A Modest Proposal for a Containerized Weapon System

Leonardo DRS has been chosen to provide the mission equipment package (rendering pictured) atop a Stryker combat vehicle to serve as the Interim Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense system for the U.S. Army. (Courtesy of Leonardo DRS)

     After the recent report of Russia containerizing anti-air missile systems I got to thinking about containerized systems the Coast Guard might use. There are many systems that might be containerized–sonars, torpedo countermeasures, cruise missiles, drones, 120mm mortars, medical facilities, but there is one combination I found particularly appealing.
     We could tie into the Army’s attempt to develop a new short range air defense system (SHORAD) by mounting a marinized version of the SHORAD turret on a container.  The systems are meant to fire on the move, so they should be able to deal with ship’s movement. The container might be armored to some extent to protect it from splinters and small arms. The container could be equipped to provide power (external connection, generator, and battery), air conditioning, air filtration, etc as the supporting vehicle would have in the Army system.  It looks like the planned interim SHORAD system will include Stinger, Hellfire, an M230 30mm gun and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. If we could mount some additional vertical launch Hellfire in the container, so much the better.
     For the Coast Guard these might be used on icebreakers and buoy tenders when they go into contested areas. They might be mounted on the stern of FRCs in lieu of the over the horizon boat using an adapter over the stern ramp, when additional firepower is required. 
     The Army and Marines might also use these containerized systems as prefab base defense systems. As fixed ground defenses, the containers might be buried leaving only the turret above ground level.
     They could also be used on Military Sealift Command and Merchant ships to provide a degree of self defense.

CRS: “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress”/ Plus a Note on Great Lakes Icebreaker Procurement

The Congressional Research Service his issued a revised “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” updated 9 August 2019.

It includes a short appendix (Appendix E, pp 63-66) on the issue of a potential new Great Lakes icebreaker. The final paragraph of that appendix states:

“An examination of procurement costs for Mackinaw, the National Science Foundation’s ice-capable research ship Sikuliaq, new oceanographic research ships being procured for NOAA, and OPCs suggests that a new Mackinaw-sized heavy Great Lakes icebreaker built in a U.S. shipyard might have a design and construction cost between $175 million and $300 million, depending on its exact capabilities and the acquisition strategy employed. The design portion of the ship’s cost might be reduced if Mackinaw’s design or the design of some other existing icebreaker were to be used as the parent design. Depending on the capabilities and other work load of the shipyard selected to build the ship, the construction time for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker might be less than that of a new heavy polar icebreaker.”

If you would like a quick, only slightly out of date (May 2017), summary of world icebreaker fleets, take a look at Fig. B-1, page 40.

“Meet the neglected 43-year-old stepchild of the U.S. military-industrial complex” –Los Angeles Times

Great article from the Los Angeles Times about the trials, tribulations, (and joys) of being on the Polar Star, recounting her three and a half month 2018/2019 Deep Freeze.

And once again she goes into the dry dock in Vallejo, California, rather than a yard in her homeport (for 5 months). If you add it up, she spends more time in Vallejo than her homeport (3.5 months). Since she is being drydocked every year, maybe it is time to move the families closer to the shipyard. According to the article she is expected to continue in service another seven years.

Case for a Second Great Lakes Icebreaker

Launch of USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) on April 2, 2005. Photo by Peter J. Markham.

Recently in response to my post “Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Shipping: We Need Icebreakers” –Marine Link, in which I suggested that the Great Lakes icebreaker might serve as a prototype for the three planned medium polar icebreakers, there was a comment from an Academy classmate, Capt. Fred Wilder, USCG (ret.), that was intended to link to a press release from the Lake Carriers’ Association, but for some reason the link was lost. I requested a copy of the news release from Capt. Wilder which he provided. It is reproduced below.

A week after the post linked above, I posted on why we might need icebreaker assets that could be drawn on by the Atlantic Fleet, in the form of icebreakers that could serve in both the Lakes and in the Atlantic Arctic.

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Lake Carriers’ Association For Immediate Release   August 1, 2019

Iced Out: Study Reveals Loss of More Than $1 Billion Due to Inadequate Icebreaking Capabilities on the Great Lakes

CLEVELAND – The U.S. economy lost more than $1 billion in business revenue and 5,421 jobs due to inadequate icebreaking capabilities on the Great Lakes during the 2018-2019 winter season.

Due to this loss of business revenue, the federal government missed out on more than $125 million in taxes and in addition $46 million was lost by state and local governments. For perspective, that loss means the U.S. government could build a new Great Lakes icebreaker and recoup those costs in two years.

“In response to a question at a recent Congressional hearing, we polled our members about the delays they incurred due to inadequate icebreaking this winter,” said Jim Weakley, President of Lake Carriers’ Association. “Once we had the total number of tons delayed and total hours they were delayed, we were able to calculate the additional cargo we could have moved had the Coast Guard been able to meet the needs of commerce. Using the economic model updated in July of 2018 by Martin Associates, it was determined that U.S. Economy lost over $1 billion as a result of the steel not made and the power not generated by the coal and iron ore the U.S.-flag fleet could not move.”

With robust icebreaking capabilities paving the way for commercial shipping, U.S.-flag Lakers could have carried 4 million additional tons of iron ore and 879,210 additional tons of coal. In other words, Lakers could have done an additional 860 trips delivering iron ore to steel mills and 21 trips delivering coal to power generation plants.

“A dynamic fleet of icebreaking assets is absolutely critical for our regional and national economy, especially our domestic steel and power generation industries which were hit hard this past winter season,” says Mark W. Barker, president of The Interlake Steamship Company, which moves nearly 20 million tons annually crisscrossing the Lakes more than 500 times between March and January. “Robust icebreaking capabilities enable the Coast Guard to deliver on its mission to facilitate the flow of commerce across our Great Lakes.”

Mark Pietrocarlo, Lake Carriers’ Association’s board chairman, noted, “The U.S. Coast Guard was down four icebreakers for a significant period of time this past winter and for the first time in memory, no icebreaker was left on Lake Superior when the Soo Locks closed from January 15th to March 25th.  One icebreaker took seventeen months to repair, one was on the East Coast for a major overhaul and two others missed more than a month of icebreaking.”

“The economic impact on our customers and the supply chain they enable is significant and points out the need for a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes,” Pietrocarlo said. “Given the lost tax revenue the economic model calculated for the federal government, the payback period to the Treasury for the vessel is two years.  Infrastructure investment isn’t just about fixing the roads, we also need to maintain our marine highways.”

Beset in ice, the M/V Stewart J. Cort and three other Great Lakes vessels await the assistance of an icebreaker on Lake Superior

About the study:

To estimate the economic impact of inadequate icebreaking during the typical ice conditions experienced on the Great Lakes during the 2018 – 2019 winter season, Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA) asked U.S.-flag carriers to report their delays in hours and the number of tons carried during their delays.

The types of delays included being beset in the ice, at anchor awaiting an icebreaker, having to slow down due to inadequate icebreaking, waiting for Coast Guard permission to proceed, and waiting for a convoy to form.

In addition, hours lost due to repairing ice damage to vessels and the hours lost by vessels that delayed their initial sailing times due to inadequate icebreaking were factored in to the total.

LCA aggregated the fleet’s lost hours and tons delayed and determined that a total of 409,729 tons of coal were delayed for 206 hours.  It also calculated that 2,186,361 tons of iron ore were delayed for a total of 1,586.5 hours. Since the vessels reporting were a combination of “footers” and smaller vessels, we used an average of 42,000 tons per trip. It was also assumed that a typical round trip for a U.S.-flag Laker takes 96 hours.

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Economic Impact of Lost Tonnages due to inadequate icebreaking in the average winter of 2018/2019 (Source: Martin Associates)

4,000,000 ton loss of iron ore and 900,0000 ton loss of coal due to ice delays

JOBS 

  • Direct Jobs 1,925
  • Induced 1,666
  • Indirect 1,829
  • Total 5,421

PERSONAL INCOME (1,000)

  • Direct $106,912
  • Re-Spending/Local
  • Purchases $203,098
  • Indirect $80,454
  • Total $390,464

BUSINESS REVENUE  (1,000)

  • $1,044,044

LOCAL PURCHASES  (1,000)

  • $187,193

STATE AND LOCAL TAXES (1,000)

  • $46,429

FEDERAL TAXES (1,000)

  • $125,518

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The data, showing tons by commodity, lost by the U.S.-flagged Great Lakes fleet, was supplied by the Lakes Carriers’ Association to Martin Associates. The July, 2018 updated Economic Impact study of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway – U.S. Flagged Fleet, developed jobs per ton and economic impact per ton ratios for iron ore, coal, limestone/aggregates and other dry bulk cargo.  These ratios were then applied to the estimated loss of 4,000,000 tons of iron ore and 900,000 tons of coal for the relatively average winter of 2018/2019.  The economic impacts of these delays are presented in terms of jobs and business revenue in table above.  For more information about 2018 Economic Impact study of the Great Lakes, go to http://www.greatlakesseaway.org/resources/reports.

ABOUT LAKE CARRIERS’ ASSOCIATION: Since 1880, Lake Carriers’ has represented the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet, which today can move more than 90 million tons of cargos annually that are the foundation of American industry, power, and construction: iron ore, limestone, coal, cement, and other dry bulk materials such as grain and sand. For more information contact Jim Weakley – 440-333-9995 / weakley@lcaships.com.

“Icebreaker Xuelong 2 joins service on China national maritime day” –Global Times

China’s first domestically built polar research vessel and icebreaker, Xuelong 2 docks at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai on Thursday morning. Photo: Polar Research Institute of China

Global Times is reporting completion of China’s first domestically produced Polar Icebreaker. (Their existing polar icebreaker was built in the Ukraine.)

According to Wikipedia, she was designed by Finnish firm Aker Arctic Technology. Specs are as follows.

  • Polar Class 3
  • Double Acting, can break ice going ahead or astern
  • Displacement of 14,300 tons
  • Length: 122.5 metres (402 ft)
  • Beam: 22.3 metres (73 ft)
  • Draft: 8.3 metres (27 ft)
  • Max Speed: 15 knots
  • Accommodations: 90 Passengers and crew
  • Diesel-electric propulsion system, two 16-cylinder, two 12-cylinder engines, both Wärtsilä 32-series, drive through two 7.5 MW Azipods. Just under 20,000 HP

It is a lot smaller than the planned Polar Security Cutter, but it is also larger and about as powerful and almost certainly more effective than the Glacier that served the US effectively for many years.

The hull and power plant looks like something we might want for our medium icebreakers, and I note, it looks like this size could negotiate the Saint Lawrence Seaway. That would mean a similar ship could potentially operate both on the Great Lakes and support Atlantic Fleet operations if required.

Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention.

Seattle to be Homeport for Polar Security Cutter

Not surprisingly the Coast Guard has announced that Seattle is the planned homeport for the new Polar Security Cutter (heavy polar icebreaker). Below is the press release. 

U.S. Coast Guard announces homeport of newest Polar Security Cutter

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Coast Guard today announced that Seattle, Wash. will be the home of the service’s new Polar Security Cutters.

“I am pleased to announce that Seattle, Washington will be the home of the Coast Guard’s new Polar Security Cutters,” said Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.  “The Pacific Northwest has been the home of our icebreaking fleet since 1976, and I am confident that the Seattle area will continue to provide the support we need to carry out our critical operations in the polar regions.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access in the polar regions.  The addition of the Polar Security Cutters in Seattle will support the United States’ ability to conduct national missions, respond to critical events, and project American presence in the high latitudes.

The Coast Guard conducted a detailed analysis to identify locations that could accommodate the Polar Security Cutter. Based on operational and logistical needs, Seattle was determined to be the appropriate homeport for the first three Polar Security Cutters.

In April 2019, VT Halter Marine, Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was awarded a contract for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter class.

Does Atlantic Fleet Need an Icebreaker Capability?

USCGC Southwind Commissioning.

This post is going to be a little strange, because it starts with a question no one has ask and it will not provide any real answer. It is more the start of a thought process about possibilities. 
Does the Atlantic Fleet need icebreakers to support high latitude operations? Particularly US military icebreakers? And if so, could this support be provided by icebreakers that might also provide icebreaking services in the Great Lakes during peacetime?
I don’t know, but we do know that the Coast Guard’s first icebreakers were not based in the Pacific and they were not intended for Antarctic. They were used during World War Two in the Atlantic, particularly around Greenland.
We also know that NORAD and NORTHCOM are going to need to start replacing the Dew Line Systems with more modern systems that are need to protect against, not just ballistic missiles and high altitude strategic bombers, but also surface skimming cruise missiles.
LANTFLT may not have considered the question  They only recently operated a carrier strike group North of the Arctic Circle for the first time in almost three decades. The question may not have come up, or they may have assumed that when the Coast Guard gets new icebreakers some of them will operate in the Atlantic.
If the Coast Guard persists in its current pattern, all icebreakers, except small icebreaking tugs and those in the Great Lakes, will be homeported in the Pacific. Of course that makes some sense. The US Arctic coast is all in Alaska and most readily accessible from the Pacific. The US Antarctic base at McMurdo Sound is also most accessible from the Pacific.
Atlantic Area’s only icebreaking requirement for assets more capable than the 140 foot icebreaking tugs and the 2,000 ton, 6,200 HP, 225 foot Juniper class buoy tenders is in the Great Lakes.
What kind of icebreaker might both operate in the Great Lakes and be available to support LANTFLT?
In World War II this was impossible. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was not opened to ocean going traffic until 1959. The Saint Lawrence Seaway currently admits ship up to a length 740 ft (225.6 m), a beam of 78 ft (23.8 m) and a draft of 26.5 ft (8.1 m) (SeawayMax). Clearly, it is the beam and draft which are the limiting parameters for any icebreaker design that is intended to operate alternately in both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. The Polar Security Cutters with a beam of 88 feet are clearly too large, as would be the 13,623 ton Polar Star, with its 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m) beam and the Healey with its 82 foot beam.
In looking at what sorts of icebreaker might be usable in both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, we have to recognize that draft will increase in fresh water because it is up to about 3% less dense but on the other hand the icebreaker could transit the locks in a lightened condition, at less than full load, reducing their draft. There may be a bit more flexibility relative to draft. 
The newer USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) is not limited by the locks, with a displacement of 3,500 tons, it has a beam of only 58.5 ft (17.8 m) and a draft of 16 ft (4.9 m). Even the much larger original Mackinaw would have fit, (Displacement:5,252 long tons (5,336 t), Length: 290 ft (88 m), Beam: 74.3 ft (22.6 m), Draft: 19.5 ft (5.9 m)) as would the Wind class.

Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel Svalbard. Photo by Marcusroos

A couple of modern military classes that might be available to aid in the Arctic are the Norwegian Coast Guard Cutter Svalbard and the very similar Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS). Both could easily transit the Saint Lawrence Seaway, but, with 12,000 to 13,410 HP, neither could be considered a medium icebreaker. Even so they are more powerful than the Mackinaw.

USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4)

USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4) (8,449 long tons (8,585 t) full load) would be considered a medium icebreaker due to her 16,000 MW (21,000 HP) motors. Her draft appears too deep at 29 ft (8.8 m), but since her beam 74 ft (23 m) was well within the SeawayMax, it should be possible to make an at least comparably capable ship that could navigate the Seaway. Additional length over and above Glacier’s 309 ft 6 in (94.34 m) could provide space to meet additional requirements. 
Conclusion: 
It should be possible to make a reasonably capable class of medium icebreakers that could be homeported in the Great Lakes and also be available to support any LANTFLT operation requiring icebreaker support.
These ships might be seen as overkill relative to the requirements of the Great Lakes, but if they wish to extend the navigational season, the additional capability might be useful.
An ability to support naval operations might provide additional justification for these vessels. For peacetime operations on the Lakes, armament is unnecessary and might be seen as a treaty violation, but provision for adding armament in case of a future conflict might be a good hedge against an uncertain future.
Could the same design also serve as the Medium Icebreakers currently planned? This is less clear. There is also the possibility that the best course to provide the six icebreakers currently being discussed is to simply build six of the current design Polar Security Cutters.