Lee Kyte has become the first UK civil servant to participate fully in ICEX – a series of challenging submarine trials in the freezing Arctic Circle. He told Desider editor Tom Morris about his extraordinary experience
“It was absolutely mind-blowing,” Lee Kyte tells me with genuine wide-eyed glee.
Lee is referring to the moment he was flown by helicopter to the spot HMS Trenchant had surfaced through two-foot thick ice as part of ICEX 18 – a series of demanding submarine trials held in the frigid climate of the Arctic Circle earlier this year.
The 41-year-old volunteered for the exercise after working alongside the US Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), which co-ordinates the ICEX 18 drills, to fit equipment to HMS Trenchant.
“I felt I had a unique set of skills which would be of use to them so I offered my services and after discussions with my team leader I was delighted to be given permission to attend,” Lee said.
“Being there meant I was able to see the equipment I was responsible for on the submarine and talk with ship’s staff about its performance. They were really pleased so that was a very proud moment for me.”
A cracking entrance from HMS Trenchant during IceX 2018 – a joint training exercise between the Royal Navy and the US Navy designed to test submariners’ skills in operating under the Arctic ice cap.
HMS Trenchant joined US submarines USS Connecticut and USS Hartford for the drills which are vital in maintaining the operational readiness of the Royal Navy’s submarine fleet and in maintaining the security of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
By taking part in ICEX 18, Lee, a member of the Combat Systems team within the Submarine Delivery Agency (SDA) at MOD Abbey Wood,became the first UK Civil Servant to do so.
Based at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the Operations Support Base for ICEX 18, Lee’s primary role during the five-week exercise was to act as liaison between the UK (RN and the SDA/DE&S) but supported the ASL in whatever capacity it needed.
This included driving forklift trucks, greeting new arrivals to Prudhoe Bay or stocking the hangar store with everything from food to snow mobiles.
He had only been there three days when he found himself digging out a minibus from a snowdrift having been caught in a blizzard.
“I have never been so cold in my life, it was -30°C and there was a 30mph wind (wind-chill was nearer -47°C) and there I was on an ice road trying desperately to get our vehicle out,” he said.
“Prudhoe Bay has a couple of hotels for the oil workers but there are no permanent residents, the conditions are just too harsh. But it was an amazing place and the sunsets were incredible.”
Lee, a former lorry driver, was also given the opportunity to drive a 20-tonne truck 400 miles along the famous Dalton Highway – one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
He said: “I was a lorry driver but aged 33 I joined DE&S in 2010 as an apprentice and it was the best decision I ever made – the opportunities I have had are unbelievable. Being given the chance to take part in ICEX 18 is an experience I will never forget.”
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