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Submarine Search and Rescue Exercise (SMASHEX): Quick Response Saves Lives When Seconds Matter
by Lt. Emily McCamy
25 May 2021
NORFOLK, Va. --
Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic (SUBLANT) conducted a search and rescue training exercise (SMASHEX) at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Virginia, May 18-19.
The exercise, conducted annually, focused on two different scenarios, each testing the team’s response to the simulated sinking of a submarine.
“The staff engagement across SUBLANT was great,” said Capt. Charles Fink, commanding officer of Navy Reserve Undersea Rescue Command Headquarters. “Knowing who to call and what information to provide is critical to good communication. Time matters when a submarine is in distress.”
Fink was a senior observer who shared best practices used across other Command Task Forces.
“If a submarine has an emergency, which leads to the submarine sinking, the window of time to rescue submariners could be short and require quick, decisive actions to achieve a rescue,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Moran, the U.K. Royal Navy’s exchange officer assigned to SUBLANT. “Throughout the scenario, we are testing our ability to provide accurate and timely information to supporting agencies and nations who may be involved with saving lives at sea.”
Moran helped deliver the two-day training scenario to test SUBLANT’s response to a distressed submarine (DISSUB) situation. The scenario utilized real events from history to drive the response team and ensure liaison with the many agencies involved in submarine search and rescue, such as Military Sealift Command (MSC), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Undersea Rescue Command (URC), who together provide ships, personnel and equipment to support the rescue or recovery of personnel from a DISSUB worldwide.
“Rescuing personnel at depth, whilst dealing with possible time and supply constraints is extremely difficult and requires a lot of coordination,” said Moran. “Exercising with URC helps us to develop an insurance policy that hopefully we never have to use.”
As rescue specialists, URC utilizes a mix of active duty and Reserve component sailors and government contractors to provide worldwide submarine rescue coverage for the U.S. Navy and foreign submarines.
Submarine rescue is an international effort. In 2003, NATO established The International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO), a military organization, which supports all nations and pursues the involvement of global submarine-operating nations. NATO membership is not required.
“The idea of ISMERLO is that we are independent, even though we’re under the NATO umbrella,” said Royal Norwegian Navy Cmdr. Espen Engebretsen, who is assigned to NATO Submarine Command and ISMERLO as their plans and exercises officer. “This way, non-NATO countries can reach out for help. Our focus is saving lives at sea, regardless of the country.”
Engebretsen advised SUBLANT on how to use the ISMERLO website effectively.
“In January, we updated the website and want to ensure the community knows how to use it and can provide feedback for continued improvement,” said Engebretsen, emphasizing ISMERLOs dedication to the global humanitarian effort.
“As submariners, we operate in an inherently high-risk environment, making it vital to act quickly and efficiently both as part of a submarine crew or ashore as the support element,” said Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, Commander, Submarine Forces. “We train so that we are decisive, proficient, and ready in any scenario, because bringing our undersea warriors home after every underway is a no fail mission.”
The mission of the Submarine Force is to execute the Department of the Navy’s mission in and from the undersea domain. In addition to lending added capacity to naval forces, the Submarine Force, in particular, is expected to leverage those special advantages that come with undersea concealment to permit operational, deterrent and combat effects that the Navy and the nation could not otherwise achieve.
The Submarine Force and supporting organizations constitute the primary undersea arm of the Navy. Submarines and their crews remain the tip of the undersea spear.
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