Document Alert: Icebreaker Modernization, 15 Jan. 2016

The US Naval Institute has republished the Jan. 15, 2016 Congressional Research Service report, “Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress.”

I can only presume that this is now a hot topic because this is an update of a document that was previously updated April 22, 2015 and again Sept. 25, 2015.

25 thoughts on “Document Alert: Icebreaker Modernization, 15 Jan. 2016

  1. Canada expects the new polar icebreaker to enter service in 2022:

    There’s a minor error in the article:

    “The Coast Guard originally planned a 2013 construction start date and 2017 completion date for the Diefenbaker, but the Conservatives prioritized the building of the Royal Canadian Navy’s joint support patrol ships.

    Those vessels that are only capable of breaking through one metre of ice — nicknamed slush breakers.”

    They are mixing the support ships with the Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPS) which are being built elsewhere. As far as I know, the RCN support ships, which will be built at the same shipyard, do not have any kind of ice capability.

  2. Seems some poor editing in that article… They implied the separate Joint Support Ship and Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship programs are one of the same. The Arctic Partol Ships has some interesting capabilities in a mixed fleet by extending the patrol season and supplemental ice capability. But to confirm your statement from what I’ve read the Joint Support Ship is a typical AOR (FSG Type 702 design) and does not have any ice capability. To add the Canadian heavy icebreaker is not only behind AORs, but also a trio of new fishery research vessels as they complete the design work. The RCN is currently in embarrassing state of renting vessels after both AORs were decommissioned due to old age. In any case the Canadian icebreaker delay would seem to open up the possibility of a joint national project. Both nations are struggling with ship building plans the exceed the budget. One wonders if the US could utilize the Canadian AOR situation as incentive to work out a deal. US Navy has initiated the John Lewis AO replacement project and I believe the USNS Bridge AOE has recently been inactivated. The Supply class AOEs have a high operating cost, but as a temporary solution might be attractive to the Canadians. Or the Bridge could be brought back into service and a Kaiser class AO could be made available for transfer.

    • From what I gather while the expected icebreaking performance of our new icebreaker and the Cnadian’s is similar, the range/endurance requirements are very different because of the need for ours to go to Antarctica. The fact that it will also be operated in tropical climates in addition to polar and temperate regions also complicates the design because of increased cooling and airconditioning requirement.

      From what I understand many of the Russian icebreakers cannot leave northern waters.

      • @Chuck, it’s often said that the Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers cannot sail south because the sea water is too warm, but I haven’t confirmed that. However, the ship specifications only define the maximum sea water and ambient air temperatures at which the vessel can maintain maximum propulsion power and full operational capability. With limited propulsion power (or, in case of Taymyr-class nuclear-powered icebreakers, running on diesels without nuclear power), I’m fairly certain most if not all of the Russian icebreakers would be capable of crossing the equator. Of course, with limited a/c capacity, it wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable for the crew.

  3. Pingback: Chilean Icebreaker/Supply Vessel, plus Other News From Chile | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

    • A somewhat curious and concerning passage on Page 30:

      “In order to achieve an earlier start on this project and to reduce cost and schedule risk, the Committee encourages the selection of an in-
      service U.S. hull design and the setting of limitations on overall ship specifications and requirements. The Committee directs the Secretary of Defense in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees not later than September 30, 2016 which provides polar icebreaker requirements, preferred design, overall acquisition strategy, and a breakout of funds necessary to support the acquisition. (Pages 98-99)”

      Someone should tell them that it doesn’t take a decade to design a tailor-made hull for the USCG needs. However, if you rush the job, you may end up with a vessel that does not fulfill all the mission goals and yet costs that dreaded $1 billion…

      • Why not build more Polar classes using modern technology. Its no different than using the Spruance Class hull for multiple classes of ships.

      • Lyle, the Polar class does not comply with today’s rules and regulations. Also, it was designed for a very specialized power plant (gas turbines) – can you fit a diesel-electric propulsion system there, assuming you don’t want to use such a problematic solution again? Finally, are the production plans available and compatible with today’s yard technology?

        Considering how slow the bureaucracy surrounding this project is, the actual design work can be completed in a relatively short period of time. That is, if the designers are given a go-ahead as soon as possible.

      • The above reply was written with a cell phone, so I couldn’t check how the USCG’s requirements for the new polar icebreaker differ from the existing Polar class. The following text can be found on page 15 of the Congress report:

        “The Coast Guard states that the desired capabilities for a new polar icebreaker differ from the capabilities of Polar Star and Polar Sea in the following general ways:

        – features for improved reliability, maintainability, supportability, operational availability, and system redundancy;
        – features for meeting modern environmental standards;
        – features for improved ship control;
        – features for modern human habitability and human systems integration; and
        – space, weight and power margins (i.e. growth margin) for accepting specialized capabilities.”

        As far as I know, the reliability of the gas turbine/electric propulsion system with controllable pitch propellers has left much to hope for and it has not been used in any other icebreaker design. The diesel-electric AC/AC power plant used in e.g. USCGC Healy is much better in every aspect expect perhaps power-to-weight ratio. It may not be possible to fit such a power plant inside the current Polar class hull especially if you want to divide the engine room into two separate compartments as the switchboards and converters – which the Polar class does not have – take up a lot of space.

        As I said in my previous post, the Polar class does not meet today’s environmental (and other) standards. One of the biggest issues will likely be the location of fuel tanks,which in vessels of this era used to be against the side shell. This has major effect on the internal arrangement of the vessel and may somewhat increase vessel size as not all space in the double hull can be utilized for ballast etc.

        As for “improved ship control”, I’m not sure what that means. However, while it’s possible to retrofit older vessels with today’s power plant management etc. systems, there is a limit how much “old technology” can be controlled with today’s computers. In worst case, you need a robot in between to push buttons and pull levers…

        The Polar-class icebreakers certainly do not meet today’s standards for “modern human habitability”. Crew cabins should be moved away from the hull and generally the interior should be arranged less like a naval vessel.

        Finally, I don’t know how much “growth margin” there is left in the Polar class. The vessels appear extremely compact and I doubt if such vessels could even be built with today’s standards.

        Anyway, assuming the USCG wants to stick to the above desired capabilities, there isn’t much in the existing vessel that could be utilized except the hull form which dates back to time before ice model testing and “modern” hull forms.

        While the USCG could use its only large modern icebreaker, USCGC Healy, as a starting point, the modifications to the hull form (particularly stern, because I don’t think two shaftlines would be enough to meet the desired icebreaking capability) would be so extreme that they could just develop a new one from scratch with the same effort…

      • I suspect the improved ship control means we want Azipods or something similar rather than using conventional propeller shafts. Might also want to be able to break ice going either forward or astern.

      • @Chuck, that could be the case. However, somehow I feel this refers to the “internal control” of the vessel through more advanced automation etc. As for azimuth thruster propulsion, the polar icebreaker industry data package included requirement for “multiple steering systems” but didn’t mention if the USCG wants to use azimuth thrusters (such as Azipod) for propulsion or not. I’d guess it’s on the table, but the new polar icebreaker could as well have conventional propulsion layout.

        By the way, here’s a pretty good article on the differences between US and Russia (and Finland, and Sweden) when it comes to icebreakers:

        I, for one, am not too fond on comparing fleet sizes between the U.S. and other countries.


        Good news for Great Lakes.

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