The US Naval Institute News reports that
“The Coast Guard for the first time in years sent one of its medium-endurance cutters to the Atlantic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, as the sea service joins the U.S. and Canadian navies for a yearly maritime exercise.”
This is Operation NANOOK-TUUGAALIK 2020, the maritime portion of Operation NANOOK. In past years, when the Coast Guard participated, we usually sent a buoy tender. I don’t believe it has ever happened before, but this year the US Navy is sending a destroyer. According to Naval Technology,
“Participating assets include USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) guided-missile destroyer, the Royal Canadian Navy ships HMCS Glace Bay, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and MV Asterix; DDG 116, US Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) 46.2, the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tahoma, French Navy coastal patrol vessel FS Fulmar, and the Royal Danish Navy frigate HDMS Triton.” (Photos below–Chuck)
The Navy seems to be particularly concerned about doing small boat ops in the Arctic environment.
“We’ve really heavily relied on partners, including the Coast Guard, who have recent experience operating there,” he said.
Wow, it’s kinda apropos that the day after I posted my question regarding wether the Hertiage Class OPC are being constructed with ice-strenghten hull or not, this article apprears in USNI. (thanks for the posting it Chuck) Along with your reply to my question and this article they kinda answer my bigger question. Does the CG’s WHEC or WMEC normal patrol in the Arctic (Altantic or Pacfic). As I somewhat assumed the CG has a long history of doing so “The Coast Guard has operated in the Arctic as the nation’s primary maritime presence for 150 years” but as not been doing so for decades “We haven’t had a medium-endurance cutter north of the Arctic Circle in the Atlantic in decades, so we’re excited about that,” Schultz said.” “This is a general trend, but I think it’s an increasing trend of human activity in the Arctic, opening waterways, but also growing international interest in resources and sources of protein,” Poulin said. “And obviously interest in strategy positioning, global strategic positioning. So I think it’s important that we continue to showcase our mutual commitment to safety, security and environmental protection.”
So if this is going to become more of a normal trend for the CG (and the Navy) shouldn’t we be building WHEC or WMEC that are capable of operating in that environment during the seaonal summer thaw. I realize we are building a new class of Icebreakers, (hopefully we will get six of them) but two of them will be committed to the Antarctica mission, is the remaining one or possibly four enough for the Arctic mission. Just asking. If not, as you point out Chuck some of the Hertiage Class ships need to build to support them operating in the Arctic. If not maybe the CG should consider building a few (6) of the Canadian Navy Harry DeWolf Class ships.
This is just my best guess. Regarding the use of the six icebreakers, as you say, two for Antarctica. Probably sending two down together to allow a rescue if necessary. The third heavy icebreaker would be in the Arctic during the Northern winter. The other three, which could be medium icebreakers, will rotate through the Artic the rest of the year.
The Canadian DeWolfs could be used as a baseline for a Medium Icebreaker. They would need some more HP but they are Ice Class 5 with a Class 4 bow section. In theory it shouldn’t be too hard to lengthen and strengthen it. As has been said before, it is very lightly armed with only a 25mm gun so that might be an issue if they want some more weaponry.
On another note, there is a continuing push for a deep water Arctic port and possible international porting of a PSC. https://news.usni.org/2020/07/28/northcom-nominee-supports-building-new-u-s-arctic-base-for-icebreakers Maybe Kodiak for a homeport? There is a deep water port at Thule AFB in Greenland but permanently stationing a cutter there would be tough. There is also the possibility of Halifax or St. Johns Newfoundland if we can play nice.
Yes, I will probably write a post on why basing an icebreaker in Alaska is not a good idea.
The Alaskan Arctic lacks the military naval infrastructure outside of the USAF and US Army to support an icebreaker being shadowed, stalked, under threat, or attacked in the ocean or on base. There will be no nearby Marines at a base to storm and rescue it, no SWAT, no SEALs, no AAW or ASW defenses. That is why I think Seattle with the Navy, USMC, and USAF is a wiser choice to escort and provide security to the few precious new USCG icebreakers when docked at port.
To me is is access to shipyards, access to training, ease of travel, and quality of life for the crew members. All much more available in the lower 48.
Whether or not the Canadian Arctic and offshore patrol ship (AOPS) would be a suitable parent design candidate depends on where the operational requirements of the USCG medium icebreakers sit on a scale where one end represents an open-water offshore patrol vessel (such as NSC or OPC) and the other a no-compromise icebreaker (beyond PSC). AOPS is somewhere in the middle and some might call it a compromise design which is fairly slow and heavy for an OPV but does not have the ice-going capability of an icebreaker.
A lot of people have the same opinion of the AOPS, that perhaps it is too compromised to make either a good icebreaker or a good offshore patrol vessel.
My thought on the US version of AOPS was that it would be OPC (not an icebreaker) with ice strengthen hull able to operate in the Arctic during the seaonal summer thaw. I think to would make better sense to build a few of the Heritage Class with that ability, if not I saw the AOPS design as a alternative.
I agree with Chuck’s best guess regarding usage of the six PSC (I do believe if we get all six they all will be build on the same hull with similar capablities. It more cost affective and politically judcoius to kept a hot production line running) If this become the norm, with 3-4 PSC rolationally patroling the Arctic is that enough of a US maritime present in the area to deter Russian or Chinese. The PSC will be multi-purpose vessels but they are not combat vessels in the way the WHEC or WMEC are or can be. My thought is do we need more of the military presents/posture in the Arctic other than icebreakers, and if so doesn’t that role fall largely on the CG?
Icebreakers will not deter Russian or Chinese vessels from coming into the Arctic because they have every right to be there and to transit the ice free routes if they desire. That is our position and it does set us somewhat in opposition to the Russians and the Canadians who believe they should be allowed to control access to the Northern Sea Route and the North West Passage respectfully.
What we do want to prevent is exploitation of mineral and fisheries wealth in the US EEZ and possible other illegal activity.
I suspect we are also going to need to do a lot of defense related construction in the Arctic that will require icebreakers to allow access, construction, maintenance and resupply.
I guess I shouild have been clearer. You are correct they have every right to be in and transit international water. What I meant by deter was to be a counter balance to they possible illegal activity and intimidation in the area.
Alan, I just wanted to make sure no one misunderstood.
Not a problem, thanks catching my oversight and providing clarification.
A bit more information about both Navy and Coast Guard expectations. Exercise runs through Aug 24. https://www.businessinsider.com/navy-putting-survival-gear-back-on-ships-for-arctic-operations-2020-8
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