If you would like to take a look at the Operational Requirements Document (ORD) for the proposed polar icebreaker (PIB in the document), you can find it here (pdf). (Sorry I did not publish this earlier.)
The bad news is that it does not look like it will be fully operational until 2028.
I”1.3.1 Initial Operational Capability Date: The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) date is anticipated to occur during or before FY-2026. IOC is defined as the delivery of the vessel. ”
1.3.2 Coast Guard Support Date The Coast Guard Support Date (CGSD) is the formal transition from CG-932 to Surface Forces Logistics Center Product Line (SFLC PL) and is anticipated to occur during or before FY-2028.”
1.4 Full Operational Capability Date: The Full Operational Capability (FOC) date occurs upon the successful completion of operational testing and evaluation and is anticipated to occur during or before FY-2028.
Here are the basics. I have cherry picked the list. There are many more requirements, but I think these are the most significant:
- “The PIB will operate worldwide and will be exposed to extreme environmental conditions found in the Polar, Tropical, and Temperate regions. The PIB will experience ice up to large concentrations of multiyear consolidated pack ice with ridging, air temperatures ranging from -72 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) to 114°F, sea water temperatures ranging from 28.8°F to 87°F, wind speeds that can exceed 100 miles per hour (mph) (87 knots (kts)) and sea conditions up to sea state 8. …
- “The PIB shall be capable of independently breaking through ice with a thickness > 6 ft (threshold) / > 8 ft (objective) at a continuous speed > 3 kts.
- “The PIB shall be capable of independently breaking through ridged ice with a thickness of 21 ft.
- “The PIB shall have a fully mission capable (in accordance with Table 20) cutter endurance per deployment without replenishment (subsistence and fuel) > 80 days underway (threshold) / > 90 days underway (objective).
- “The PIB shall have the capability to exchange information (voice and data) with: USCG, DoD, DHS, NATO, DoS, NSF and NOAA.
- “The PIB shall be capable of breaking a single-pass channel to a width of at least 83 ft.
- “The PIB shall have a sustained speed of 15 kts.
- “The PIB shall have a minimum range of 21,500 nautical miles at 12 kts in ice free waters
- “The PIB shall have the capability of performing 3,300 Operational Hours (threshold) / 4,050 Operational Hours (objective) per year. (The USCG is currently transitioning from the use of DAFHP to Operational Hours as the metric for operational tempo. The threshold and objective figures contained in this requirement represent 185 and 225 DAFHP respectively.)
- “The PIB shall be capable of delivering aviation fuels, diesel fuels, and potable water while underway from storage and service tanks to United States Navy (USN)/USCG/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) vessels 240 feet or less in length in either astern tow or alongside
- “The PIB shall be capable of receiving underway replenishment of fuel and water from USN/NATO/Allied Navy vessels, Military Sealift Command or other designated vessels.
- “The PIB shall be able to pump aviation fuels, diesel fuels, and water to shore facilities, including U.S. Scientific Research Stations.
- “The PIB shall have a designated topside cargo area capable of transporting (not simultaneously): 184.108.40.206.1 Three 9 ft x 35 ft buoys including associated buoy mooring equipment (or) 220.127.116.11.2 Six twenty foot equivalent units (TEU) with a maximum weight of 20 tons each.
- AVIATION: “The PIB shall be able to hangar a total of two of any combination of the following aircraft: 18.104.22.168.1 USCG H-65 with blade-folding capability. 22.214.171.124.2 USCG/USN H-60 with blade-folding capability. 126.96.36.199.3 UAS (not to exceed the footprint of an USCG H-60 with blade folding capability). (plus meet certification criteria for Level I, Class 1 aviation operations for those aircraft–Chuck) The PIB shall have the capability for an H-65 to be mechanically secured to the flight deck immediately after landing without the use of tie-down personnel. The PIB shall have the capability to support mobile mechanical traversing of the USCG/USN H-60. The PIB shall have the aviation fuel capacity to operate an H-60 for 250 flight hours with 24 flight hours of fuel capacity in service tanks. (also TACAN equipped–Chuck)
- BOATS: The PIB shall have the capability to independently launch, recover, fuel, maintain and operate two assigned boats with over-the-horizon (OTH) capability. The PIB shall have the capability to launch, recover, fuel, maintain, and operate at least one assigned cargo landing boat capable of landing a minimum capacity of 4,500 pounds (e.g., people, cargo, and equipment). The PIB shall have the capability to launch and recover on both port and starboard sides.
- The PIB shall have the capability to deliver, support, and recover one 8-person boarding team and their gear, trained and outfitted in accordance with the Maritime Law Enforcement Manual, COMDTINST M16247.1 (Series) via cutter boat operated by a boat crew in accordance with USCG policy.
- The PIB shall have the capacity to tow astern a vessel not exceeding an equivalent displacement to that of the PIB. (Shouldn’t this say the ability to tow a vessel of equivalent tonnage to the PIB or perhaps some minimum?–Chuck)
- The PIB shall have the capability to support a DIVEDET of 7 personnel and their equipment, in accordance with the USCG Diving Policies and Procedures Manual, COMDTINST M3150.1 (Series) and the USN Diving Manual, SS521-AG-PRO-010 (Series).
- The PIB shall provide dedicated location(s) and reserved space, weight, power, hotel services, data network and phones to accommodate six 10 ft x 20 ft science vans that do not interfere with flight deck operations. (Shouldn’t this be 8x8x20 foot vans?–Chuck)
- WEAPONS: The PIB shall have the capability to employ removable weaponry. The PIB shall have the ability to conduct disabling fire against surface targets.
- The PIB shall have a heavy lift capability with a minimum capacity of 20 tons extending to at least one lift point 25 feet past the widest point of the ship’s beam on both the port and starboard side of the ship.
- The PIB shall provide messing, berthing, sanitary facilities, and workspaces for all permanently attached crewmembers and 50 embarked personnel. Includes DIVEDET and LEDET deployed with 20 person AVDET (if LEDET is embarked, SCIDET (Science) will remain ashore).
- The PIB shall be capable of wintering over for a minimum of 210 days.
- The PIB shall be designed to provide airspace management for organic aircraft operating in controlled and uncontrolled airspace by providing installed organic systems.
Additionally it should be able to conduct boat and helo operations to Sea State Four (8.2 feet/2.5 meters)
COMMENTS: I would like to offer some comments on the document.
Inclusion of “dedicated location(s) and reserved space, weight, power, hotel services, data network and phones to accommodate six 10 ft x 20 ft science vans that do not interfere with flight deck operations.” (188.8.131.52 page 29) is promising. It offers an avenue to address emerging requirement or the need for capabilities that might might have been unrecognized. In addition to scientific support they might be used for humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, as holding cells, as class room space, for upgraded communications, accommodations, or medical facilities.
If we are going to be able to operate, hangar, and service Navy H-60s, we also need to be able to store their associated weapons and equipment including sonobuoys and torpedoes. I suspect this means we will need more space (and perhaps specialized space) than required to support CG H-60s (which I doubt will ever deploy on the PIB anyway). The containerized mission modules might be one way to address this if the need arises.
Polar Icebreakers will undoubtedly go to Antarctica so the Antarctic Treaty will apply. Contrary to what you may have heard, the treaty does not require that ships entering the area be unarmed, only that they be open to inspection. Article VII para. 3. “All areas of Antarctica, including all stations, installations and equipment within those areas, and all ships and aircraft at points of discharging or embarking cargoes or personnel in Antarctica, shall be open at all times to inspection by any observers designated in accordance with paragraph 1 of this Article.”
Obviously we do not want to send the PIB down there mounting classified weapons. The document addresses this by saying, “The PIB shall have the capability to employ removable weaponry.” This might mean only .50 caliber machine guns like the Polar Class, but there is also an operational requirements in table 6 (PIB Activities, page 11) is “Stop/neutralize a vessel through the use of force continuum.” Notably this is in the group “Boarding Operations” rather than Defensive/Offensive Operations.
If we are going to enforce US sovereignty and ” the ability to conduct disabling fire against surface targets” is not limited to surface targets powered by outboard motors, the ship will need something more. There is also a strong possibility that the target could outrun a 15 knot PIB so we either need to be able to do this at a distance, or using the ship’s boats or helicopters.
Ultimately all weapons are removable. In some cases, like missiles or torpedoes the launchers themselves may be unclassified as long as the weapon itself is not installed.
The LCS classes have incorporated removable weapons in their design with reconfigurable weapon stations. We might consider something similar for the PIB,
In wartime, if fighting is in the Arctic or Antarctic, the polar Icebreakers will be unique high value naval auxiliaries that may become critical to naval operations. They will need to be adequately protected. We might consider fitting them “for but not with” defensive weapons. A minimum of two Mk38 25 mm and two SeaRAM CIWS appears to be appropriate, while requiring a minimum impact on command and control and manning requirements.
Photos: A removable weapon system. The Mk46 Gun Weapons System. This is used in the LCS anti-surface mission module. The armor piercing, fin stabilized discrding sabot round would probably be effective as a disabling round against even large diesel engines.
It is a pretty large document, running 89 pages total. The last 17 pages are appendices. Reportedly it was the product of a “46-member, 11-Agency Integrated Product Team (IPT)” There is a lot of detail, but there are also a lot of statements that are so nebulous as to be meaningless and as far as I can see do not contribute to an understanding of the requirements. This applies to most of the capabilities listed in Table 5 on page 9 and virtually all of the following,
- “6 CRITICAL OPERATIONAL ISSUES Critical Operational Issues (COIs) are the operational effectiveness and operational suitability issues (not characteristics, parameters, or thresholds) that shall be examined during Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) to evaluate/assess the system’s capability to safely perform its mission.6.1 Operational Effectiveness COIs 6.1.1 Protection Response (PR) 184.108.40.206 Can the PIB perform USCG Emergent Response for Search and Rescue (SAR) and National Emergency Response Operations (NERO)?
- 6.1.2 Law Enforcement Response (LER) 220.127.116.11 Can the PIB perform USCG Enforcement Response for Law Enforcement and Homeland Security?
- 6.1.3 Surveillance and Reconnaissance (SR) 18.104.22.168 Can the PIB contribute to Maritime Domain Awareness?
- 6.1.4 Defense Readiness (DR) 22.214.171.124 Can the PIB provide Defense Readiness to Combatant Commanders?
- 6.1.5 Maintain Mobility (MM) 126.96.36.199 Can the PIB provide USCG services to maintain movement of vessels and equipment in civil and military maritime environments
- 6.1.6 Transport (TRAN) 188.8.131.52 Can the PIB provide USCG organic transportation of people and equipment?
- 6.1.7 Force Movement (FM) 184.108.40.206 Can the PIB be prepared for operational employment and move from ready locations to the intended area of operations?
- 6.1.8 Information Management (IM) 220.127.116.11 Can the PIB perform Information Management in support of USCG Missions?
- 6.1.9 Force Protection (FP) 18.104.22.168 Can the PIB provide Force Protection?”
Perhaps I have missed something or these will be clarified in the future.