The Navy's top admiral, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, spent time last weekend at the Navy's Arctic Ice Camp and embarked aboard the USS New Mexico (SSN 779) as it participated in Ice Exercise 2014 (ICEX) with USS Hampton (SSN 767) beneath the Arctic Ocean.
"It's necessary to continue to ensure our systems, our sensors, our weapons and our platforms as we move to the Virginia-class submarine are proficient to operate correctly in the Arctic," said Greenert. "And it's also to build the next generation of submarine folks who will operate in the Arctic."
The mission of the ICEX is to train in the Arctic environment to refine and validate procedures and required equipment, as the Arctic Ocean serves as a route for submarines to transit in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
CNO has touted undersea dominance and the Arctic maritime domain as essential areas of focus for the Navy. Understandably, this exercise created a great opportunity to merge these two focus areas and learn within the environment and build a knowledge base for operations there.
The Arctic has been and will be a focus area for the Navy in years to come, said Greenert.
The President released the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region
in January. The Department of Defense is preparing for possible changes in the Arctic's operating conditions due to the discussion of climate change and receding ice.
ICEX will continue to expand to a more comprehensive exercise in the future, said Greenert.
"We'll leverage what we've learned in this and future ICEX assessments to work with our partners in industry to develop technologies for our other platforms and personnel who will operate in this environment," he said.
The CNO's visit began in the nation's northernmost point, Prudhoe Bay, Ala. From there, CNO like other scientists and international partners, flew 150 miles north to Ice Camp Nautilus. The ice camp, adrift on the Arctic sea ice, supports the overall ice exercise conducted by the Submarine Force and the Arctic Submarine Laboratory.
Of his first impressions of the camp, "Isn't it astounding that here is one of our pieces of sovereignty out in the middle of the ice, surfacing, and then its crew waiting as if we were walking down a pier in Connecticut, San Diego, Norfolk, or Bremerton [to board]," said Greenert.
Despite the frigid conditions the submarine people were acting as though it was business as normal, said Greenert.
"Once we got onboard, the camaraderie the awareness of the crew that they were doing something special was impressive," said Greenert. "The crew was very proud, and the ownership the crew had for their ship and systems was extraordinary."
Operating in the undersea domain can be problematic, but the added challenge of operating beneath the ice requires a special kind of precision, said Greenert.
"In the back of your mind if trouble ever emerges — if you have flooding or a serious fire you head to the surface," said Greenert, who is also a former submariner. "You can't do that in the Arctic, with ice all around and above you."
Witnessing the alertness, awareness and teamwork the New Mexico crew displayed while surfacing through the ice elicited applause from the ICEX visitors aboard, said Greenert.
The vastness and beauty of the Arctic combined with the unforgiving environment is something that is a highlight of his 38-year naval career, said the admiral. "The extraordinary nature of being able to go to the North Pole, I'm still trying to internalize it," said Greenert.
This article was first published March 27 by Navy News Service.
Editor’s Note: The U.S. Navy released its newly updated Arctic Roadmap 2014-2030 in March. The Department of Defense released its Arctic Strategy in November.