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Viral

Watch the disconcerting moment a nuclear submarine breaks through Arctic ice

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Is it just us or can you not stop watching it?

Andreas Kirkinis

17 Mayo 2018 16:18

There is nothing more existential than witnessing the endless whiteness of the Arctic, nothing for kilometres — as far as the eye can see — besides a surface of snow and ice and a clear, pale sky.

Perhaps it's because we're so accustomed to this stillness at the poles that this video is so unsettling to us. As you observe the surface, a giant grey fin bursts through the ice, like a malevolent, mechanical great shark. As the figure grows bigger and broader, and tears through more of the surface, you realise that it is actually a submarine. You can see it rising higher above the water, lifting up what appear to be tonnes of ice and snow as it bobs gently (for its size) on the water's surface.

Even though this scene appears to be straight out of a James Bond film, with the villain's mobile lair appearing above the water, it is a nuclear submarine that is part of the US Navy. Every two years or so, they conduct a military drill at the frozen pole, above the Arctic Circle, which they refer to as ICEX.

The submarine in the video is the USS Hartford, which is a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, and the awe-inspiring moment when it breaks through the surface of the ice was filmed two years ago, at the 2016 ICEX. This year, the HMS Trenchant, which is a British Royal Navy submarine and the USS Connecticut, a Seawolf-class attack submarine, joined the Hartford for the exercise.

Of course, the reason ICEX exists isn't just so we can watch nuclear submarines pop their head out of the water by breaking through the ice. The real goal is for the participating subs to perform drills for underwater warfare in the event of a war breaking out between Russia and NATO. Part of the drill involved the British and American submarines shooting torpedoes under the ice, which then divers had to swim to and retrieve.

The US Navy made a statement on this process, with Rhode Island Weapons Test Director Ryan Dropek saying that their foremost goal this year was to test their new below-ice weaponry and confirm their tactics. 'Once the divers recover these torpedoes,' Dropek says, 'We can extract important data about how they perform and react in these conditions.'

They also said that once the torpedoes are fired from the submarine, gear and personnel are transferred where they expect the torpedo to run out of fuel. Each self-propelled weapon also has its own geo-location device to help the military personnel retrieve it. Once they locate the torpedo, three or four people in a team drill holes for the divers to go through and a final one for the torpedo itself to be lifted up onto the helicopter. 'The weights,' says Chief Warrant Officer Michael Johnson, 'help shift the torpedo from a state of positive buoyancy to neutral buoyancy under the ice.'

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