Maritime Reporter and Engineering News has a brief, four page, report on the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter (PSC) (heavy icebreaker) program written by marine consultant, lawyer, and retired USCG Captain Dennis L. Bryant, Academy class of 1968.
There is not a lot new here if you have been following this website, but it is a good summary.
While it is true that, “The design of the PSC is based on that of the German polar research and supply icebreaker Polarstern II,” we now know that while Polarstern II was supposed to have been the parent design for the PSC, that project was cancelled and no contract for its construction was ever awarded.
Looking at the current plan for three heavy and three medium icebreakers, he suggests that the Coast Guard,
“…consider the alternative of three heavy polar icebreakers utilizing the current design and then have three other heavy polar icebreakers constructed on the same hull and propulsion design, but with greater emphasis on oceanographic and atmospheric research in polar waters. Utilizing the same hull and propulsion design will save time and money in the construction phase.”
Since the price has come down and should continue to do so with each successive ship, building more ships of basically the same configuration makes sense. There are already plans to provide space for science and research.
Presumably, at least the first two PSCs, and perhaps all three, will be assigned primarily to work in the Antarctic. The second class will probably work primarily in the Arctic. Operating frequently in the US EEZ, enforcing US laws and regulations, it makes sense to arm them more like other large cutters, like the NSC or OPC. In view of the apparent improvements being made to projectiles for the 57mm Mk110, a good fit might be two of these, one forward and one aft, to provide 360 defensive coverage. Using two of these weapons rather than one of 57mm and a second different weapon like the Phalanx, would minimize requirements for training and spares.
If things become confrontational in Antarctica, asI expect they will, these more heavily armed icebreakers could be used there as well.
I think you have it backwards. Conflict and heavy icebreakers in the Arctic, research in the Antarctic near McMurdo.
The Antarctic is peaceful for now, that is why the more heavily armed PSCs would be primarily expected to go to the Arctic. But in the more distant future, competition for Antarctica is likely to heat up. All you have to do is look at the immediately preceding post. I had intended to link to it. Will do that, thanks for the reminder.
Just how defensible is a slow 22k ton vessel in ice strewn waters? Not very. War up there (or down there!) will be in the air or below the surface. Yes fit a gun for constabulary reasons, but defensive? Not realistic.
Reminds me of how the pragmatic and brave Captain Barker took HMS Endurance in the Falklands War having to go south into the ice flows to hide from the ARA. He knew his ship was a sitting duck and his crew had no hope of survival in the cold seas if they took damage.
It is a very different environment. How will anti ship torpedoes and sea skimming cruise missiles operate in the presence of ice ridges?
If there is a major conflict in either the Arctic or Antarctic, the icebreakers will become essentially auxiliaries which are in smaller numbers than any other US Naval Auxiliary. We will not want to loose any. They would not be operating alone, but while other units would provide the primary defense, they would need terminal defense capability for leakers.
In the Arctic, both the Russians and NATO have air bases around the area, but no one will be operating high performance combat aircraft off the Antarctic land mass. Aircraft Carriers can operate off shore, and currently this favors the US. There may also be mobile missile launchers, but the conflict is not going to look anything like a conflict in Europe in terms of the amount of combat power/square kilometer.
Short of a major conflict we don’t want to put our icebreakers in a position where they can be intimidated by opposing nations’ armed icebreakers.
Two 57mm Mk110s is barely more than needed for constabulary needs anyway.
A couple of SEARAMs too?
Would like to see them fitted for SeaRAM even if they are not installed. Good thing about the 57mm Mk110 is that they are already in the Coast Guard system. SeaRAM is not that much different from Phalanx, but we will have many more Mk110s in the Coast Guard than Phalanx.
I am surprised you haven’t made a case for ship launched torpedoes yet Chuck! 😉 🙂
@x, I know you are just pulling my chain, but I will take the opportunity to talk about it, since it is one of my favorite topics, and I don’t want any misunderstandings.
For the icebreakers I am thinking in terms of defending the ship as an essential element of a task force with a mission that involves getting through ice.
The light weight anti-surface torpedoes I have long advocated, would be for preventing a largish terrorist controlled vessel from reaching its target. For that reason the highest priorities for the torpedoes would be craft that would be most likely to be in a position to respond to such a threat–WPCs and WPBs. Although I would put them on larger cutters as well.
Chuck, this seems a bit ‘on topic’
Xue Long 2 is “a more capable version” of Xue Long in the same way as USCGC Mackinaw is a slightly smaller version of USCGC Healy. Also, how exactly China’s icebreaking capability “is greater than that of the US”?
Sorry for the above rant – it was directed towards the factual errors in the tweet.
However, what is correct is that even Xue Long 2 is not actually classified as an “icebreaker” – it is an ice-capable polar research vessel. Furthermore, the old Xue Long is a converted Arctic cargo ship with fairly low ice-going capability.
Not related to the chosen PSC design but I found something I have not seen before, Bollingers proposal for the PSC. I don’t think I have seen it anywhere else before.
Sounds similar to the design that won, but about a third more powerful.
Fincantieri’s PSC proposal, on the other hand, has disappeared from their website. However, a direct link to their brochure still works in case someone wants to do side-by-side comparison:
Click to access FMG-18-346-Polar-Security-Cutter-Brochure-web-sp.pdf