Norway’s Coast Guard Jan Mayen-class vessel

Norway’s Coast Guard Jan Mayen-class vessel (Picture source: Vard)

We have some new information on Norway’s three new very large ice capable Arctic patrol ships. Naval News reports they will be equipped with inertial navigation systems and we have the artist’s concept above I had not seen previously.

“We’re very proud to be supporting the Norwegian Coast Guard in securing Norway’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), internal and territorial waters.”, states Regis Blomme, Sales Director at iXblue. “The arctic zone, in which the new vessels will operate, is a very challenging environment and our Fiber-Optic Gyroscope (FOG) based INS and Netans NDDCS have already proven to offer highly accurate, resilient, and secure navigation in such Northern latitudes. We particularly want to thank Vard for their strong vote of confidence in our technology and look forward to our collaboration with them.”

As we noted earlier,

“Deliveries of the three vessels are scheduled from Vard Langsten in Norway in 1Q 2022, 1Q 2023 and 1Q 2024 respectively. The hulls will be built at Vard’s Tulcea, Romania, shipyard…”

Specifications are:

  • Displacement: 9,800 tons
  • Length: 136.4 meters (447.4 ft) loa
  • Beam: 22 meters (72.16 ft)
  • Draft: 6.2 meter (20.3 ft)
  • Speed: 22 knots.

Note–VARD is also the designer for the Offshore Patrol Cutters.

“Is the US Losing the Fight for Arctic Dominance?” –Military.com

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 Blue Arctic, a Strategic Blue Print for the Arctic” –Dept. of the Navy

This map show the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) within the Arctic: Canada (purple), Greenland (orange), Iceland (green), Norway (turquoise), Russia (light blue), and USA (dark blue). As sea ice reduces there will be more opportunity for ice to drift from one EEZ to another, which has implications for the potential spread of pollutants.
Credit: DeRepentigny et al., 2020

Naval News has a short interview/critique of the new, 28 page, Navy publication, New U.S. Strategic Blueprint for a Blue Arctic is No Revolution – Naval News

 “Are the options outlined under “Build a More Capable Arctic Naval Force” enough to close the gap in your opinion?

“Timothy Choi – In short, no. No options are actually outlined. The document only serves to remind the navy that yes, Arctic conditions should be kept in mind when building future naval forces, without any indication on what kind of forces will be necessary. This is part of the problem with the “blueprint” – the Arctic is discussed in such general terms that it becomes impossible to give specific directions when it comes to force structure requirements and composition. For instance, the Russian submarine threat in northern Europe requires a very different set of capabilities than helping the coast guard monitor the EEZ off Alaska. Even worse, the USCG is only mentioned briefly even though any Arctic naval force development around North America would have to be done in close coordination with the USCG’s icebreaking capabilities. If a “blueprint” is supposed to describe in minute details the components of a completed ship design, this document is a long way from that and is closer to an initial Request for Information.”

The Naval News post includes a link or you can go directly to the document here: ARCTIC BLUEPRINT 2021 FINAL.PDF (defense.gov)

“New Year’s Eve Storm Breaks North Pacific Record” –gCaptain

Image NOAA

gCaptain reports,

” 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.

“Arctic Operations: We Really, Really Need the Right Equipment and an Arctic Port” –EagleSpeak

Conceptual illustration, Finland’s squadron 2020 corvette

Naval blog “EagleSpeak” decries our inability of operate surface warships in the Arctic, but this is his bottom line

“Fault finding will get us nowhere, the need is to look to our allies who operate in these waters and see if, among the hull types we need they have some ice-hardened ships whose designs we can obtain. Now.”

If we do want to do that, there is really only one choice, Finland’s new ice capable corvette we talked about here. The original post is now more than five years old, but updated information is in the comments, much of which I have linked below.

Fortunately they are already designed to us a great deal of familiar equipment much of it from US manufacturers.

They will use the same 57mm gun used by the NSC, OPC, and both classes of LCS.

They will use the Sea Giraffe radar common to the OPC and Independence class LCS.

They will use ESSM surface to air missiles, a standard item on most US surface combatants, apparently to be launched from Mk41 VLS.

The Finns will be using the Israeli Gabriel V as their surface to surface missile, but it should be relatively easy to substitute a standard US surface to surface missile, particularly the Naval Strike Missile, which is considerably smaller.

The sonars currently planned are from Kongsberg Maritime AS. If not replaced by US sourced units, they would be unique in the US fleet but the hull mounted “SS2030 sonars will be delivered to the Finnish Navy complete with hoistable hull units and ice protection to ensure safe and efficient operation in the often harsh conditions of the Baltic Sea.”  The variable depth “SD9500 is a light and compact over-the-side dipping sonar with outstanding horizontal and vertical positioning capabilities for diver detection, ASW duties and volumetric survey assignments in shallow, reverberation-limited waters.”

They would be unique among US warships in being able to both lay and counter mines.

Propulsion is CODLAG, combined diesel electric and gas turbine. Four diesel generators producing 7,700 KW (10326 HP) provide power for cruise (probably about 20 knots). A GE LM2500 gas turbine provides over 26 knot sprint speed. This is the same gas turbine that powers the NSC, Burke class destroyers, the new FFG, and numerous other ships. It is the most common gas turbine in the world.

The propellers were developed with the help of the US Navy.

“The propellers are a minor project on their own, and are set to be of a highly advanced design. This is due to the somewhat conflicting demands of high top-speed, small diameter (due to overall draught requirement), and low noise (and high cavitation margin). All this, while at the same time being strong enough to cope with ice.”

Its primary characteristics are reported to be:

  • Length: 114 m (374 ft)
  • Beam: 16 m (52 ft)
  • Displacement: 3,900 tonnes (3,800 long tons; 4,300 short tons)
  • Crew: 70 to 120 sailors
  • Speed: 26+ knots

This makes about 13% smaller than the OPC or NSC, but 30% larger than the 378s. First of class is expected to be completed 2024.

We could buy the plans and then compete procurement in a US shipyard. These might be built concurrently with the OPCs, possibly replacing some of them. Ten units could give a two squadrons, one for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific. In wartime that would almost guarantee the ability to keep three underway in either ocean.

“Russia’s New Long-Endurance Arctic Research Vessel Might Be The Ugliest Ship We’ve Seen” –The Drive

Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg, part of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, launched the North Pole on December 18, 2020

The Drive reports the launch of a truly ugly, but interesting vessel. This may not really be Coast Guard related, but it is Arctic related. Think of this as similar to the recent use of the German Icebreaker Polarstern to winter over, drifting in the Arctic. Only this will not be for just for one year, but probably almost every winter for the rest of its life.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.

Authorization (not money) for Six Icebreakers and Better Comms in the Arctic

The Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as part of the Polar Scout project. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

Breaking Defense reports the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes six icebreakers for the Coast Guard and better satellite communications for the polar regions.

Not really a reason to get too excited yet. Authorization does not include any money. There was already general bipartisan acceptance of the idea that the Coast Guard needs new icebreakers with the 3 heavy and 3 mediums apparently seen as reasonable. Funding ($555M) for the second Polar Security Cutter was requested by the administration and agreed to by both Senate and House oversight committees, so should be in the FY2021 budget.

The addition of better comms may be the best news in the NDAA for the Coast Guard. It has been a major problem in US Arctic operations.

“Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star Bound for the Arctic in December” –USNI

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, January 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.US Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

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.”

“Military activity is picking up in the quiet waters between the US and Russia” and a Deep Water Port at Nome

Northeast Russia and Alaska are in close proximity and the U.S. Coast Guard will interact more and more as Russian maritime activity in the Arctic grows. Photo: Shutterstock

Business Insider gives us a post about the strategic importance of the Bering Sea and Aleutians. In addition, there is some news about the proposed “Arctic” deepwater port.

The US Army Corps of Engineers recently approved plans to expand the port of Nome, on Alaska’s Bering coast. That “will not only help from a national-security perspective but … help [local communities] to reduce the cost of living,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said at another event in October.

CRS, “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress Updated November 11, 2020”

Since our last look at this report, there have been four updates. (See the latest version here.)

We now have the Senate Appropriations Committee’s (SAC) views on this part of the FY2021 DHS Appropriations Act. The Senate committee, like its counterpart in the House, has recommended approval of the Administration request for $555M that would fund the second Polar Security Cutter.

I have reproduced the section on Senate Activity (page 25/26) below. Note there is also mention of renovation of the Polar Star and acquisition of a future Great Lakes icebreaker as well:


Senate

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in the explanatory statement for S. XXXX that the committee released on November 10, 2020, recommended the funding level shown in the SAC column of Table 2.

The explanatory statement states (emphasis added):

Full-Funding Policy.—The Committee again directs an exception to the administration’s current acquisition policy that requires the Coast Guard to attain the total acquisition cost for a vessel, including long lead time materials [LLTM], production costs, and postproduction costs, before a production contract can be awarded. This policy has the potential to make shipbuilding less efficient, to force delayed obligation of production funds, and to require post-production funds far in advance of when they will be used. The Department should position itself to acquire vessels in the most efficient manner within the guidelines of strict governance measures. The Committee expects the administration to adopt a similar policy for the acquisition of the Offshore Patrol Cutter [OPC] and heavy polar icebreaker.

Domestic Content.—To the maximum extent practicable, the Coast Guard is directed to
utilize components that are manufactured in the United States when contracting for new
vessels. Such components include: auxiliary equipment, such as pumps for shipboard
services; propulsion equipment, including engines, reduction gears, and propellers;
shipboard cranes; and spreaders for shipboard cranes. (Pages 71-72)

The explanatory statement also states:

Great Lakes Icebreaking Capacity.—The recommendation includes $4,000,000 for preacquisition activities for the Great Lakes Icebreaker Program for a new Great Lakes
icebreaker that is as capable as USCGC MACKINAW. The Coast Guard shall seek
opportunities to accelerate the acquisition and request legislative remedies, if necessary. Further, any requirements analysis conducted by the Coast Guard regarding overall Great Lakes icebreaking requirements shall not assume any greater assistance rendered by Canadian icebreakers than was rendered during the past two ice seasons and shall include meeting the demands of United States commerce in all U.S. waters of the Great Lakes and their harbors and connecting channels. (Page 72)

The explanatory statement also states:

Polar Ice Breaking Vessel.—The Committee recognizes the value of heavy polar icebreakers in promoting the national security and economic interests of the United States in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and recommends $555,000,000, which is the requested amount. The total recommended for this program fully supports the Polar Security Cutter program of record and provides the resources that are required to continue this critical acquisition.
Polar Star.—The recommendation includes $15,000,000 to carry out a service life extension program for the POLAR STAR to extend its service life as the Coast Guard continues to modernize its icebreaking fleet. (Page 73)