Watch a Nuclear Submarine Punch Through Arctic Ice
It takes longer than you think. Bonus: it’s creepier, too!
A 362-foot long, 7,038-ton nuclear attack submarine like the USS Hartford doesn't break through polar ice in quite the way you'd expect. It doesn't blast through the ice cap like a breaching-whale, as the scene in The Hunt For Red October suggests, flinging frozen and liquid water alike in every direction. Instead, it oozes straight through—slowly, inexorably, even somewhat menacingly. It's like The Blob, if The Blob had a steel hull and packed enough torpedoes and missiles to take out a small fleet.
The Hartford, along with her sister Los Angeles-class boat USS Hampton, punched through the ice earlier this month as part of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2016. It's a five-week training mission aimed at evaluating the Navy's capabilities in the Arctic and involves more than 200 participants representing four nations, plus aircraft capable of landing on ice and an entire, temporary encampment known as Ice Camp Sargo.
Being able to claim mastery of the North Pole—both the frigid waters below the ice and the frozen expanse above—is important for the U.S. Navy and its allies. While its 'berg-clogged waters can make winter travel by ship impossible, submarines can glide freely down below. But even today's nuclear submarines, which can make their own air and fresh water, sometimes need to surface, to reconnoiter or conduct experiments. And with the Arctic Circle sitting right between North America and an increasingly belligerent Russia, the Navy needs to be sure its subs and crews can handle the conditions.
And as long as they want to put it on video, hey, we'll watch it.