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NEWS | June 12, 2024

Carderock Engineers Support Signature Testing in the Arctic

By By Edvin Hernandez, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs

For the second consecutive time, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division engineers supported signature testing for Operation Ice Camp (formerly Ice Exercise or ICEX) near the frigid North Pole.

Operation Ice Camp, which is conducted in partnership with the Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), is a biennial event that aims to maintain expertise in Arctic-specific knowledge, equipment and procedures to enable submarine forces to safely and effectively operate in the Arctic Ocean.

When Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) required assistance for acoustic testing in 2022, they contacted the Signatures Characterization and Analysis Division at Carderock for support. James “Jim” Sracic, a mechanical engineer within the Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch, took lead in organizing the Division’s test plan for their first-ever involvement with operations in the Arctic.

“We routinely conduct acoustic trials and fleet support efforts to maintain the acoustic health of all U.S. submarines, and the logistics and planning process for those events is well established,” Sracic said. “Ice Camp is much different than our typical testing for acoustic trials because of the massive overall scope of the event, and because it involves collaboration with multiple commands in order to plan, coordinate and execute a successful test. The remote and harsh environment presents a number of challenges such as procuring and transporting special cold-weather clothing, getting necessary test equipment to Ice Camp and more.”

One of the biggest challenges about the planning process was how the team would execute Carderock’s “cradle-to-grave” approach with a small group.

“We defined required measurements, selected and installed our own instrumentation, and coordinated with the ship, sponsor, and ASL to define test conditions that were safe and achievable under the ice.” Sracic said. “We prioritized when we could execute specific phases of our evaluations around the myriad of other Arctic testing and laid out a plan for analysis and reporting to ensure we would be able to answer the fundamental questions our sponsor was asking. Overall, that amounted to a tremendous amount of effort from the team before we ever set foot on the ice or the boat.”

Now, to get to a floating ice sheet in the Arctic is no easy feat. Test directors Rod Grogan and Emmerson Jueco not only had to plan the detailed logistics of the trip for each event, but also had to coordinate with ASL before the Carderock team arrived on the ice.

“For both years, 2022 and 2024, ASL decided that the best way for Carderock to execute this NAVSEA sponsored testing was to fly to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska,” Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch Head Brett Weisgerber said. “That is very north Alaska and the team had to wait for a day or two for the right time to board a small plane that could take them to Ice Camp, and then a helicopter to take them to the boat.”

Once the team arrived to their first Ice Camp in 2022, a temporary center that serves as the hub for conducting operations and research in the Arctic region, they boarded a fast attack submarine to embark on their weeks-long mission. To operate in this uniquely cold environment, the team was required to wear seven layers of safety clothing to protect against the subzero temperatures.

“They inspected our group before leaving Alaska and would not let them board the plane until they had enough protective layers on,” Weisgerber said. “You could have minus 30 degrees at Ice Camp. Minus 40 sometimes. It’s a good safety measure to follow, especially when entering a new, blisteringly cold climate.”

In 2022, the Carderock team focused on collecting and analyzing acoustic data from USS Illinois (SSN 786), a Virginia class fast attack submarine, while under the ice canopy and during a follow-on acoustic trial at Carderock’s Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility.

“There are certain challenges that come with the territory when you test in the Arctic,” Weisgerber said. “Test conditions are not always favorable, which forces our team to adjust their timeline and wait until the right opportunity arises.”

After being briefed on the team’s detailed analysis of test results and recommendations from 2022, NAVSEA contacted Carderock’s experts again to support this year’s event. The priority was placed on understanding if the test results from the previous Arctic measurements were representative.  

“When the team embarks on a submarine to execute testing, they are physically on the sub for weeks,” Weisgerber said. “They try to integrate with the crew not just to collect data, but to better understand how Sailors do their job differently in this colder environment. Being there with the crew and being involved with their day-to-day operation gives our team a unique advantage in identifying more differences and correlating it with the data Carderock collects.”  

One team member, Eric Spiegel, served aboard a submarine underway at ICEX in 1998. His experience as a service member, he said, was completely different from supporting this year’s event as a civilian.

“My experience as a service member was entirely different from my experience this year,” Spiegel said. “During my two Operation Ice Camp deployments onboard USS HAWKBILL (SSN 666), we spent a lot of time mapping the Arctic Ocean floor. Those endless days ‘mowing the lawn’ provided the sea bottom detail, which I think is vital to our current submarine Arctic deployments. Every day I served presented a new challenge as the boat had limited parts onboard and we had to make do with the parts we had to repair electrical systems nearing then end of their designed lifecycle. Supporting this event in uniform was cool, though, because we had the chance to hear the ice crashing and moving above the submarine as we surfaced.”

In March 2024, the Carderock team arrived at Ice Camp in the Beaufort Sea to board USS Indiana (SSN 789), another Virginia-class fast attack submarine. Upon arrival, they saw the vessel’s black metal sail piercing through the thick blanket of ice in front of them, exposing only a fraction of its true size. While submarines like USS Indiana are large in scale, it presented a challenge when traversing through the Arctic, especially when the ocean depth becomes shallow and ice keels – large chunks of ice pointing downward – hang from the frozen surface above. 

According to Sracic, events like Operation Ice Camp are critical to empowering the warfighter.

“Carderock is a major scientific and research asset for the Navy; NAVSEA uses us to help inform both operational guidance and future submarine design,” he said. “We often do that using dedicated test ranges, but the more we can be involved in understanding real-world submarine operations in collaboration with other Navy organizations through events like ICEX 2022 and Operation Ice Camp 2024, the more we can empower the warfighter with the right equipment and decision-making capabilities. Maintaining a strong and proficient naval presence in the Arctic is critical to the overall interests of the U.S. and our allies. The fact that we have been able to support that goal is a huge achievement for our command, and it is our hope that we can continue to support efforts like this in the future.”

The Division’s Operation Ice Camp teams in 2022 and 2024 included: Jim Sracic, Matt Medzegian, Rod Grogan, Jason Martin, Eric Spiegel, Emmerson Jueco and Robert Vanover.