Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, August 15, 2017

The Congressional Research Service has issued an updated edition of their their report, “Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress,” authored by their specialist in Naval Affair, Ronald O’Rourke. You can get it in pdf format here. 

14 thoughts on “Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, August 15, 2017

  1. Re CRS FFG(X) Septemer 28, 2017 report by specialist in Naval Affair, Ronald O’Rourke.

    “Acquisition Strategy
    Parent-Design Approach
    The Navy’s desire to procure the first FFG(X) in FY2020 does not allow enough time to develop
    a completely new design (i.e., a clean-sheet design) for the FFG(X). (Using a clean-sheet design
    might defer the procurement of the first ship to about FY2023.) Consequently, the Navy intends
    to build the FFG(X) to a modified version of an existing ship design—an approach called the
    parent-design approach. The parent design could be a U.S. ship design or a foreign ship design.
    Using the parent-design approach can reduce design time and design cost, and can also reduce
    technical, schedule, and cost risk in building the ship. The Coast Guard and the Navy are
    currently using the parent-design approach for the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaker program. The
    parent-design approach has also been used in the past for other Navy and Coast Guard ships,
    including Navy mine warfare ships and the Coast Guard’s new Fast Response Cutters (FRCs).”

  2. Report: Coast Guard Should Focus on Buying Heavy Icebreakers:

    Pretty much repetition of the report published last summer, but reheated in last week’s Arctic Day.

    What could be a realistic difference in crew between a medium and a heavy icebreaker? I’d assume they would be technically very similar to get the most benefits from system commonality, but the medium could for example have just 2/3 of the power plant and propulsion system of the heavy (i.e. two propellers instead of three). Somehow I don’t think that would have a significant impact on the manning: is there a dedicated crew member for each engine or propulsion line-up?

    • I don’t expect a large difference in manning, but here may still be a significant difference in procurement and fuel cost. I would also expect the heavy icebreakers to have much greater endurance and more space for passengers.

      • This is probably a stupid idea but … I was struck by the juxtaposition of the “parent design” story above and the icebreaker story below. Why not duplicate a Polar Star hull down to the rivets, then drop in updated machinery and electronics? Wasn’t it a fairly successful platform? How many changes/advances could there have been in hull design? Wouldn’t that save a lot of design cost, shakedown time, etc?

      • Roger, All ships build on the preceding ones so there may be some elements of Polar Star in it. We should be seeing proposals soon. As far as I can tell, the bow was successful, the variable pitch props, much less so. There is still ongoing experimentation with the hull shape. The new ships will probably have azipods or something similar instead of normal drive shafts. Polar class are very old tech now. Almost everything will be different, so why not take advantage of the advances over the last 45+ years. Now if you wanted to talk about making an OPC based on the 327s, I could go for that.

      • Roger, why use a 1960s design as a starting point when the USCG has a more modern 1990s design readily available (USCGC Healy)? Polar Star’s hull form predates systematic ice model testing and it’s practically impossible to modify the design to meet today’s rules and regulations. Redesigning Polar Star would probably take more effort as the naval architects would have to balance between keeping some of the old design and introducing new features instead of starting from a clean paper, not to mention skip few generations of shipyard technology to adapt the structural design to today’s production methods. Everything on those vessels was custom-made and the whole icebreaker was built around the unique CODLOG power plant – never used before, never used afterwards. Finally, does the Polar Star even meet the requirements USCG has placed on the future heavy polar icebreaker, apart from icebreaking capability?

        Developing an icebreaking hull form or even a complete design is not a decades-long effort for a modern US-based shipyard with some international help (didn’t one of the design teams engaged in the ongoing effort announce they had teamed up with VARD?). The real challenge lies in getting funding to actually build the vessel…

      • Chuck, it’s true that endurance fuel load can be a design driver as the mediums don’t necessarily need to have the capability to sail to Antarctica. They could be the stripped-down “police boats of the Arctic” whereas the heavies would have more multi-mission capability (didn’t the recent report recommend outfitting one for scientific work) and ability to sail “anywhere in the world” (from North Pole to as south as sea ice extends).

        I was also thinking about optimizing the medium icebreaker hull forms for icebreaking at the cost of some open water performance and seakeeping, but then again the seas around Alaska and Bering Strait are not known to be comfortable and calm…

      • Tups, All the heavy icebreakers are to be built capable of supporting scientific research. Fitted for but not necessarily with.

        It might make sense to arm the medium icebreakers at least to the extent that other large cutters are armed. They probably will not go South except in unusual circumstances.

    • Did I understand correctly that they are only measuring stresses on the equipment installed on board, not the hull itself? That’s also interesting expecially on such an overpowered icebreaker such as the Polar Star.

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