Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant has broken through the metre-thick ice of the Arctic Ocean to join two US boats on a major exercise.
Ice Exercise 18 (ICEX) is a series of demanding trials in the frigid climate of the Arctic Circle, designed to test submariners’ skills in operating under the Arctic ice cap.
HMS Trenchant joins US submarines USS Connecticut and USS Hartford for the drills, co-ordinated by the US Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory.
This combined team of military staff and scientists run the testing schedule from an ice camp established on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The Arctic Ocean is one of the most unique and harshest environments on earth. The ability of our submarines to operate with our US allies here demonstrates how the Royal Navy is always on hand and ready to defend our nation anywhere in the world.”
The Ice Camp consists of a series of temporary shelters and houses up to 50 people from Britain, Canada and the US. Temperatures at the camp frequently drop to -40F.
Commander David Burrell, the Commanding Officer of HMS Trenchant, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity to really test our skills. Working alongside the US submarines is great for us. It is like dogfighting in an ice jungle.”
ICEX provides a perfect opportunity for UK and US submariners to learn and develop the skills to operate under the Arctic ice cap.
Rear Admiral James Pitts, US Navy, said: “With every ICEX we are able to build upon our experience and continue to learn the best way to operate in this unique and harsh environment. We are constantly testing new tactics under the ice and this exercise allows us to do this on a larger scale and alongside our UK, joint and academic partners.”
For the Royal Navy it allows us to test a series of equipment, notably sonar, against live ‘targets’ and to practice tracking and simulating attacks against other submarines.
Exercises such as this are vital in maintaining the operational readiness of the Royal Navy’s submarine fleet and in maintaining the security of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
Among the busy exercise schedule, there was also a moment to pause and reflect on the sacrifice of submariners Paul McCann and Anthony Huntrod, who tragically lost their lives following an explosion on board HMS Tireless during a previous ice exercise.
The Reverend Mark Mander, Chaplain to the Royal Navy’s Faslane Flotilla, held a memorial service on the ice in remembrance of them and their service. The service was held on board HMS Trenchant, before members of the crew gathered on the ice to lay wreaths. Included within these wreaths were flowers and letters from the two submariners’ families.