By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs
A recent three-week work assignment led a group of Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport employees to the top of the world on a grueling, productive and rewarding adventure. In early March 2022, the teams began their journey to the Arctic Circle, more specifically, U.S. Navy Ice Camp Queenfish as part of the Navy’s biennial Ice Exercise (ICEX).
ICEX allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies, and partner organizations.
Part of that operational readiness is understanding the performance of torpedoes in the Arctic region. Division Newport provided the expertise, torpedo software, tracking and performance data and several team members recently held briefings about their experiences during ICEX 2022.
Engineers from the Undersea Warfare (USW) Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department, Charles Lury, Stephanie Zamorski, Richard Marini and Jason Lemish, provided troubleshooting and guidance to leadership in the command tent and aboard submarines, while a cross-department Torpedo Recovery Team recovered five exercise torpedoes from under the ice during ICEX 2022. Members of the recovery team include Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department employees Fred Buzzell and Erin DeLucca, Bryan Sullivan and Sean Riccio, of the USW Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department; and Nick Savage of the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department.
The team was joined by other research and operational teams from the United Kingdom, Norway, Seal Team 2 and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The UK team, in particular, was there to observe Division Newport’s Torpedo Recovery Team as they worked through each torpedo recovery.
“It gave me a different perspective of the scope and size of naval exercises,” Sullivan said. “From the various undersea Navy platforms to the aircraft and everything in between, it really gave you a sense of current capabilities of our Navy fleet in an Arctic environment. I was honored to have taken part in the effort as a member of the torpedo recovery team.”
This process also included torpedo flushing and post-fire processing, which was led by Roger Tryon and another USW Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department team comprised of Seth Krueger, Christopher Wharton, Tyler Kapper and Robbie Toth. Division Newport provided further support in the form of underwater communications through the efforts of Sam Gilbert and Aaron Clarke from the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, and environmental compliance through the efforts of Emily Robinson of the Mission Environmental Planning Program, part of Corporate Operations Department.
“This is one of the highlights of my career and for a lot of the people I travel with it is for them too,” Lury said during a debriefing presentation held on April 15.
The Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) out of San Diego, California, coordinated the exercise, including the Navy’s activities.
“ASL and the Navy have gone through great lengths to make this event as safe as possible,” Lury said. “Sure, there is more risk than a typical exercise, but to date there have been minimal — if any — injuries to Division Newport personnel over several ICEX events.”
In preparation of ICEX 2022, Division Newport’s Torpedo Recovery Team trained the Underwater Construction Team from Virginia Beach, Virginia — including Coast Guard divers who integrated with their team — and the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on torpedo recovery procedures.
“It’s a team effort to recover torpedoes fired during ICEX,” Buzzell said. “It takes so much just to do the work that we wanted to make sure they were confident in the procedures.”
Members of Division Newport’s Engineering and Diving Support Unit (EDSU) have supported previous ICEX events, as part of the Torpedo Recovery Team, however, this was the first year, that a Division Newport diver integrated with other dive teams to complete an under-ice torpedo recovery. The process for recovering a torpedo in the Arctic is detailed and arduous, which is made more complex by extreme cold temperatures and windy conditions, said Savage, who took on that new role.
“This experience brought my day job full circle and showed me the big picture,” Savage said. “My day job often involves providing engineering dive support for submarines’ towed array handler systems in port. One of the boats I repaired in recent months was the first one we saw break through the ice, thousands of miles away. Speaking with personnel from the ship, and getting a report of no issues since, was a cool feeling. It’s a rare opportunity to see any boat out of port, but seeing that one was pretty special to me.”
To prepare the team of ICEX newcomers, Buzzell made sure they knew what to expect from the exercise, environment, living conditions and, most of all, he stressed the importance of safety.
“The Arctic is one of the most challenging environments on the planet,” Buzzell said. “Every single part of the job is dangerous. For instance, we have to be very, very careful around the holes and make sure to clear the snow around the holes.”
This was Buzzell’s third ICEX and with each event, he applies valuable lessons learned and new safety precautions. For example, specially designed sleds are used to move the torpedoes. By replacing a tripod with a gantry to set the torpedo on the sled, the team saved an hour — an important safety feature when every minute in extreme temperatures adds risk. The team spent nine days in the frozen environment — where the warmest day registered at minus 10 degrees.
When a previous manual method for torpedo retrieval proved unwieldy and potentially dangerous, Buzzell conceived a new two-speed winch process using ballast weights. Working with the Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department Machine Shop, his idea and sketch soon became a reality.
ICEX 2022 was the first opportunity to employ this new device, which made quick work of the recovery while also making the process safer for the divers and those on the surface.
Buzzell researched the materials needed to withstand harsh Arctic conditions, determining aluminum for the winch and strong, buoyant and lightweight line for towing would work best. The idea is pure engineering and problem solving at work; Buzzell’s design has since been submitted for a patent.
ICEX 2022 also marked the first year that tracking software from the Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department was employed and utilized. The underwater range vehicle tracking and situational awareness display software was operated onsite by NUWC Division Keyport personnel.
“The system worked well, and we certainly learned many lessons regarding the use of the tracking system,” Marini said. “Great crew, great event and great experience!”
Time is a significant factor in all aspects of ICEX safety. Ice holes can freeze over in minutes, equipment can break, and both divers and their diving gear are at serious risk. To mitigate that risk, divers are the last to arrive on site and the first to leave.
“ASL did a good job of planning and keeping the divers and dive gear warm,” Savage said. “It can be catastrophic if the gear gets too cold and/or freezes. We had one day where external pressures caused the plan to change and for gear to sit on the ice a few minutes longer and some of the regulators froze. It was a time difference of about five to 10 minutes. We appreciate why ASL had those safety plans in place.”
Another important step in the torpedo recovery process is removing the seawater from the torpedo’s fuel tank, as seawater replaces fuel in the tank during the torpedo’s run. The team must quickly remove 8 gallons of slushy seawater within 10 minutes of returning to camp to prevent damage to the rest of the torpedo’s mechanism due to freezing. Practice and good communication allowed for the successful recovery of all five torpedoes and the draining of the fuel tanks throughout the event.
“Every action is meant for safety,” Buzzell said. “It’s a dangerous place. It might not look that way, but it is. Working in the Arctic is like nothing you’ve ever done.”
“It’s like flying to another planet,” Sullivan added. “The conditions are so bizarre that you just deal with it the best you can. You use a lot of creativity and problem-solving.”
Once the seawater has been removed, the torpedoes are then shipped to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska — about 200 miles south of the Camp Queenfish ice floe — for Tryon and his team to process.
Despite the harsh conditions and long workdays, the team has many great memories of ICEX 2022.
“I will remember all the folks involved from various Navy commands all coming together to complete the mission safely and on schedule,” Sullivan said. “We were only together for a very short time and had to become one team very quickly, which resulted in a successful exercise.”
Savage echoed similar sentiments, noting how smoothly everything went with his team despite each of them having different day jobs.
“It was exciting, fun, and extremely memorable to work with such a great team,” Savage said. “There was no sense of complacency and we were constantly looking at how we could work more efficiently not only during the operation, but for the next one as well.”
As for the team leader, Buzzell will remember the way this new team was able to expertly execute the job.
“They worked very well together and made it seem that they had performed the evolutions many times before,” Buzzell said. “I was impressed with each one of them.”
That is not to say, though, that Buzzell would not do a few things differently next time.
“Next ICEX, I’ll bring three neck warmers and one of those fur trapper hats. I’ll also bring some lightweight insulated coveralls for camp use,” Buzzell said. “There are still some process improvements that will be incorporated into the next event.”
Ultimately, though, it was an experience that those involved will not soon forget.
“Every day was an awesome adventure and an experience that words cannot explain,” Riccio said.
To learn more about ICEX 2022 and see pictures from this year’s event, read “NUWC Division Newport’s executes the Navy’s Arctic strategy through ICEX support.”
NUWC Division Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.
Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/Warfare-Centers/NUWC-Newport/Career-Opportunities/ and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.