Mark Collins – US Navy’s Seawolf Nuclear Attack Subs (SSN) and the Arctic

One wonders how much our government knows of these activities–note link at end of the post:

An American Submarine Just Slipped Under the Arctic Ice
USS ‘Seawolf’’s missions and technology are secret

Sometime apparently in August 2013, the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Seawolf eased out of the port of Bremerton, in Washington State, on what was probably her fifth or sixth deployment since commissioning in 1997.

A month later the U.S. Sixth Fleet, in charge of ships in European waters, posted a series of photos to the Website Flickr depicting the U.S. ambassador to Norway, Barry White, touring the 350-foot-long Seawolf pierside at Haakonsvern naval base … in southern Norway. Thousands of miles from Washington State.

How Seawolf got to Norway—and what she might have done en route—offer a rare and tantalizing glimpse into some of the most secretive quarters of the most poorly understood aspects of American naval power.

For it seems Seawolf traveled to Norway along a path rarely taken by any vessel — underneath the Arctic ice…

Google the names of any of the Navy’s Los Angeles-class submarines, the most numerous in the fleet, and you’ll get hits: Navy statements and photo releases, the occasional news article. But try to look up Seawolf-class vessels and you’ll get next to nothing [but see here and Google here].

Her official Website is blocked. The last time Seawolf’s exterior appeared in a Navy photo was 2009.

That’s because Seawolf and her sisters are special. Newer, bigger, faster and more heavily armed than standard attack submarines, the nearly $3-billion-per-copy Seawolfs have been fitted with hundreds of millions of dollars in unique equipment and are assigned to their own special squadron in Washington State.

They deploy for months at a time often without any public notice. The wife of a Seawolf sailor described the boat as “unpredictable.”..

Puzzle Pieces:

Here’s what we do know. In March 2011 Seawolf’s sister ship Connecticut was tapped for the rare honor of operating under the Arctic ice for tests.

Connecticut and the brand-new Virginia-class sub New Hampshire sailed north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for one of the Navy’s infrequent “ICEX” exercises [see end of post], begun after the submarine USS Nautilus, in 1958, became the first undersea boat to reach the North Pole.

Connecticut “worked with the U.S. Navy Arctic Submarine Laboratory and the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory to test new equipment and train for under-ice operations in an arctic environment,” the Navy announced.

The new equipment included “high-frequency sonar for safe Arctic operations and the Raytheon Deep Siren acoustic communications system,” the sailing branch added.

We know that Seawolf spent almost three years in drydock starting in September 2009. Contractors did $280 million in work. And when Seawolf returned to the cold Pacific waters in April 2012, she was “even more capable and effective than at any time in her 15 years of service,” according to Cdr. Dan Packer, her skipper at the time.

It’s possible Seawolf received the same under-ice gear Connecticut tested in 2011. The Arctic is, after all, a new area of concern for the Navy. With the ice receding, new shipping lanes are opening up and foreign navies are getting more active…

In any event, it’s apparent that Seawolf has crossed over the top of the world for her current deployment. Practically speaking, there’s no other way the vessel could have arrived in Norway mere weeks after departing her homeport in Washington State…

But see this post about ICEX 2014 and USN submarines:

Major US Arctic Exercise, RCN Takes Part: Who Knew?

So some USN glasnost, eh? And in fact the RCN did go public a few days after the Americans did.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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