Polar Icebreaker Operational Requirements Document, Industry Version


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): Three 9 ft x 35 ft buoys including associated buoy mooring equipment (or) 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: USCG H-65 with blade-folding capability. USCG/USN H-60 with blade-folding capability. 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.” ( 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) 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) Can the PIB perform USCG Enforcement Response for Law Enforcement and Homeland Security?
  • 6.1.3 Surveillance and Reconnaissance (SR) Can the PIB contribute to Maritime Domain Awareness?
  • 6.1.4 Defense Readiness (DR) Can the PIB provide Defense Readiness to Combatant Commanders?
  • 6.1.5 Maintain Mobility (MM) Can the PIB provide USCG services to maintain movement of vessels and equipment in civil and military maritime environments
  • 6.1.6 Transport (TRAN) Can the PIB provide USCG organic transportation of people and equipment?
  • 6.1.7 Force Movement (FM) 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) Can the PIB perform Information Management in support of USCG Missions?
  • 6.1.9 Force Protection (FP) Can the PIB provide Force Protection?”

Perhaps I have missed something or these will be clarified in the future.

18 thoughts on “Polar Icebreaker Operational Requirements Document, Industry Version

  1. Doesn’t this document predate President Obama’s announcement to accelerate the acquisition of the heavy polar icebreaker? If so, the dates originally set for 2028 may now be in 2026. However, it’s still awfully far away.

    Anyway, while much of the information was included in the Industry Data Package, the ORD gives some additional background information to certain items. Thanks for sharing it here – I doubt I would have found it otherwise. I’ll probably do a cross-check to see if all required features from the ORD were carried over to the Industry Data Package.

    I guess the displacement for the towed vessel comes from future “buddy rescue” mission where the heavy icebreaker has been disabled at the limit of its icebreaking capability, and its future sister ship is sent to bring it back home. The icebreaker could easily be fitted to escort considerably larger vessels as well as it will certainly have sufficient bollard pull. However, considering the USCG doesn’t regularly escort ships, I’d expect the winch and other equipment to be something like “bare minimum” instead of the heavy escort winches and towing notches found on Baltic and Russian icebreakers.

    I hope “full mission capabilities” at 114 degrees F doesn’t mean “full propulsion power” – I’m having nightmares of the engine room intake air cooling requirements.

    • This document is dated Nov. 2015 and I reported the President’s call for accelerated procurement on 1 Sept. 2015 so this is after that. Note the document calls for delivery in 2016. I think that squares with FY2020 funding date.

      • Thanks for clarification. In the recent public hearing, the representative of the American shipbuilders stated that it takes 7½ years from start of design to delivery from the yard. Of course, full commissioning to Coast Guard service won’t come until few years or so after that.

    • Regarding the towing capability. We definitely need to be able to tow the PIB’s sister ship, but we might also think about the possibility of a broken down passenger vessel in the Arctic in peacetime and about what we might need to tow in wartime. There is really no reason these should not be made capable of towing a 45,000 ton LHA like USS America. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_America_(LHA-6)

      • Indeed.

        The new Finnish icebreaker, which has a bollard pull in excess of 200 tons, is designed for emergency towing also in open water. A heavy polar icebreaker would be one of the world’s most powerful salvage tugs, a capability the USCG/USN could have with relatively little money and impact on other vessel functions.

  2. Can the US afford to wait this long? Perhaps asking an offshore icebreaker builder to build an off the shelf ‘breaker in the USA should be considered, like our LCS vessels? If not, get ready to fund the rehab of the “POLAR SEA” and bring her back. And contract heavy tow vessels that can rescue the P STAR and P SEA if they have a casualty.

    • I don’t think we can. The Polar Star should be decommissioned long before that. The Polar Class have not demonstrated great reliability. We do need to renovate the Polar Sea, but we need to do it in such a way that it will be reliable. It is going to take a major investment, but we really have not choice. Meanwhile we could lease some smaller icebreakers.

    • There are no off the shelf designs that would fulfill the requirements set by the USCG for the heavy icebreaker.

      If the Polar Star really got stuck in Antarctica, there’s a few numbers the USCG could try calling to get help. If it’s an easy winter in the northern hemisphere, the Swedes could send Oden, especially if they were paid premium…

      • That’s true. Oden is one of the few medium icebreakers in the world capable of reaching McMurdo. However, the Swedish government pulled her back on short notice some years ago because the Swedish people started asking why the nation’s most capable icebreaker was not in the home waters during the winter months. Curiously, Oden is not a particularly good Baltic escort icebreaker, and the Swedes are planning to replace her in the coming years. I guess after that she’ll be primarily used for scientific work. That could include McMurdo mission if the USCG suddenly finds itself with zero heavy icebreakers.

    • you have to remember that the Cutters and Ice Breakers are so unique to US Naval service that we can not piggy back our orders off the other services the way we do for the HC-130J, and HH-60’s in order to get the cheaper price, and less time. What i would do is find out how much of a discount the Ship yards would give us on the Ice Breakers in order to get the OPC contracts.

      • Actually I think we would do better by spreading our orders around, so that the maximum number of Congressional delegations have an interest in supporting the Coast Guard.

        We really don’t want to compromise the quality of the OPC contracting by tying the icebreaker to it. In all probability HII or NASSCO will get the icebreaker contract. Neither of them have an OPC design in competition.

  3. In other news, the Russians just laid down the third LK-60 type icebreaker “Ural” and talked about designing the 110 MW “Leader”-class icebreaker within the next 1.5 years:


    I looked at the requirements of the USCG’s proposed heavy icebreaker again today and it certainly won’t be an easy ship to design as the Coast Guard wants to have a lot of capability in a single hull. The icebreaker should also be neither too small nor too big. However, multi-mission approach is not certainly a bad thing and doesn’t mean that the ship would turn out to be some kind of compromise “Swiss army knife” – only the high icebreaking capability and seakeeping requirements are in clear conflict and even that can be solved with some extra propulsion power.

  4. Davie and Federal Fleet Services are really pushing Aiviq for as an interim replacement for the aging Canadian icebreakers:


    The article has a link to the same brochure as before, but there’s a new 3D rendering of the converted vessel.

    Curiously, they claim that Aiviq was in fact designed in Canada. I always thought it was designed in house by Edison Chouest.

  5. From reading some older posts, apparently it is required to have at least 4 50 cal’s, there could be more weapons and/or Space, weight, and power reservation but I know that the 50’s are required.

    • Adding .50 caliber MG requires almost no special provisions, or consideration of weight/moment. They are also essentially totally useless against anything more than small fishing vessels.

      If we want removable weapons we should look at what was done with the LCS anti-surface weapons package. Two Mk46 30mm guns (which I think should be a minimum). The LCS of course also has a CIWS and provision for missiles. Those are things we should have the option of adding later.

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