Funding an Icebreaker

In thinking about how to fund a new icebreaker, it is apparent, (1) Congress, the administration, and the department have the (unrealistic) idea that ship building budgets need to be consistent from year to year (they never have been). (2) Cost of a single icebreaker is so high, funding it from the Coast Guard’s customary shipbuilding budget would disrupt ongoing programs and result in higher costs in out years to restart these disrupted programs.

The Navy is facing a similar, though as a percentage, less severe problem with the Ohio SSBN replacement program. The proposed solution is to fund the new submarines outside the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. This way the additional money does not establish a precedence for a higher Navy shipbuilding budget, and Congress has the illusion of holding the line on spending.

The advantage the Navy has here, is being part of the Defense Department. Nuclear Deterrence is obviously a DOD mission. On the other hand it is hard to make the case that icebreaking is a Homeland Security mission, so we are unlikely to be able to kick the funding requirement upstairs to the DHS.

Still it might be possible for some interested Congressional delegation to sponsor a separate special appropriation, outside the Coast Guard’s normal (inadequate) shipbuilding budget to cover the cost of a new icebreaker. After all, $1B is only .033% of an annual three trillion dollar budget. Maybe no one will notice.

12 thoughts on “Funding an Icebreaker

  1. It should mostly be a matter of showing that an new set of icebreakers can assist multiple agencies. After all, NSF and NOAA both could benefit from artic research, the Navy needs artic support for weather and for what will soon be an invigorated undersea presence thanks to Putin’s cold war style, and yes even counter-terrorism now that we see more artic drilling and exploration. this is of course added to the normal search and rescue duties of the CG. We could possibly even pull in Canada to help finance since they need new icebreakers themselves. In fact we could part build one for completion in Canada.
    And if we want to sell it to congress cheap, then we can use an update of an existing design. In fact by simply using an updated design, we could contract them (yes plural) out to more than one yard which would both speed up acquisition and of course make more congressmen happy.
    The CG needs to pitch them as something both the political left and right can get behind.
    Pitch the science, SAR. and environmental angle to the left and as an artic NSC for LEO and artic support for the military to the right.
    In fact if we played it right, it could actually be sold as basically another NSC but with icebreaking capability, promising that we would use them (year round for more than just the artic.

  2. The problem is that Congress doesn’t see either the Arctic or Antarctic missions as a priority. Their response to the funding requests has been that the CG and NSF should charter an icebreaker for the job….

    Maybe somebody needs remind Congress that the Russian fleet is 40+ icebreakers and growing, and that the Chinese are rumored to be working on icebreakers of their own… The US can’t maintain a effective presence in these regions with chartered ships…

    • If you’re talking about true icebreakers, Russia has the following:
      – four triple-shaft Arktika-class nuclear-powered polar icebreakers (Rossiya, Sovetskiy Soyuz, Yamal and 50 Let Pobedy);
      – two triple-shaft Taymyr-class nuclear-powered shallow-draft polar icebreakers (Taymyr and Vaygach);
      – two twin azimuth drive LK-16 class icebreakers for the Baltic Sea (Moskva and Sankt-Petersburg);
      – three vintage quad-shaft Baltic Sea icebreakers bought from Finland and Sweden after decommissioning (Tor, Karu and Dudinka);
      – three old triple-shaft polar icebreakers (Ermak, Krasin and Admiral Makarov);
      – four slightly newer triple-shaft polar icebreakers (Kapitans Sorokin, Khlebnikov, Nikolaev and Dranitsyn; Kapitan Sorokin has been ruined with a Thyssen-Waas bow while Kapitan Nikolaev has an experimental conical bow);
      – three twin-shaft sub-polar icebreakers (Mudyug, Magadan and Dikson; Mudyug has been ruined just like Kapitan Sorokin);
      – one triple azimuth drive icebreaking rescue vessel that can go sideways in ice (Baltika);
      – two twin azimuth drive icebreakers operating at the Varandey oil terminal (Varandey and Toboy);
      – nine modern twin azimuth drive icebreaking offshore vessels; and
      – four vintage icebreaking offshore vessels bought from the Canadians and a bunch of other offshore vessels with marginal icegoing capability.

      In addition, there are three upgraded LK-16 class twin azimuth drive icebreakers (Murmansk, Vladivostok and Novorossiysk), one LK-25 class hybrid propulsion (two azimuth thrusters and one shaftline) icebreaker (Viktor Chernomyrdin), two icebreaking twin azimuth drive rescue vessels (Beringov Proliv and Murman), four twin azimuth drive heavy icebreaking offshore vessels and one or two triple-shaft LK-60 class nuclear-powered icebreakers under construction.

      However, not all of those are big bad polar icebreakers and in some of them the age is starting to show – they say that out of the nine main engines of the Ermak-class icebreakers, maybe six or seven are actually running while the rest have been scavenged for parts. The replacement project is not going that well either – Viktor Chernomyrdin is about 2 years behind schedule.

      Of course that’s still more than what USA has…

    • As for China, they have one “icebreaker” (Xue Long) which is a repurposed Arctic supply/cargo vessel. The construction of the new polar research vessel has not started yet. In addition, there is one icebreaking offshore vessel of Canadian origin.

    • Does anyone know who wrote, “This sounds like a CGCG (Coast Guard Con Game)” on the MOA??

      It must have been written by someone in the upper echelon’s of the Navy or Treasury! …and a few years later, the CG was moved out of the Treasury (interesting, no?)!

      I’ve never seen CGCG and that meaning written before. Is this some dirty little upper echelon beltway snicker at the CG?

      I would love to read a historical summary of how the CG was thought of, (either good or bad) inside the halls of Treasury (hint, hint Bill!) during the final years.

    • Can the Coast Guard/DHS just “cancel” the Icebreaking MOA? Does the Navy have a say in that?

      I seem to recall with the past few years (maybe I read it here) where a Navy Admiral reminded the CG that the icebreaking mission (and funding of new icebreakers) was the CG’s responsibility, based upon the MOA.

      As was mentioned, some Congress critter needs to write up a separate funding bill for an icebreaker(s)…that would benefit a shipyard (and their union following) in their district/state with jobs for many years! Patty, can you hear me!

  3. Canadian icebreaker on the way to free a US flagged freighter stuck in ice. The USCG ship originally sent became stuck too.

    If the USCG wants funding then they need to use things like this as an example of the current deficiency, and go to the press, and to Members of Congress who live in districts where the ships might get built. Over and over.

    • Long history of US/Canadian cooperation on the Great Lakes. We have not been asking for new ships for domestic icebreaking, just refurbishment for the 140s {and the 225s that also do icebreaking). Sooner or later we are going to need to do something about the 65 footers.

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