APLIS POSTCARD #4
15 March 2007
Greetings from APLIS. If you’ve been watching the temperatures, you’ll have noticed that it’s about 15 degrees warmer today than yesterday. While passing through Prudhoe Bay, I found that some of the locals take these really cold temperatures so much for granted that they don’t even bother saying the “minus” - they would only remark on whether it’s above or below zero if it managed to get above. Anyway, this new warmth came at a price. It’s overcast - almost foggy. Which is a pitty because we have our first submarine surfacing today.
As I mentioned last night, we have been joined by USS ALEXANDRIA who will be our guest here for the next two weeks. ALEXANDRIA draws its name from cities in Virginia and Louisiana.
ALEX is an Improved LOS ANGELES class submarine, specifically designed for Arctic operations. The following features enable ALEXANDRIA to conduct under-ice and through-ice operations:
- A strengthened sail that can fracture the ice canopy with reduced probability of damage;
- An under-ice position for masts, allowing them to be retracted below the top of the sail to limit damage on impact with the underside of the ice;
- Bow planes that can be retracted to permit the bow to penetrate ice without damage;
- A strengthened rudder, rudder cap, and rudder post;
- The AN/BSY-1 ARCI-4 under-ice sonar system that allows detection and clearance estimation of deep ice keels, detection of icebergs, and delineation of surfaceable features;
- The ship's trim and depth control system that can be used for fine control of ballasting/ deballasting and to assist in controlling the ship’s vertical velocity during a through-ice surfacing; and
- An acoustic top sounder system that measures ice draft.
CDR Mike Bernacchi and his crew have been preparing for this mission for several months, training on Arctic operations and practicing the unique skills required in the demanding Arctic environment. Assisting them has been Travis King from the Arctic Submarine Laboratory. He is now aboard as their embarked Arctic Operations Specialist - a practice the Submarine Force has continued for almost 50 years.
During the night, we tuned in our tracking system. That done, we passed to ALEX, the position of the feature where we want them to surface. Randy Ray had scouted out the area around APLIS the day before to find a large, thin-ice are. As soon as the sun was up, Randy Ray headed back out to the feature he had scouted yesterday (“Marvin Gardens”) to ensure that it was still around - thinner ice is always in danger of succumbing to the forces exerted by the ice pack.
Luckily, it was still there. With about half the camp standing by watching, ALEX came busting through 3 feet of ice. But the ice around her was too thin for us to walk on so she dove again. LT Jeff St George in the Command Hut vectored her to a new spot and, for the second time in 3½ hours, a crowd of onlookers thrilled to the site of a sail emerging from the surrounding ice.
The primary reason for surfacing was to embark two individuals who will be critical to the upcoming test program. The first was LtCdr Ryan Ramsey. Ryan is the Royal Navy exchange officer at Submarine Development Squadron Twelve and will be coordinating the testing of tactical systems aboard ALEX. His counterpart - the US exchange officer at the Royal Navy’s Maritime Warfare Centre - will be serving the same function aboard TIRELESS. This exchange and cooperation is indicative of the close working relationship between the US Submarine Force and our Royal Navy allies. The second was Bob Hayford from Naval Undersea Warfare Center who will be conducting a test of an acoustic communications system that I’ll describe more tomorrow.
When a submarine surfaces through the ice, you don’t simply open a hatch to put people aboard, because there’s a thick layer of ice covering the hatch. In this case, about 3 feet of it. Using chain saws, picks, and shovels, the APLIS team at Marvin Gardens hacked their way down through the ice to the submarine’s deck below which a nice warm submarine awaited. We dropped off our guests, discussed upcoming plans, and headed back to the cap for dinner.
Remember earlier I said that thin ice can shift about. Well it did, except this time with ALEX locked in it. Over the years, we’ve found that these “ice attacks” are not uncommon. Immediately sensing the possible danger, ALEX pulled the plug and dove to the relative safety of the Arctic Ocean. So we start our testing with ALEX while we both await the arrival of the third member of our Arctic squad, HMS TIRELESS, scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning.
Arctic Submarine Laboratory