reportedly only cost $3.5 million, the Pentagon’s budget does not allow for another Arctic naval exercise until 2014, despite the fact that such exercises are supposed to occur biannually. This is disheartening news for proponents of a more active U.S. military presence in the Arctic.

The “Navy Live” blog is posting updates on ICE-X. There are pictures, FAQs, and lots of good posts written by various people at the exercises, including engineers, British soldiers, and American soldiers.

News Links

“Exclusive: U.S. submarines show force amid race for Arctic riches,” Reuters

“Navy announces ICEX 2011 Subs,”

“U.S. Navy Scrambles for Piece of Arctic Pie,” Forbes


ICE-X 2011 under way in the Arctic

  1. First and foremost, I would like to thank the author for making interesting and up-to-date posts regarding the hot issues of the Arctic on a regular basis. The blog posts provide a solid background base for those who are interested in International Affairs, in particular the geostrategic importance of the Circumpolar region. In fact, the blog was useful and assisted me in writing my Master’s level research paper on Canada’s Arctic Sovereignty policy.

    It appears as if it is the time of year for major Arctic players to conduct their military exercises in the region to support their respective interests. Although Canada’s military capabilities are different from those of the US (no Canadian submarines in Canada’s North), between April 6 and 22, 2011 there will be a sovereignty exercise between Resolute Bay and Isachsen- uninhabited weather station- performed by Joint Task Force North. The Canadian military is developing a concept, called Rapid Reaction Force North. The exercise will test the feasibility of having a group rapidly respond to safety and security emergencies in the Arctic.

    If I am not mistaken, Canadian Forces conduct Arctic exercises at least three times a year, given the Federal Government’s emphasis on increased military presence and strengthening of sovereignty in Canada’s Arctic.

    Another point that is worth mentioning and that illustrates that cooperation in the Arctic among the circumpolar nations is increasing is the announcement a few days ago of a legally-binding circumpolar search and rescue agreement to be signed by the Arctic Council members in May 2011. The agreement will assign legal areas of responsibility to each of the council’s eight-member nations and will lay out how they will work together in the event of an Arctic emergency.

    This is the first agreement of its kind to be signed by the Arctic Council, in light of the fact that the Council is a high-level informal international forum. Enhanced cooperation on SAR, in my opinion, also opens the door to add cooperation on security to the Council’s mandate, which will address a burning issue and solidify the relationship of the key Arctic players.

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