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Fast-attack subs practice firing torpedoes beneath Arctic ice

A diver assigned to Underwater Construction Team 1 surfaces from an Arctic ice hole March 16, 2018, during a torpedo exercise in support of Ice Exercise 2018. (DANIEL HINTON/U.S. NAVY PHOTO)

Fast-attack submarines fired torpedoes beneath the ice during the Navy’s five-week Ice Exercise that kicked off this month in the Arctic Ocean.

The Seawolf-class USS Connecticut and the Los Angeles-class USS Hartford each fired several training torpedoes, which carry no warheads and hold a minimal amount of fuel, the service said.

In step two of the torpedo drill, divers from the Navy’s Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two and Underwater Construction Team One and the Coast Guard plunged through ice holes to retrieve the torpedoes.

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

The United States is seeking to beef up its Arctic military capabilities as ice continues to melt there due to the warming climate, sparking international competition for access and natural resources.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command, told lawmakers earlier this month that the U.S. was “not keeping pace” with Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic region, which includes a new Arctic military command.

Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that given what Russia is now putting in place, “they would have the capability, in perhaps two or three years, to control the Northern Sea route, if they chose to do so.”

After the training torpedoes were fired, helicopters took gear and personnel to the location where the weapons were expected to run out of fuel, the Navy said. Each torpedo also had a homing device.

Teams of three to four divers drilled a series of holes in the ice big enough for entry, as well as a hole large enough for a torpedo to be pulled out by helicopter.

The torpedoes possess “positive buoyancy,” meaning they were built to float toward the surface of the water near the bottom of the ice.

“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, said in the Navy statement. “The weights help shift the torpedo from a state of positive buoyancy to neutral buoyancy under the ice.”

In neutral buoyancy, the torpedoes reached density equilibrium with water, a state where they neither floated up nor sank.

Divers then placed brackets with cables to the top and bottom of the torpedoes, and a helicopter pulled them out of the ice hole.

The divers were also essential in helping build two runways for the training camp, the Navy said.

The divers trained for the Arctic exercise during the Coast Guard’s two-week Cold Water Ice Diving course in Seattle.

During the course, they dove in Loc de Roc, British Columbia, at a 5,000-foot elevation to replicate some of the stresses they would feel in the Arctic.

MDSU-2 and UCT-1 are homeported at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Ft. Story in Norfolk, Va.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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