Nice piece on USCGC Healy’s current voyage circumnavigating North America from the Seattle Times.
The Navy League’s Seapower website reports,
In a flight that originated from its Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC) near Grand Forks, North Dakota, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew a company-owned MQ-9A “Big Wing” configured unmanned aircraft system north through Canadian airspace past the 78th parallel, the company said in a Sept. 10 release.
A traditional limitation of long-endurance UAS has been their inability to operate at extreme northern (and southern) latitudes, as many legacy SATCOM datalinks can become less reliable above the Arctic (or below the Antarctic) Circle – approximately 66 degrees north. At those latitudes, the low-look angle to geostationary Ku-band satellites begins to compromise the link. GA-ASI has demonstrated a new capability for effective ISR operations by performing a loiter at 78.31° North, using Inmarsat’s L-band Airborne ISR Service (LAISR).
The 78th parallel lies more than 1200 nautical miles North of Kodiak. Getting any kind of air recon that far north, other than perhaps icebreaker based helicopters, has always been difficult.
Even our icebreakers have difficulty communicating. Satellite coverage at these high latitudes is spotty at best.
The ability to operate UAS in this environment could substantially improve our Polar Domain Awareness and serve as a communications relay for multiunit operations in the Arctic or Antarctic.
The high altitude capability of these aircraft also provides a far larger view than would be possible from a helicopters. The horizon distance from 45,000 feet is about 250 nautical miles.
Just passing this along.
The US Naval Institute has a nice piece of Coast Guard history available from the latest Naval History magazine. It concerns a very fast, armored rum runner, and how it was ultimately brought to heal.
There is also a story in the same issue of Naval History about Alaska Patrol fisheries enforcement by USCGC Confidence in the 1970s, probably 1975-77. I had left Confidence in 1974.
Two stories from the “Old Days.”
Below is a District 17 News release regarding USCGC Polar Star’s unusual Winter Arctic deployment. (I did do some editing to remove repetition in the photo captions.)
Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star conducts research, collects valuable high-latitude data to expand knowledge of remote Arctic region
JUNEAU, Alaska — The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) arrived in Juneau, Friday, for a logistics stop as the crew nears the end of their months-long Arctic deployment conducting scientific research and protecting the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the polar region.
In addition to Polar Star’s strategic national security objectives, the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker sailed north with scientists and researchers aboard to work in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to gather data and lessen the void of information from the region and better understand how to operate year-round in Arctic waters.
“The Arctic is cold, dark, and difficult to navigate in the winter,” said Capt. Bill Woityra, the Polar Star’s commanding officer. “Deploying with researchers and scientists aboard has aided in the development, understanding and pursuit of technologies that will mitigate risks and enable future mission performance so that looking forward, the Coast Guard can safely operate continually and effectively in this remote environment.”
Working aboard Polar Star, Shalane Regan, a member of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC), teamed up with Lt. Lydia Ames, a NOAA Corps officer to assist CRREL researchers by deploying buoys onto the ice where they will, over time, collect and transmit information about ice flow to help fill in data gaps for higher latitude oceans.
The Polar Star crew also aided in a research project concerning water flow regimes in the Arctic, specifically the Chukchi Sea, a study developed by Dr. Robert Pickart of WHOI. The data collected during Polar Star’s patrol will be used to develop a more complete understanding of the hydrology of the dynamic region.
To support Dr. Pickart’s research, WHOI provided 120 Expendable Conductivity-Temperature- Depth (XCTD) instruments to measure temperature and salinity. These profiles of the water column will give a better picture of what water and nutrient flow look like in the Arctic winter. Polar Star crew members deployed the probes every 12 hours when above 65 degrees north.
Additionally, Regan, who is a mechanical engineer and researcher with the RDC Surface Branch, worked with other scientists and researchers on board to find ways to operate most effectively in the frigid Arctic environment.
For technology, Regan brought a 3D printer and Remotely Operated Vehicle aboard Polar Star to evaluate how the systems would react to the Arctic climate and ship life.
“I used the 3D printer to complete many small projects that resulted in large lifestyle improvements for the crew,” said Regan. “Most importantly, the knowledge I was able to gather about larger issues the crew faces, for example, visibility issues due to frost accumulation on the bridge windows, I can take home for my team to develop solutions that will create a better-equipped, mission-ready fleet.”
Another big item the RDC team is focusing on is underway connectivity, specifically in the Arctic region.
To better understand high latitude communications, The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) was installed on Polar Star to test its abilities at high latitudes in the harsh Arctic winter conditions. Developed for the U.S. Navy by Lockheed Martin, the MUOS is an ultra-high frequency satellite communications system that provides secure connections for mobile forces.
“Looking towards the future, all signs point toward the Coast Guard deploying more platforms to the Arctic, more often and during different seasons of the year,” said Woityra. “The Coast Guard is robustly proficient at summer-time Arctic operations, while winter presents an entirely new set of challenges. Polar Star’s winter Arctic deployment has served to better understand and prepare for the challenges of operating in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.”
The cutter will be visiting Juneau to close out its operational patrol and will be moored downtown through the weekend. Due to COVID-19, the cutter will not be open to the public for tours.
Below is a Coast Guard District 17 news release.
United States and Russia sign Joint Contingency Plan for pollution response in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.
U.S. Coast Guard sent this bulletin at 02/02/2021 03:42 PM EST
U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska
United States and Russia sign Joint Contingency Plan for pollution response in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Coast Guard and the Russian Federation’s Marine Rescue Service recently signed the 2020 Joint Contingency Plan of the United States of America & the Russian Federation in Combating Pollution on the Bering & Chukchi Seas.
On Feb. 1, 2021, the Acting Director Andrey Khaustov of the Russian Federation’s Marine Rescue Service (MRS) and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Operations, Vice Adm. Scott Buschman signed the 2020 update to the Joint Contingency Plan (JCP), which is a bilateral agreement focused on preparing for and responding to transboundary maritime pollution incidents. The updated JCP promotes a coordinated system for planning, preparing and responding to pollutant substance incidents in the waters between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. and Russian Federation have shared a cooperative bilateral agreement on trans-boundary marine pollution preparedness and response in this area since 1989. The newest JCP revision requires joint planning and trans-boundary exercise efforts to be coordinated by a Joint Planning Group led by Coast Guard District Seventeen and is guided by a non-binding two-year work plan. In addition, the updated JCP creates the new International Coordinating Officer role to help facilitate the critical sharing of information during coordinated response efforts.
“This is an important agreement between the U.S and the Russian Federation that ensures coordination between respective authorities and actively promotes the protection of our shared interests in these environmentally and culturally significant trans-boundary waters,” said Vice Adm. Scott Buschman, U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations. “We look forward to continuing our necessary and productive relationship with the Marine Rescue Service and the opportunity to conduct joint training and exercises in the near future in order to ensure the protection of our nations’ critical natural resources.”
The shared maritime boundary between the U.S. and Russia in the Bering and Chukchi seas has notoriously poor weather conditions and limited resources to respond to pollution incidents. This plan primarily addresses international collaboration matters and as such is meant to augment each Country’s national response system as well as state, regional, and sub-regional (local) plans. In the United States, the operational aspects of the plan fall under the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventeenth District Commander and Sector Anchorage.
A PACAREA news release. Apparently operating in the Arctic in the Winter still holds some surprises. Nice photos too.
A Break in the Silence: Anecdote from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker’s winter Arctic patrol
Co-written by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham & Petty Officer 2nd Class Tedd Meinersmann
Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.
On a months-long winter mission to project U.S. presence and sovereignty into the Arctic, and to conduct scientific research in the remote area, the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker, is using its one-of-a-kind capability to navigate the dark polar wilderness.
After departing Seattle, crossing the Gulf of Alaska and transiting the Bering Sea’s treacherous waters, where 20-foot swells mercilessly tossed the mighty Coast Guard ship, the resilient crew traversed the Arctic Circle into equally windy, but far calmer, ice-bound waters.
After a few dark days and nights of the Polar Star methodically backing and ramming northbound through the Chukchi Sea’s heavy blanket of sea ice, crewmembers started to chatter about something keeping them up at night.
The polar sailors, many who sleep in staterooms on a lower deck of the ship, were taking collective notice of a persistently clamorous sound.
Though the crew who serves aboard Polar Star are not strangers to ice-serenaded work and slumber, this Arctic patrol was audibly different than prior, more routine icebreaking deployments to the opposite end of the world.
Polar Star annually travels to world’s southernmost continent in support of Operation Deep Freeze where skilled ice pilots drive the powerful ship through ice up to 21-feet thick. The icebreaking mission opens critical navigation channels for other ships allowing for essential supplies to be delivered to scientists conducting research at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
When, earlier in 2020, Operation Deep Freeze was cancelled due to COVID-19 safety concerns at the station, the Polar Star crew instead headed north on the Chukchi Sea – farther north than any U.S. surface ship ever travelled in the winter – in support of the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy.
Navigating one of the world’s most northern frozen oceans presented the Polar Star crew an auditory experience far different than its southern sister ice. No two crewmembers describe the omnipresent sound of patrolling the Chukchi Sea similarly and creative metaphors for labeling the noise quickly became an amusing way for the crew to make light of the often palpable noise.
Like screeches and bangs from a perpetual car crash, a blaring elephant, freight train, or driving through concrete, freshly broken Arctic sea ice, scraping alongside the Polar Star’s hull, holds the likeness of screaming. It was a mysterious conundrum leaving many of the crew wide-eyed and wondering “why is this Arctic ice so loud?”
Fortunately, the Polar Star deployed north with a handful of scientists and researchers to advise the command and collect Arctic data in an effort to lessen the void of information available from the region. Evan Neuwirth, an ice analyst from the U.S. National Ice Center in Washington, D.C., is aboard Polar Star and proposed a theory about why navigating through Arctic ice is so noisy.
Neuwirth said temperature may be the greatest factor contributing to the sound heard while icebreaking. Sea ice in the winter is generally more dense, cold and brittle than in the summer. When winter Arctic ice strikes or rubs alongside the Polar Star’s exterior, more of the impact energy is transferred to the hull which results in a louder noise. Ice the crew experiences on their southern summer patrols is warmer and softer, making it more likely to compress and crush on impact with Polar Star – resulting in the absorption of energy that would otherwise result in a lot of noise.
To best understand his theory, Neuwirth said to think of what it would sound like to throw a snowball at the ship’s hull versus a solid chunk of ice.
The winter Arctic air and ice is so cold, often well below zero with the wind temperature factored in, that even after being broken into pieces, the ice chunks remain rock-hard creating the notorious noise made in the process that has, for the most part, been accepted by the crew as part of their unique, historic polar experience.
By experiencing and operating in one of the world’s most remote and harsh environments, the Polar Star crew is gaining critical familiarity of the Arctic necessary to develop and train future polar sailors and advance U.S. interests and power in the region.
As the Polar Star’s understanding of the Arctic grows by the day, one thing the crew knows for sure is that patrolling the frozen winter world above the Arctic Circle is desolate, dark and serene, but from aboard the Coast Guard Polar Star – it’s far from silent.
Military.Com’s 4 Jan., 2021 podcast, “Left of Boom,” has an interview with RAdm. Matthew Bell, Commander District 17, Is the US Losing the Fight for Arctic Dominance? | Military.com
It is a little over a half hour. If you don’t want to listen to the podcast, an edited transcript is provided. Just continue to scroll down below the audio (an unusual and appreciated addition).
Don’t think there are any real surprises here, but the discussion does remind us of how large the area is, how little infrastructure there is, and how few Coast Guard units are in the area.
When I was assigned to Midgett, we medivaced a South Korean fishermen. A purse seine wire had parted and, whipping across the deck. It took off a leg. We sailed to meet them well out the Bering Sea. Used our helicopter to bring him to the ship and then turned toward Dutch Harbor trying to get close enough to transport by helo to a hospital there. We lost him during the night still many hours from the launch point.
The other things that stands out for me, are the importance of subsistence hunting and fishing and the cooperative relationship with the Russian Border Guard.
Thanks to the reader who brought this to my attention. Sorry I lost track of who it was.
” A Pacific storm of record proportions swept a remote stretch of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain on New Year’s Eve, battering a region…The center of what forecasters refer to as “bomb cyclone” was measured at a record-low barometric pressure of 921 millibars, equivalent to the eye of a Category 4 hurricane and the lowest documented over the Aleutians as far back as the 1950s.
The storm unleashed seas as high as 54 feet (16.5 meters) and winds topping 80 miles per hour (120 kph) – a force of Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale – in the western Aleutians, the weather service said.
Someone had a rough ride. Shemya was in the epicenter of the storm. Seems we have been seeing increasing reports of unusually severe weather in Alaska and the Arctic.
US Naval Institute News Service reports Polar Star will deploy to the Arctic in December. We knew this was coming, but we have been short of details of when and for how long. This at least indicates it will begin in December. (I will speculate, she will be gone about three months, returning in March to provide a little inport time before going into the yard.)
There seem to be a couple of errors in the story.
“For the first time in almost five decades, the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker won’t be supporting Antarctic scientific missions in coming months…”
Coast Guard heavy icebreaker support has not been continuous over that period, at least once, and I believe more than once, the McMurdo break-in was done by non-Coast Guard icebreakers, either contracted foreign icebreakers or the National Science Foundation’s own smaller icebreaker.
“This would be the first Coast Guard operation in the Arctic Ocean since August 1994 when a now-deactivated heavy icebreaker with a Canadian Coast Guard heavy icebreaker reached the North Pole.”
This seems to be missing a qualifier. The Coast Guard has certainly operated in the Arctic since August 1994. There is better information on Polar class operations in the Arctic here, in a Military.com report.
“It will be the first deployment of a U.S. Polar-class icebreaker to the Arctic on a non-science mission (emphasis applied–Chuck) since August 1994, when the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea, now inactive, became one of the first two American surface ships to reach the North Pole.
“In 1998, Polar Star spent three months in the region on a science mission. And in 2009, the Polar Sea conducted a three-month Arctic deployment, also dedicated solely to science.”