The US Naval Institute News service reports that Air Force Lt. Gen. Glen VanHerck, nominee to the post of NORTHCOM commander, “told a Senate panel he would support placing a base for the Coast Guard’s new icebreaker fleet in the Arctic.”
That could mean different things. Is it a support base or a home base? There has been talk of a base in the Alaskan Arctic for a while now (here and here). The Alaska Congressional delegation would obvious like investment in additional infrastructure in Alaska.
If the thought is that one or more icebreaker should be homeported at a new port in the Arctic, or anywhere in Alaska, that would be a mistake. The benefits of proximity to the operating are proportional to the number of sorties. The fewer sorties to the operating area, the less important. The Polar Security Cutters will probably have the greatest endurance of any ships in the Coast Guard. They will probably deploy to the Arctic only once or twice a year at most. There are a number of other important considerations.
Where will the ships go into dry dock? Ideally, it should be in their homeport. At least there should be good, reasonably priced, frequent transportation between the homeport and the location of the dry dock.
Where will the crew train? Both as teams and as individuals? A lot of training is done at Naval Bases. How easy is it to get there? There are travel costs to consider.
We should consider the quality of life of both the crew and the dependents. Spouses frequently have careers of their own. Families need or want a second income. Will spouses, who want to work, be able to find a job? A good job, in their career field?
For the next few year we can really only consider what will happen to the first three Polar Security Cutters.
- For logistics and support reasons, we will want to base all three of the first Polar Security Cutters together.
- We know the first and second will be used primarily in support of operations in Antarctica.
- Even when we get three, we would not be able to say that number three will never deploy south.
So basing any of the first three PSCs in Alaska is unnecessary, unwise, and perhaps unworkable.