Three Russian nuclear submarines train under Arctic ice

The Russian Navy held an exercise of submarine forces in May. The Tula K-114 SSBN of project 667BDRM, the Novomoskovsk K-407 and the Severodvinsk K-560 SSGN of project 885 trained operating in high latitudes and sailing to engage weapons under the ice. The growing standoff between Russia and NATO in the Arctic gives much more significance to the exercise than it may seem, the Izvestia daily writes.

Three Russian nuclear submarines train under Arctic ice Tula K-114 SSBN (Picture Source: Russian MoD)

Under-ice operations became vital in the 1950s when the Arctic developed into a standoff arena between the USSR and the USA during the Cold War. In August 1958, the first nuclear submarine in the world, SSN-571 the Nautilus of the US Navy sailed to the North Pole under the ice. Another US nuclear submarine, the Skate SSN-578 twice surfaced near the Pole and broke the ice.

Since then under-ice operations have become regular. In the early 1960s, the Soviet Navy joined the arms race. In 1961-1963, a series of exercises was held for nuclear submarines in high latitudes. They sailed under ice, surfaced through ice holes and cover, and even fired missiles. In September 1963, submarines began to sail from one fleet to another under the ice. K-181 sub of project 627A for the first time surfaced exactly over the North Pole.

Besides Soviet and US submarines, British U-boats operated in the Arctic and French ones periodically entered the region during drills. After the Soviet Navy obtained SSBN they began to regularly sail under ice, as it is much more difficult to detect them and destroy there. In the Far East, Pacific fleet SSBN were on regular combat duty in the Sea of Okhotsk where they were protected by the natural ridge of Kurile Islands and ice in winter.

The possibility to covertly operate under the ice could not but trigger a search for countermeasures against SSBN. The US Navy launched ICEX drills which have been attracting much attention of late. In 1960-1980s the US Navy regularly held exercises of its submarines under ice and from 1993 began a series of Scientific Ice Expeditions (SCICEX) in which its submarines interacted with civilian experts and collected a big volume of information on Polar waters, Arctic currents and their evolution and other vital issues related to submarine operation under ice.

The United States has been regularly holding ICEX exercises since 2003 and the scientific mission was replaced by combat training. A tent camp is usually set on the ice with a power generator, helipad, and an airstrip to provide accommodation for several dozen men. US experts train technical maintenance of submarines, their onboard systems and arms directly in ice, as well as supplies, including torpedo delivery. It means an active research of mobile deployment of underwater forces, as the US and its allies do not have a Polar network of naval bases and Arctic icebreakers to operate in such conditions.

The submarines search for convenient places to surface, train to surface through the ice, underwater navigation in high latitudes, escaping icebergs, arranging communications in the Arctic, and searching for submarines and launching torpedoes.

The Russian Navy also operates under ice, but has not trained to engage weapons there for long. The maneuvers of the Novomoskovsk, the Tula and the Severodvinsk trained an underwater hunt. K-560 is the latest Russian SSGN and has the most advanced electronics and acoustics in the world. It likely performed as the adversary and hunted SSBN which had to remain invisible and be the first to detect the adversary.

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