–This is the first time that the system has been operated in an arctic winter. This is also the first time we have flown the equipment between Prestwick and Bogen, says Commander Ian Duncan, project manager for the submarine rescue system.
350 tonnes of material has been transported from its location in Faslane, Scotland by road to Prestwick airport and flown to Evenes with the help of 7 C-17, 2 Antonov 124 and 2 A300M aircrafts. From here it was fitted to the Norwegian coast guard vessel KV Sortland, from where the equipment is being operated during the exercise.
– We have two sets of rescue systems. One of them is an intervention system that includes a Remotely Operated Vehicle. This can survey the submarine and use its arms to cut through ropes and other items blocking the submarine hatches. The other part of the rescue system include a submarine rescue vehicle that is attached to the submarine through the escape hatch so that the survivors can climb on board as well as a set of hyperbaric chambers for treating the rescuees if needed, says Duncan.
Can save 150 persons
NATO Submarine Rescue System has the capacity to rescue up to 150 personnel from a disabled submarine 600 meters under the surface. During the exercise the participating Norwegian submarine will dive down to about 100-150 meters below the surface.
–During the exercise we are testing the submarine rescue vehicle system and the hyperbaric pressure system. Divers and medical teams from Norway, France and the UK are participating. The goal is to demonstrate that the system works in Arctic waters. For the personnel on the Norwegian coast guard ship it is common to operate in Arctic waters, but the personnel operating the rescue system and the equipment itself are not used to the low temperatures, Duncan says.
Every year two exercises are carried out in each of the three countries to test out the procedures.
– The submarine rescue exercise Northern Sun is a very important arena for training to ensure the safety of the Norwegian submarine crews. Under normal circumstances where we have submarines present in Northern Norway, it is natural that the rescue system is tested in the same area and under the same circumstances in which the submarines operates, says Christian Berg-Jensen, who is working with submarine operations at the Norwegian Joint Headquarters.
– Our expectations for the exercise are that we get to train the rescue personnel, test the vessels and train the organisation and the concept in new surroundings and conditions, making sure that operating the rescue system under winter conditions in Northern Norway becomes the least possible challenge the day it really matters, says Berg-Jensen.
Owned by three nations
The NATO Submarine Rescue System is owned by Norway, France and Great Britain. The three countries share the costs and manage the system together. It is the only submarine system in the world owned by many nations. The rescue capacities can be scrambled on a short notice anywhere in the world. Within 72 hours the first person is to be rescued from the disabled submarine. 40 divers and 24 medical personnel from all the three countries work with the rescue system. While other submarine rescue systems can only be used on one specific ship, the NATO Submarine Rescue System can be attached to a large number of vessels.
– Having a credible rescue concept for perished submarines is vital for both the Norwegian Armed Forces as a whole and the personnel serving on the boat. NATO Submarine Rescue System is a very important capability for our ability to ensure the safety of the crews on Norwegian submarines in that it provides a significantly improved chance of survival if an accident should occur, says Berg-Jensen.