Ice Capable Research Vessel “Sikuliac” Delivered NSF

Photo: Sikuliaq on Acceptance Trials

The Marine Log is reporting the delivery of a new ice capable research vessel to the National Science Foundation.

The 261-foot double-hulled vessel will be stationed at Seward Marine Center, its homeport in Seward, Alaska, where it will be tasked with year-round operation. The Sikuliaq is the first vessel in the U.S. academic research fleet capable of breaking ice up to 2.5 feet thick, making it uniquely equipped for polar and sub-polar research.

The Marine Log post focuses on the ship’s engineering plant which includes four MTU 4000 series diesels (the same series used in the Webber class) in a fully integrated diesel electric plant providing both ship’s service power and propulsion.

Earlier we talked about this ship, and the possibility of adapting the design as an Artic Patrol Cutter. My 2011 post includes a bit more detail about the ship. You can read it here.

29 thoughts on “Ice Capable Research Vessel “Sikuliac” Delivered NSF

    • There are a number of problems in increasing the speed of the vessel. Sikuliaq’s hull form, which is similar to those of “real” icebreakers, is not well suited for high speeds – the open water resistance increases steeply after 13-14 knots. In addition, the length is an issue because the wave-making resistance increases very quickly once you get past the aforementioned speed range. For this reason, tugboats and offshore vessels are rarely faster than this. All this translates to higher propulsion power requirements, which in turn would require bigger propulsion units and more installed power in the power plant. However, if you stick to fixed pitch propellers, you can’t optimize the propeller to both high bollard pull and high transit speed, so you’d need either controllable pitch propellers or even more propulsion power due to lower efficiency in one end of the speed range. It’s an endless circle…

  1. I notice it has provision for 8×20 cargo modules. Perhaps it could then be used for the LCS modules as been discussed on this blog before. After all, the artic was always a site for major nuclear sub activity during the cold war–which appears to be heating up again with Putin’s present aggressive behavior. Being able to put the ASW module from the LCS on board and bring it into the artic might be a good way to help talk the Navy into helping foot the bill.
    The low speed isn’t really a problem since no one plans on dashing thru ice.

    • If a helo deck and hangar were added we would likely lose some or all of the container storage positions.

      Hopefully all of our future larger ships, of what ever kind, will have this some modular flexibility built in.

  2. By the way, I was wondering your opinion on armament when patrolling the polar regions. For 40 years now it has been nothing more than .50 cals. But I always thought that something larger might actually be more practical. A Ma-deuce has little non-combat duty to do. But larger naval guns can fire illumination rounds that could come in handy especially in a night rescues. I also seem to remember hearing (just rumors) about the Russians during WW2 helping crack very hard ice with 5′ shells to make it easier to break.


      Low speed isn’t a problem? Ships don’t always operate in the ice. Manoeuvre is the fundamental weapon of naval warfare; to bring about effects the ship has to be there. Further you can’t say speed doesn’t matter then argue for a need for hull borne ASW capability ASW under the ice is a game best left to submarines. In WW2 the smaller escorts weren’t capable of much than a dozen knots and they were useless against even the slow U-boats. The post WW2 ASW panic came about because it was realise by the Allies that the newer Nazi Germany designs that our side and the Soviets had acquired rendered our best escorts and ASW technology nearly useless; modern SSNs are several factors better.

      The best way to increase firepower is to carry a helicopter. Considering where you would be going that would mean for safety’s sake 2 cabs. And that would mean an even bigger ship. Consider…….

    • I remember firing 5″ illumination rounds when we were practicing night ditching exercises. Illumination is not so important now that we have night vision devices.

      The Arctic is such a difficult environment, historically even relatively weak forces have made a difference in this area.

      As you may know I think the Mk38 mod2 mounts are potentially very useful for things other than shooting up derelicts.
      If our vessels need guns in warmer waters why wouldn’t they need them in the Arctic for the same reasons and the same missions. I realize the Coast Guard is not doing drug interdiction, but lots of other missions.

      The Coast Guard’s most important role if there is ever a conflict is probably to facilitate the movement of other military forces in the area, but we will still need to defend ourselves.

      While the Antarctic has been quiet for a very long time we cannot be sure it will stay that way. There are a number of conflicting claims and if they find fossil fuels either on the continent or in its “EEZ” someone will want to exploit it.

  3. “If our vessels need guns in warmer waters why wouldn’t they need them in the Arctic for the same reasons and the same missions. I realize the Coast Guard is not doing drug interdiction, but lots of other missions.”

    Who here has argued against guns for these proposed Arctic ships?

    • This was in answer to JohnnieZ!, “By the way, I was wondering your opinion on armament when patrolling the polar regions. For 40 years now it has been nothing more than .50 cals.”

      Referring to the fact that for decades, our icebreakers have had no weapons larger than 50 cal.

      To be clearer, even if we don’t arm them better, we should have contingency plans to do so.

      • I am not sure “plonking” a conventional naval mount on this sort of ship is a goer hence my ref’ to Nemo. Modern guns are intricate systems mechanically never the FCS. There is a joke in the RN that the 4.5in’s primary role is to give the weapons engineers something to do; though things have improved with the Mod 1! During the West’s adventures in the Sandbox I became interested in alternatives to Javelin not only as a cost saver but as means of garnering greater utility and greater weights of fire hence an interest in breach loading mortars. Perhaps a bit of a whites of their eyes solution in terms of control but 120mm projectile is a big stick? Saying that you only have to look that the impact of portable computing has had on long range rifle shooting. Further there is a need to consider I think NGFS in a limited fashion an area where an auto-canon would be less than optimal.

        As I said helicopters are the way to go if you want lonf range thump. The only question is how do you prevent your ship being thumped? MANPADs perhaps? But who is going to stand watch outside in the Arctic? I don’t think fast air will be much of a problem. I think we are looking more at police actions, periods of high tension, and less-than-war situations.

        Good stuff.

      • In terms of how an icebreaker might be armed, I was thinking more in terms of SeaRAM for air defense; Griffin, dual mode Hellfire, or Brimstone for ASuW and NSFS as discussed here:

        The Mk38 Mod2 would be for law enforcement and its electro-optics would useful in a number of ways.

        Helicopters are potentially the most useful weapon, but for them to be more than spotters, the ships would need magazine space, weapons, and supporting crew. These cannot be taken for granted and should be planned for.

        In some cases it may be possible to load another services systems aboard for a one time operation, like putting an MLRS ( on an icebreaker. Would not want to have it there all the time, but it might work as a contingency.

      • How resistant those weapons systems are against vibration resulting from the icebreaking process. In some recent icebreakers such as Baltika (the sideways-going oblique icebreaker built in Finland last spring), a large number of equipment in the engine room was hung from the wall on steel coils and springs in order to protect it from vibrations. I’m not sure how well you can do it with delicate weapons systems…

      • Naval weapons are shock tested. I know the Phalanx and SeaRAM have flexible mounts.

        The Wind class icebreakers were built with hull mounted sonars which I found incredible. I wonder how long they lasted.

  4. It is the AAW fit that I find the most difficult. Like you say a proper missile is the way to go. In a way there is a big jump between MANPADS and the smaller fixed systems.

    I appreciate the problems of housing a helicopter and the impact on the ship’s design. What I will say is what I often used to say over at Think Defence that the helicopter is the ultimate “module”; modularity for ships being a hot topic over there. Building in magazines and munitions handling is a small price to pay for the jump in capability an armed helicopter brings should it be needed. In a “surge” situation I suppose the USN would provide the additional cabs and personnel. As I said at the top of the thread you, the USCG, need something bigger than something like the RV Sikuliac. Further as said safety demands two cabs if you are operating helicopters; one is none, two is one, etc.

    Once again…….

    • I think we have a different perspective about where we hope to go. The need for a larger ship with at least two helicopters is absolutely true if you assume it will be acting alone.

      The planned Polar Icebreaker would certainly meet your requirements, and we do have a need for that capability, but I hope that ultimately, we will have more than a single ship in the Arctic. Some of which could be smaller, optimized more for traditional Coast Guard tasks than for strictly icebreaking. I did not necessarily consider the Sikuliaq as optimum for the CG, but it is perhaps closer to this Arctic Patrol Cutter than a Polar class icebreaker.

      • I think you will have fewer ships with your politicians chanting a similar mantra to the one often heard here, “Capabilities not platforms….” You may have more than one ship in the region but the distances are huge and, freedom of navigation greatly curtailed at certain times of the year, and that is where helicopters come in. In extreme climes the ship’s endurance comes to the fore. For me you are putting to much emphasis on missiles, well armament in general, which in and of themselves are expensive as a total system, impact ship design, and need personnel. More smaller platforms may be of use for tasks such as policing fisheries. But there is a difference between the far North and the Arctic.

      • Mounting weapons or not is a separate issue, as long as they are made capable of accepting them at a future date.

        I fear you may be right about the smaller fleet in the future, but I continue to be irrationally optimistic.

      • For background, the US Arctic planning includes all of the Bering Sea, although it is below the Arctic Circle.

        At some time in the future the Bering Strait is likely to become much more important.

  5. Right. Again for the Bering Sea the answer already exists in the form of Thetis. As for weapons the bigger the ship the easier to plan “fitted for, but no with”. It is easier to “bury” magazines in a ship for helicopter munitions than perhaps plan for weapon arcs on the ship’s out structure. Though VLS cells are God’s gift to naval architects!

    As for small fleets I think it is a fact of life with which we have to live today. If I was to go to Think Defence now and argue for 12 destroyers, 18 frigates, 12 SSNs, and 8 SSKs as a balanced minimum combat fleet I would be laughed at. But we had more, much more, not to long back. A lot of my concerns were echoed in the Midrats podcast on giving the USN surface fleet more firepower. Too much reliance on fast air and submarines to kill ships, too much emphasis on defence and not offence, and a belief that isn’t anybody to fight.

  6. This from the German Navy Blog “Marine Forum”, ” 03 December, ARGENTINA
    The MoD has signed documents purchasing four Russian civilian NEFTEGAZ-class ice-capable 81-m offshore support vessels … to be employed by the Argentine navy in South Atlantic/Antarctic patrol and search & rescue missions… price given as appr. US$ 2 million each.

  7. When I think of the CG in the Artic I always think of “Star Trek”. Seriously, the Starfleet of the series is both scientific and military in it’s mission. We have always done so with our polar icebreakers as well. Those familiar with the CG know that, although apparently congress doesn’t The NSF now has 3 including the Sukuliac. Since the Gould and the Palmer (NSF’s other breakers) are over 15 years old Big Science gets support from both sides of the political fence. Perhaps we need to hard sell a set of 3-4 breakers that are operated by the CG with an emphasis that we are both exploring and protecting the artic. Get the NSF, NOAA, and the Canadian Coast Guard to join us in the pitch. We could emphasize that image of armed exploration with an image they can understand. A sales pitch. We could do ASW against Russia for the Navy, drill ice cores for science, protect Alaskan tankers for DHS.
    (and for the naysayers of artic ASW remember that the Navy is “pivoting” east…the 40 planned Virginia class subs will be dealing with 50+ planned Chinese subs over the next two decades plus the Russian sub fleet.)

    • Trouble is the NSF and NOAA can both do their little piece cheaper. Navy surface warfare is certainly not eager to turn ASW over to the CG. No matter that the total cost to do it by the CG is less than the sum of the parts. We need Congress or the Administration to show a little leadership and avoid the sub-optimizing that we commonly see.

      • It seems NSF and NOAA have there own fleets of medium-sized ships. The dual-use for the CG’s heavy icebreakers is simply because that level of asset is too expensive for NSF or NOAA to get funding from Congress for their limited uses.

        The concept for a CG arctic patrol cutter would be to do CG missions, so SAR, fisheries/LE, and defense. Not dual use. Experiments will be ruined when the cutter leaves on a SAR case, would be one problematic example.

        For this use, the APC should be moderate-size (~280′), heavily constructed (capable of moderate ice ops), and should have a gun (don’t want to open the can of worms of what caliber 🙂 ). It should have an H-60 capable flight deck to support CG H-60s (will significantly extend the H-60’s SAR range), and Navy MH-60s (in wartime). It really only needs a SeaRAM mount, as with the H-A-S upgrade, it covers all threat envelopes.

      • Are you saying that a NSF/NOAA research vessel would not stop all experiments and begin a rescue operation immediately after receiving a distress signal? Not all experiments are continuous in nature – they can be stopped for the duration of the rescue operation and then continued once the situation is over. Of course, if the vessel is moored in ice with equipment scattered around, there may not be sufficient time to recover all of it before heading to the vessel in distress.

    • That is a sound parallel! I think we forget that the world is still a big place; the Arctic is a long way away and it is dangerous. Being able to fly there is not the same as having a big ship with big bunkers, deep dry stores, and other facilities for emergencies. No wonder those Ruskies like there atomic kettle icebreakers. 🙂

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