By Naval Construction Group 2 Public Affairs Office
In an effort to bolster the development of the Naval Construction Force’s (NCF) Arctic capabilities, Naval Construction Group (NCG) 2 hosted the first NCF-lead Arctic Training, Testing, and Evaluation exercise at Thule Air Base (AB) in Greenland.
The primary units of action were Construction Dive Detachment Alpha (CDD/A) from Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 1 and a detail from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 1. In addition, members from Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC), Naval Experimental Dive Unit (NEDU), Naval Sea Systems Command Office of the Director of Ocean Engineering Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (NAVSEA 00C), and Naval Dive and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) were on hand to provide subject matter expert support and take back lessons learned to their respective organizations to further develop arctic requirements.
With rapidly melting sea ice and increasingly navigable waters, the Arctic region is poised to become a highly contested region in the years to come. In support of the future peace and prosperity of the Arctic, which includes access to natural resources and sea lines of communication, the Department of Defense has released strategic guidance focused on developing and maintaining a force capable of operating in the harsh environment.
The term “Arctic” refers to all United States’ and foreign territory north of the Arctic Circle and all United States’ territory north and west of the boundary formed by the Porcupine, Yukon, and Kuskokwim Rivers; all contiguous seas, including the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi Seas; and the Aleutian chain. (A Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic 2021). The Arctic is maritime in nature and offers very little existing infrastructure. As such, the NCF is primed to play a key role in future Arctic operations.
Thule AB is an optimal location for the execution of Arctic training events. Located over 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the northwest coast of Greenland along Baffin Bay, Thule provides a realistic training environment with rocky, mountainous, coastal terrain, extreme temperatures that can exceed -60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the occasional storm where winds can exceed 100 kts, all while providing the safety net of a fully functional military installation. The 10,000 foot runway can support a variety of aircraft and logistics support. For the execution of this exercise, Air Mobility Command (AMC) supported the airlift requirements with two C-17 Globemaster aircraft.
UCT 1 CDD/A Officer in Charge, Lt. j.g. Jacob Wolff acted as the Adaptive Force Package (AFP) commander for the exercise leading the combined group of Seabees from NMCB 1 and Seabee Underwater Technicians from UCT 1 in the completion of camp setup and maintenance, ice diving operations, and general engineering tasking.
In order to support ice diving, the camp setup included the clearing of snow around the ice hole in a wagon wheel design that allows the divers to navigate while under water. The design consists of two circles cleared at 30 ft. and 60 ft. from the hole with arrows pointing to the spokes that lead back to the entry/exit hole and the downstream emergency exit hole. A triangle with six foot sides was cut in the center to act as the primary entry/exit hole for the divers using a skid steer with an auger attachment and chainsaws in order to cut through the four foot thick ice.
As part of the testing and evaluation (T&E) effort, the Seabees set up and maintained a combination of tents, generators, and environmental control units (ECUs) both organic to the NCF Table of Allowance (TOA) and borrowed from the Undersea Warfighting Development Center Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL).
The Seabees from NMCB 1 performed a series of general engineering tasking to include cutting and welding, concrete placement, minor timber construction, and engineering surveying. There are significant challenges when performing these tasks in an environment where temperatures can be in excess of
-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Work is often slower due to the limited dexterity and mobility from cold weather clothing, and shorter work rest cycles are required to prevent cold weather injuries in the extreme environment.
Tools and equipment performance is often degraded; shrinkage can cause mechanical components to not work properly, lithium ion battery life can be limited, electrical components can freeze, and diesel engines won’t start without proper modifications. Concrete construction can be a significant challenge in this environment during both the winter and summer months. During the winter the concrete will freeze prior to curing which significantly degrades the structural capacity even with off the shelf cold weather concrete techniques. In the summer, concrete placed on the ground without the proper modifications for the permafrost can cause the permafrost to melt resulting in significant settling.
As the Navy’s leader for expeditionary warfare, the members from NAVFAC EXWC focused on evaluating the performance of the NCF’s TOA and construction techniques in the harsh environment. The TOA includes construction equipment and tactical vehicles known as civil engineer support equipment (CESE), non-CESE such as tools and tents, and personal gear issue (PGI) encompassing the cold weather clothing.
UCT 1 CDD/A executed dive training in preparation for their upcoming deployment to the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) areas of responsibility (AOR). Ice diving and cold weather diving creates unique technical challenges for the divers and dive equipment. The EUCOM AOR has the potential for cold and ice diving tasking so it is important that the divers maintain this proficiency.
The dive training consisted of multiple types of diving in conjunction with emergency procedure and dive casualty drills. A transportable recompression chamber was set up in a climate controlled environment to support dive casualties. Dive operations were conducted using two different methods; Divator DP2 Configuration two with the MK 20 full face mask underwater breathing apparatus (UBA), and Fly Away Dive System (FADS) Surface Supplied Dive System (SSDS) with the KM-37 hard hat and hot water shroud modification.
Due to the 28 degree Fahrenheit water the divers used variable volume dry suits (VVDS) for thermal protection. The use of the VVDS, KM-37 hot water shrouds, and limited access to the surface while diving under the ice add an additional layer of complexity to diving operations in Arctic environments.
“Due to the complex nature of the dives and the hazards associated with ice diving, all hands had to be prepared to act in an emergency situation,” Wolff said. “As a unit, we did work-up dives at homeport with the Dry Suit and the diving systems so that personnel were aware of the various emergency procedures associated with each. What we were able to accomplish in the Arctic environment was nothing short of extraordinary, and we certainly proved our equipment’s and personnel’s capabilities.”
NAVSEA 00C, responsible for all diving in the U.S. Navy, along with members from NEDU, primary source of diving and hyperbaric operational guidance for the US Navy, assisted by providing technical expertise for the dive operations as well as used the experience from the exercise to help inform the development of a Polar Diving Manual with the intent to be used as a cold water/ice diving supplement the Navy Dive Manual.
NDSTC provided an undersea medical officer (UMO), the Navy’s diving and undersea medical experts, to provide medical support for the exercise but also to take lessons learned and topics for future cold weather human performance research back to the undersea medical community.
According to NCG 2’s Dive Officer LT Tyler Anderson, the mission was a success and will lay the groundwork for the development of future expanded Naval Expeditionary Force Arctic exercises and the development NCF Arctic doctrine and capabilities so that when called upon the NCF will be ready to support the fleet through the full range of projected operating environments.
Members from Naval Construction Group (NCG) 2, NMCB 1, Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 1, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC), Naval Experimental Dive Unit (NEDU), Naval Sea Systems Command Office of the Director of Ocean Engineering Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (NAVSEA 00C), and Naval Dive and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) participated in an NCG 2-lead Naval Construction Force (NCF) Arctic Training and Testing & Evaluation event at Thule Air Base in Greenland.
UCT 1 is homeported in Gulfport, Mississippi, and forward deployed to Rota, Spain, with details and detachments deployed across five combatant commander areas of responsibility to provide an adaptive and scalable Naval Construction Force ready and capable of executing quality construction in combat or in support of civic action, humanitarian assistance, or disaster recovery.
Commander, Task Force (CTF) 68 commands all Naval Expeditionary Forces in U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility in direct support of Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet Maritime and Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) Strategies and Maritime Support Plans.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, security, and stability in Europe and Africa.