High Latitude Region Mission Analysis Study–Summary of Summary

File:Polar Star 2.jpg

Thanks to the Coast Guard and http://www.fiercehomelandsecurity.com, we have a summary of the”High Latitude Region Mission Analysis,” that was given to Congress last year. You can get see it in the form of a pfd here.

Bottom line:

  • The Coast Guard requires three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions.
  • Naval Operations Concept 2010 (NOC 2010) included a requirement for a year-round continuous heavy icebreaker presence in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The Coast Guard would require six heavy and four medium icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions and maintain that continuous presence, if they are all conventionally manned and based in the US.
  • Using multiple crewing and basing two heavy icebreakers in the southern hemisphere (presumably Australia or New Zealand) both statutory and NOC requirements could be met by four heavy and two medium icebreakers.

How soon?:

“U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says the Coast Guard is including $860 million in its five-year budget plan for a new heavy polar icebreaker.”

     Even so, we probably will not see a new icebreaker before 2020. POLAR STAR commenced a major refit in May 2010 and is expected to return to service in late 2013, with a 6- to 7-year remaining service life. The Coast Guard’s only medium icebreaker, HEALY, will remain in-service until 2030. POLAR SEA is inoperative and is expected to be decommissioned this year.
     So one operational icebreaker until 2013. One heavy and one medium icebreaker 2013-2019. In 2020, POLAR SEA goes away and we are still at one heavy and one medium. Any Catastrophic failure and we are back to only one icebreaker.
     If we completed one heavy or medium icebreakers a year, by 2025, the Coast Guard could have the fleet required to meet our statutory responsibilities. Since we would be building OPCs concurrently, this would require a substantial increase in AC&I funding.
     A final note: It is not clear from the summary what constitutes a medium icebreaker. (Maybe it is in the full report.) HEALY is identified as “medium” and the POLAR SEA is “heavy,” even if the HEALY is actually larger. Presumably “medium” is less capable, as an icebreaker, than the POLAR class but more capable than the 140 foot icebreaking tugs. Would the MACKINAW (WLBB-30) qualify? How about the 225 foot JUNIPER class WLBs? the old WIND class breakers? the Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels? One clue is that the projected price starts at $590M for a single ship and goes down to less than $560M each for four ships. That is about 69% the cost of a heavy icebreaker so presumably about 70% the displacement–larger than USCGC_Glacier (WAGB-4). Would there really be a point in making one or two ships of a different class, if they so close in size to the Heavy icebreakers?

20 thoughts on “High Latitude Region Mission Analysis Study–Summary of Summary

  1. Chuck, you present a great assessment of the findings. I can only hope we knew something like this was coming and it is why we are pulling back on the amount of NECs we are building. To me, the USCG needs to focus on the ice breakers, and Corvette sized cutters, and less on the Frigates that the NECs are. We can only wait and see what will be decided or if this mission will just be ignored.

    • Hopefully we will come back later to build a class of Arctic Patrol Cutters for winter ALPATs that will combine the seakeeping of the NSCs with some military capabilities and an ability to operate in first year ice.

  2. The NSCs are great for ALPAT, but the OPCs are really a more important class because of the much larger number, and if cutting a couple of NSCs allow us to have more capable OPCs and resist the push to down size them to something like a 270 or an oil well support ship, it will have been a worthwhile trade off. If built as previously envisioned they will be almost the displacement of 378s, or at least the a 327. Six NSCs should be enough for ALPAT. Apparently the plan had been to put two on the East Coast anyway.

  3. “Six NSCs should be enough for ALPAT.”

    On what do you base this theory of yours on? Please explain why with all your expertise are your unsubstantiated opinion is so right and both the Deepwater POR and CG FMA study which validated a requirement for eight (8) to meet statuatory mission requirements is in error. We are all waiting here with baited breath on hearing more of your ramblings how you have all the answers and nobody else who is actually in the Coast Guard or DHS knows what we are doing.

    • This was specifically in reference to ALPAT because it is the most demanding environment and needs the most sea worthy vessels. Apparently the Coast Guard also felt six were enough for ALPAT because they apparently intended to put two on the East Coast. That is not to say that, with their longer range and the capability to support two helicopters, that they would not have also been the best asset for drug patrols in the Eastern Pacific or fisheries patrols in the Western Pacific. But, unlike ALPAT, at least there other assets can do the job if not quite so well.

      I never said we could not use more ships. In fact I had concerns all along that 33 ships could not replace over 40.

      We have been building on average one half of a ship a year. When we pay for an NSC it crowds virtually everything else out of the budget. We could not keep doing that, and it was apparent the AC&I budget was not going to grow any time soon. What I had been advocating was accelerating the OPC program. It might not be too late to fund the first OPC in FY2014, but it does not look like we will not be ready to even ask for that.

      Not getting two more NSCs is unfortunate, but (1) the decision was not mine, and (2) the writing has been on the wall for almost two years that the plan was not doable without a big increase in AC&I and that no increase was likely.

      • The Coast Guard is going to need a long term increase in the shipbuilding AC&I and funding the 7th and 8th NSC would not only give us two more ships it would lay the ground work for continued higher funding.

        FY 2016-2027 we will need to build 24 OPCs and five icebreakers. That’s two OPCs a year, an icebreaker almost every other year, while continuing to build four Fast Response Cutters a year, so we are going to need to raise Congresses expectation of what is normal funding for CG ship building. The sooner the better.

      • Plus of course we need to rebuild the inland fleet. Last time I looked the AC&I budget needed to go up about $700M a year.

      • We can hope that they will restore those hulls, but who knows what is going on at the HQ and J7 level when it comes to our fleet. This could be something that the USN and USCG have worked out so that there is less of a percieved overlap of capabilities in this tightening budget. I would hope if the future icebreakers are designed properly, there will be very little loss of capability when compaired to the NSCs, and it will purely be a sementics issue. Chuck makes a valid point of armed and capable cutters, like the Wind Class.

      • I assumed the heavy icebreakers would look a lot like the Polar Class, but is the role of the Medium icebreakers something different? Are they just less capable or are they supposed to be patrol ships equipped like the OPCs (with perhaps facilities for two helos) but with a hull that can operate in the ice?

  4. Chuck, in regards to your question about the difference between heavy and medium icebreakers, I couldn’t remember the info from when I was stationed out of Seattle so I did some research in good old wikipedia and found this info for the icebreaking capibilities.

    Healy: 4.5 ft (1.4 m) @ 3 kn (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) continuous
    8 ft (2.4 m) backing and ramming.

    Polar class (Sea and Star): 6 ft (1.8 m) at 3 kn (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) continuous
    21 ft (6.4 m) by backing and ramming.

    I seem to remember being told that the polar rollers could break 11 ft continuous and 27 ft backing and ramming respectivly, but I’ll take a guess that that was 10+ years ago. Only the Healy has the icebreaking characteristics on its homepage. And the difference in sizes is “only” 2806 tons and 21 ft in hull length.


    • I also saw the Wiki, but those are points on a continuum. When we say we need three medium icebreakers do they all have to be as capable as Healy? What capability are they we really looking for? It is not clear in the summary. Perhaps it is in the full document, but I don’t have access to it.

      There is an internationally recognized standard for ice-capable merchant ships:

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