WASHINGTON (NNS) -- A group of Navy submariners are practicing wartime operations off the coast of northern Alaska as part of Ice Exercise 2009, the commander of the exercise said March 25.
Two Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines, USS Helena and USS Annapolis, are participating in this year's ICEX, said Navy Capt. Greg Ott, a submariner who is also the deputy operations director for Submarine Force Command, based in Norfolk, Va. The USS Helena is home-based in San Diego, while the USS Annapolis is homeported in Groton, Conn.
"We're maintaining our proficiency in arctic operations," Ott said during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.
The submariners, Ott said, are testing torpedo and sonar systems, while practicing wartime operations in an arctic environment. The exercise, he said, is slated to end in early April. The undersea Sailors are working alongside a group of technicians and civilian scientists housed at a temporary base camp set up on the Arctic Ocean ice near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The scientists are collecting environmental data.
"It's going great, so far," Ott said of the exercise. "In fact, we got a nice, warm day today; it's only about minus 10 [degrees Fahrenheit]."
Different skills are required when operating submarines in Arctic water conditions, Ott said, noting the frigid water temperatures and tricky currents affect a submarine's buoyancy characteristics and sonar capabilities. Additionally, he said, submariners also must take care to avoid ice when traveling in Arctic regions.
U.S. nuclear submarines have operated under the polar ice since 1958, Ott said, when USS
Nautilus became the first submarine to complete a submerged trip to reach the North Pole.
Arctic submarine operations are important to U.S. national defense, according to Navy documents. Accordingly, the Navy's submarine force must be highly trained in arctic-water operations to provide and ensure access to strategic areas worldwide. Continents of the Northern Hemisphere - Europe, Asia and North America - all share the Arctic Ocean.
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