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The submarine USS Illinois surfaces in the Beaufort Sea on March 5, 2022, kicking off Ice Exercise.

The submarine USS Illinois surfaces in the Beaufort Sea on March 5, 2022, kicking off Ice Exercise. (Mike Demello/U.S. Navy)

The U.S. military has begun a three-week exercise in the Arctic Ocean and has built a temporary camp on a large chunk of floating ice to make it possible.

The Navy-led Ice Exercise began Friday and aims to boost knowledge and skills in the high north, the Navy said in a statement Sunday. The region is assuming growing importance as countries compete for resources and eye new potential Arctic shipping routes.

The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard also are participating in the biennial exercise north of the Arctic Circle, as are members of the Canadian and British militaries.

More than 200 participants are taking part in activities that include research and tests of submarine systems, the Navy said. About 60 people can operate from the temporary camp, known as Camp Queenfish, at any given time.

The camp was built within days on a 3.5-mile-long chunk of ice floating more than 160 nautical miles offshore in the Beaufort Sea.

U.S. sailors and Marines and counterparts from Canada and the U.K. raise flags at Ice Camp Queenfish in the Beaufort Sea on March 4, 2022.

U.S. sailors and Marines and counterparts from Canada and the U.K. raise flags at Ice Camp Queenfish in the Beaufort Sea on March 4, 2022. (Alfred Coffield/U.S. Navy)

“At Ice Camp Queenfish, our teams can test equipment in a very harsh and demanding environment,” said Howard Reese, director of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory, a research facility of the Navy’s Undersea Warfighting Development Center, which is leading the exercise. “It’s important that all the technology we’re testing can perform in all of the oceans of the world, including the Arctic.”

The camp is also equipped with sleeping quarters, a cafeteria, restrooms, internet and a 2,500-foot-long runway supporting multiple daily flights, the Navy said.

As recently as 2014, when the ice camp was made up of wooden-framed tents, it took about two weeks to construct once a sturdy-enough ice floe was discovered, according to a separate Navy statement Sunday.

By using smaller huts held up by aluminum, carbon fiber or inflated beams, the camp can now be built in about five days and be quickly moved if necessary.

In addition to Ice Camp Queenfish, participants are stationed in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and are operating two submarines, the USS Pasadena and the USS Illinois, the Navy said.

Sailors, Marines and members of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory carve a hole into sea ice  to prepare for the emergence of a submarine in the Beaufort Sea on March 4, 2022.

Sailors, Marines and members of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory carve a hole into sea ice to prepare for the emergence of a submarine in the Beaufort Sea on March 4, 2022. (Alfred Coffield/U.S. Navy)

The exercise comes days before Norway is set to hold its largest multinational Arctic exercises since the end of the Cold War. Various NATO countries, including the U.S., will take part.

Economic opportunities in the far north made possible by a reduction in Arctic sea ice, which scientists say is the result of global warming, are creating growing security concerns for the U.S. and its allies.

Russia created its Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command in 2014 and has gradually strengthened its presence in the Arctic by creating new units, refurbishing old airfields and infrastructure and establishing military bases along its Arctic Ocean coast, the Pentagon said in a 2019 report to Congress.

Meanwhile, China, which has no permanent military presence in the Arctic, has shown interest in new regional shipping routes from eastern Asia to northern Europe, the same report said.

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

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