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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)

How the Navy builds a livable camp with a real airstrip on a chunk of floating Arctic ice

by Lt. Seth Koenig, Commandr, Submarine Force Atlantic Public Affairs
07 March 2022
Sailors, Marines and members of Arctic Submarine Laboratory carve a hole into Arctic sea ice using a six-inch auger to prepare for a submarine to breach the ice at Ice Camp Queenfish during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022.
220304-N-ON977-1037 BEAUFORT SEA, Arctic Circle (March 4, 2022) – Sailors, Marines and members of Arctic Submarine Laboratory carve a hole into Arctic sea ice using a six-inch auger to prepare for a submarine to breach the ice at Ice Camp Queenfish during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022. ICEX 2022 is a three-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies, and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Alfred Coffield/Released)
Sailors, Marines and members of Arctic Submarine Laboratory carve a hole into Arctic sea ice using a six-inch auger to prepare for a submarine to breach the ice at Ice Camp Queenfish during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022.
220304-N-ON977-1037
220304-N-ON977-1037 BEAUFORT SEA, Arctic Circle (March 4, 2022) – Sailors, Marines and members of Arctic Submarine Laboratory carve a hole into Arctic sea ice using a six-inch auger to prepare for a submarine to breach the ice at Ice Camp Queenfish during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022. ICEX 2022 is a three-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies, and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Alfred Coffield/Released)
Photo By: Petty Officer 2nd Class Alfred C
VIRIN: 220304-N-ON977-1037
Now this is an extreme makeover.

On Feb. 28, it was a three-and-a-half-mile long chunk of ice floating more than 160 nautical miles offshore in the Arctic Ocean. By March 3, it was a thriving - if rustic - U.S. Navy encampment with a command center, sleeping quarters, cafeteria, restrooms, internet and a 2,500-foot-long runway supporting multiple daily flights.

Ice Camp Queenfish represents unprecedented advances in both speed of construction and expeditionary capability. with the ability to support more than 60 personnel, the camp is the forward operating base for Ice Exercise 2022, the latest installment of the Navy’s biennial exercise designed to research, test, evaluate and improve operational capabilities in the Arctic region.

“Although the ice camp and air strip are built in just a few days, it takes a tremendous amount of practice, planning and hard work by many highly trained people ahead of time to be successful,” said Rear Adm. Richard Seif, commander of the Navy’s Undersea Warfighting Development Center in Groton, Connecticut, and ranking officer at ICEX 2022.

“The camp is built on multi-year ice, and the runway is built on first-year ice,” said Lt. Colleen Wilmington of the U.S. National Ice Center, part of a team that used satellite technology and coordinated scouting flights to identify an ice floe for Queenfish construction.

“The multi-year ice is thicker and it ensures that the floe is stable enough to support the camp for the duration of the exercise,” she continued, “whereas that first-year ice is easier to groom for a runway - it’s smoother and not as pocketed.”

Once the team found the right ice floe, a Royal Canadian Air Force Twin Otter plane and contracted skied aircraft landed at the site with a small initial team, two tents and equipment to groom the runway, such as customized all-terrain vehicles, cultivators, disc rakes and snowblowers.

“To build the runway, they break up the hard pack snow with some of the cultivating equipment, then employ a powerful snowblower to remove the rest of the snow from that surface,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Dave Swensen, part of a Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center team that helped build the camp alongside specialists from the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) and Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 11, among others.

Once the ice camp runway was completed, the site began receiving supplies from a contracted CASA 212 airplane.

“We then move on to the tent set-up, establishing berthing tents, a mess tent, command tent and the infrastructure to support all the personnel who are working at the site,” said Swensen.

Ice Camp Queenfish is more expeditionary and flexible than in years past, said Howard Reese, director of the ASL.

As recently as 2014, when the ice camp was made up of larger and heavier wooden-framed tents, it took about two weeks to construct once a sturdy-enough ice floe was discovered, he said.

Now, with smaller and lighter huts held up by aluminum, carbon fiber or inflated beams, not only can the ice camp be built in about five days, but it can be quickly moved if necessary.

“Ice Camp Queenfish stands as a testament to our ability to rapidly place credible Navy and Marine Corps forces in even the most austere and inhospitable environments anywhere in the world - including the Arctic region,” said Seif.

ICEX 2022 is a joint combined exercise that takes place over the course of a month north of the Arctic circle, with personnel stationed at the temporary Ice Camp Queenfish, as well as in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and two operational U.S. Navy submarines. ICEX allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations.
 
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