The USS Hartford
Photo: U.S. Navy

Every couple of years the U.S. Navy conducts a submarine exercise high above the Arctic Circle, known as ICEX. It doesn’t just feature submarines lurking underneath the polar ice caps, as creepy as that sounds. The submarines themselves also punch straight through the frozen landscape. This is what it looks like on the inside.

We watched the USS Hartford, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, surface through the ice two years ago at ICEX 2016. The Hartford was back for ICEX 2018, and this time you can watch the sailors inside as it’s happening thanks to a video from the Navy:

It’s almost remarkably uneventful, with no horrendous crunching and graunching noises as the sub breaks through.

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The Hartford was joined at this year’s ICEX by the USS Connecticut, a Seawolf-class attack sub, and the HMS Trenchant, a British Royal Navy submarine.

The HMS Trenchant.
Photo: U.S. Navy

But the main purpose of ICEX isn’t to pop up through the surface, take some goofy photos and videos, and call it a day. The main purpose is to practice submarine warfare below the ice, as if a shooting war ever breaks out between NATO and Russia, that’s where a lot of it may well take place.

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To that end, the American and British submarines practiced firing torpedoes underneath the ice cap, which then needed to be retrieved by Navy divers. Because all torpedoes, even training torpedoes with no warheads, are expensive. Might as well go fetch it. Here’s how the Navy describes that process:

During the exercise, the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) and the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) each fired several training torpedos under the ice. Training torpedoes have no warheads and carry minimal fuel.

“The primary objective of this year’s ICEX is to test new under-ice weapons systems and validate tactics for weapon employment,” said Ryan Dropek, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport, Rhode Island Weapons Test Director. “Once the divers recover these torpedoes, we can extract important data about how they perform and react in these conditions.”

After the submarines fire the torpedoes, helicopters transport gear and personnel to the location where the positively-buoyant torpedo is expected to run out of fuel. Each torpedo has a location device in order to assist in the search. Once found, a 3-4 person team will then drill a series of holes for the divers to enter and exit, as well as one hole for the torpedo to be lifted by helicopter.

“Once we know the location of the torpedo and drill holes, our divers slip into the water to begin placing weights on a line attached to the tail end of the torpedo,” Chief Warrant Officer Michael Johnson, officer-in-charge of MDSU-2 divers, explained. “The weights help shift the torpedo from a state of positive buoyancy to neutral buoyancy under the ice.”

Once the torpedo is neutral, the divers place brackets with cables to the top and bottom of the body of the torpedo. A helicopter then connects to the torpedo before lifting it vertically out of the hole. 

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Sounds chilly. Looks chilly, too.

That poor guy, identified as Constructionman 1st Class (SCW/DV) Brandon Burrow, assigned to Underwater Construction Team One (UCT 1), looks like he really just wants a hot chocolate right now.