The submarines USS Hartford and USS Connecticut joined forces last week, if only briefly, when they surfaced together through the ice above the Arctic Circle as participants in a naval training exercise designed to measure extreme cold weather battle capabilities of subs and crews.
“From a military, geographic and scientific perspective, the Arctic Ocean is truly unique, and remains one of the most challenging ocean environments on Earth,” said Rear Admiral James Pitts, commodore of the Undersea Warfighting Development Center.
The two U.S. ships, both built at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics in Groton, were joined by the British Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant, according to information provided by the U.S. Navy’s Pacific command.
The three ships are participants in British-U.S. Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018, a biennial program to test combat and weapons systems, sonar systems, communications and navigation systems in an undersea acoustic environment complicated by the Beaufort Sea’s contoured, reflective ice canopy.
Pitts said Arctic ice forces the Navy to modify the means by which submarines operate, communicate and navigate.
“We must constantly train together with our submarine units and partners to remain proficient in this hemisphere,” Pitts said. “Having both submarines on the surface is a clear demonstration of our proficiency in the Arctic.”
The Seawolf class USS Connecticut is based in Bremerton, Wash. The USS Hartford, part of the 688 class, is based in Groton. The Hartford also participated in the last ICEX in 2016.
Understanding Arctic waters has grown in importance as, in recent years, the region has been used as a transit route for submarines.
The first Arctic under-ice operations by submarines occurred in 1947-49, the Navy said. Connecticut ships have been involved in Arctic milestones from the start.
On August 1, 1947, the diesel submarine USS Boarfish, built by Electric Boat and based in Groton, conducted the first under-ice transit of an ice floe in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of northern Alaska.
In 1958, perhaps the most famous Connecticut boat, the USS Nautilus — the world’s first nuclear powered ship, built by Electric Boat and home-ported in Groton — made the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean beneath the pack ice.
The first Arctic surfacing was done by USS Skate, another Electric Boat-built and Groton-based submarine, in March 1959. USS Sargo, built by the Navy in California, was the first submarine to cross the Bering Strait in winter in 1960.
The ICEX 2018 crews are supported by a temporary ice camp on a moving ice floe approximately 150 miles off the coast of the northern slope of Alaska in international waters. The ice camp, administered by the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory, is a remote Arctic drifting ice station, built on multiyear sea-ice especially for ICEX that is supplied by air from Deadhorse, Alaska. The ice camp will be shut down at the conclusion of the exercise.