Two nuclear-powered attack submarines broke the Arctic ice on March 4 to kick off a major US Navy exercise in the Arctic Ocean.
For the next three weeks, a temporary ice camp will be the hub of a series of exercises aimed at assessing the readiness of US Navy and ally forces to operate in the Arctic environment.
This year’s ICEX, as the exercise is named, is attended by USS Connecticut (SSN-22) – one of three submarines of the secretive Seawolf-class – and Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Toledo (SSN-769). The evolution is occasionally joined by submarines from the UK Royal Navy, but the US has not shared information on other potential participants of the drill.
The submarines will conduct multiple Arctic transits, a North Pole surfacing and other training evolutions during their time in the region.
“The Arctic is a potential strategic corridor – between Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the US homeland – for expanded competition. The submarine force must maintain readiness by exercising in Arctic conditions to ensure they can protect national security interests and maintain favorable balances of power in the Indo-Pacific and Europe if called upon,” said Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, Commander, Submarine Forces.
The Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), based in San Diego, serves as the lead organization for coordinating, planning and executing the exercise involving five nations, two submarines and more than 100 participants over the three weeks of operations.
“The United States Submarine Force has been operating in the Arctic for decades, as our Navy is called upon to protect United States sovereign rights, the submarine force is expected to play a large role in our Arctic defense. Exercises like ICEX 2020 provide us with the opportunity to train and integrate the undersea domain into our Arctic defense,” said Caudle.
Ice Camp Seadragon is a temporary ice camp that was established on a sheet of ice in the Arctic Ocean, known as an ice floe. Seadragon will serve as a temporary command center for conducting submarine operations and under-ice navigation exercises. The camp consists of shelters, a command center and infrastructure to safely house and support more than 45 personnel at any one time.
The camp gets its namesake from USS Seadragon (SSN-584), the first submarine to transit the Northwest Passage. During the transit, Seadragon conducted the first hydrographic survey of the Northwest Passage and became the first vessel to navigate under an iceberg. Since the success of Seadragon’s Arctic navigation initiatives, Arctic operations have been a crucial part of the missions conducted by nuclear submarines.