Polar Sea Sails for McMurdo, and We Need Six PSC

Below is quoted a press release about the departure of the Polar Star for the annual McMurdo resupply mission.

I may be reading too much into this, but the paragraph regarding the Polar Security Cutter program seems to represent a change from previous pronouncements.

The Coast Guard … is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

The same message is now on the Acquisitions Directorate Polar Security Cutter page, “The Coast Guard needs six new PSCs to ensure national year-round access to the polar regions and to provide self-rescue capability.”

The High Latitude study that the number six was based upon, said the Coast Guard needed three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers. The heavy icebreaker became the Polar Security Program. Are medium icebreakers also being called Polar Security Cutters? It does not seem so. There is no mention of this second type.

There is logic to simply building only a single class. It would save the development costs of a new, second class. The cost of the PSC is less than originally estimated and with the cost potentially dropping as the shipyard continues the learning curve with each new ship, building three less capable ship may not save much. Having instead six of the more capable ships would increase flexibility, and commonality pays dividends in logistics and training. Six more capable ship could allow a Northern Hemisphere winter deployment of two ships to McMurdo, while a second pair of ships could alternate, one on patrol in the Arctic, and the other on standby in Seattle, while a third pair are in the yard for maintenance to be ready for deployment during summer months.

Of course for any mission requiring an icebreaker, a heavy icebreaker Is more likely to get there quicker and be capable of doing more than a smaller ship when it gets there.

The Press Release

united states coast guard

News Release

Nov. 26, 2019
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3319
After Hours: (510) 333-6297
Pacific Area online newsroom

Nation’s only heavy icebreaker departs for Antarctic military operation

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020
USCGC Polar Star crew departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020 https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5941169/uscgc-polar-star-crew-departs-seattle-operation-deep-freeze-2020 USCGC Polar Star crew departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

SEATTLE — The crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) departed Tuesday commencing their annual deployment to Antarctica where the cutter and crew will support Operation Deep Freeze 2020, a joint military service mission to resupply U.S. interests in Antarctica.

“We set out today on an important mission, saying goodbye to the friends and families who have supported us and our ship for the past seven-months since we returned from Operation Deep Freeze 2019,” said Capt. Gregory Stanclik, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “We are looking forward to this year’s mission to McMurdo Station with a ship that is running the best it has since reactivation. This mission is critical to the United States and our continued strategic presence on the Antarctic Continent and I have the best crew possible to ensure we safely accomplish our goal.”

Homeported in Seattle, the 43-year-old Coast Guard cutter is the United States’ last remaining operational heavy icebreaker. This is the cutter’s seventh deployment in as many years to directly support the resupply of McMurdo Station – the United States’ main logistics hub in Antarctica.

Each year, the crew aboard the 399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar Star create a navigable path through seasonal and multi-year ice, sometimes as much as 21-feet thick, to allow a resupply vessel to reach McMurdo Station. The supply delivery allows Antarctic stations to stay operational year-round, including during the dark and tumultuous winter.

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is showing its age. Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the Polar Star spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, the cutter returns to dry dock in order to complete critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze mission.

The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965, and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

In the fiscal year 2019 budget, Congress appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new polar security cutter this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second.

The Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, working through an integrated program office, awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., a fixed price incentive contract in April for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, including options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

“The Coast Guard greatly appreciates the strong support from both the Administration and Congress for funding the polar security cutter program,” said Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard. “These new cutters are absolutely vital to achieving our national strategic objectives in the Polar Regions – presence equals influence, and we must be present to meet the Nation’s national security and economic needs there in the future.”

4 thoughts on “Polar Sea Sails for McMurdo, and We Need Six PSC

  1. You are definitely reading to much into it.
    It should be noted that in the ‘Sept. 19, 2019, Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress’, twice states that the “Polar Security Cutter (PSC) Program” as a whole to “…acquire/acquisition of three new heavy polar icebreakers, to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new medium polar icebreakers…”
    That’s six(6).
    If you ask me by now emphasizing the need for six PSCs they are pushing back on the ‘CRS report’ bringing up repeated recommendations to acquire four(4) common design vessels. With three(3) being built ‘science-ready’ and the 4th ‘fully science capable’

  2. The USCG and US Navy don’t really know how much “life” is left in the hull and engines of the Polar Star and those are the main issues. How many years can the Polar Star sail to Antarctica based on $15M worth of annual repairs? Some systems have been totally upgraded and removed. I think that the reports that parts were bought from eBay are over-hyped as the USCG stays vague and politically correct as to America’s only heavy icebreaker’s repairs.

    It’ll be great if the USCG can afford at least two heavy icebreakers that are new and that work well. I agree that six new heavy icebreakers make more sense than three heavy and three medium. Antarctica is the most important mission of a USCG icebreaker and the Healy can serve as a medium icebreaker for decades to come.

    As for icebreaker armament, that’s anyone’s guess. If the Russians start installing gun turrets and cargo container cruise missiles, then I think that would be very hard for the USCG to match that level of firepower although the USA now does have cruise missiles that can fire from cargo containers. These decisions are based on the threat and diplomatic levels within the Intelligence circles.

    • Weaponized Containers aren’t something New or even thought up by the Russians. The First use of the Weapon Container (i.e. Unit Container BT) was in 1916, during a Punitive Expedition into Mexico of the same year. Most Modern Military Systems in use in the 21st century is “Containerized”, including the Leonardo (exOto Melara) Mk.75 3-inch (76.2×635.5mm) Naval Gun mounted on a StanFlex (i.e. Standard Flexible) Shipping Container…

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