“Renew the Coast Guard Greenland Patrol” –USNI

Orthographic projection of Greenland. Credit Connormah via Wikipedia

The US Naval Institute blog has a proposal from Ensign Philip Kiley, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve that the Coast Guard reestablish a “Greenland Patrol.” This seems to have been prompted by the recent deployments of WMECs Tahoma and Campbell to participate in Canadian sponsored Exercise Nanook.

I agree Greenland is strategically important. I also believe that if we build three heavy and three medium icebreakers, we will have one or two of the medium icebreakers on the Atlantic side, maybe all three. Its just that a Greenland Patrol, as discussed, is not an adequate rationale. At least, the thesis is not adequately developed to support the proposal.

What would the Coast Guard do that the Danes are not already doing?

Thetis-class ocean patrol vessel belonging to the Royal Danish Navy. Source: konflikty.pl, Author: Łukasz Golowanow

The Danish Navy already does a “Greenland Patrol” and they may be better equipped to do it than the US Coast Guard. They certainly have more reason to be there. The have seven ice-strengthened patrol ships, four ships of the 368 foot Thetis class and three of the 236 foot Knud Rasmussen class.

P570 Knud Rasmussen. The first of the Danish Navy Knud Rasmussen-class ocean patrol crafts. Commisioned in 2008. Photo from Flemming Sørensen

The US Coast Guard currently has no ice-strengthened patrol ships, and has no plans to build any, unless we consider the proposed medium icebreakers, aka “Arctic Security Cutter.”

When US Coast Guard was doing the Greenland Patrol in WWII, it included ice-strengthened ships with significant armaments, including ultimately Wind class icebreakers with four 5″ guns. The Danish ships are armed with 76mm guns and the ability to add StanFlex modules that might include surface to surface and surface to air missiles.

If the “Arctic Security Cutters” could fit through the St. Lawrence Seaway, they could break ice in the Great Lakes in the winter and support DOD construction in the Arctic during the Summer. Presumably, when the High Latitude study determined that the Coast Guard needed three heavy and three medium icebreakers they had enough missions planned to justify their construction without adding a Greenland patrol.

On the other hand, its entirely possible we still have much to learn from the Danes.

“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.”

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)

“Coast Guard concludes Operation Arctic Shield 2020” –D17

Below is a District 17 press release. 

united states coast guard

 

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska
Contact: 17th District Public Affairs
Office: (907) 463-2065
After Hours: (907) 209-8731
17th District online newsroom

Coast Guard concludes Operation Arctic Shield 2020

   Arctic Shield operations arctic shield operations

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard concluded its annual Arctic Shield operations Sunday with the seasonal closure of its Forward Operating Location in Kotzebue, Alaska.

Air Station Kodiak air crews and two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters were forward deployed to Kotzebue to provide better response times and coverage to remote regions of Alaska during increased summer boating traffic.

In addition, the crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Kukui, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Sitka, Alaska; and the Healy, a 420-foot medium icebreaker homeported in Seattle, Washington, patrolled the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in support of maritime domain awareness, search and rescue, community relations, partnership building and scientific research.

Coast Guard crews deployed in support of Operation Arctic Shield, which commenced July 1, responded to 10 search and rescue cases, saving 25 lives.

To prevent hazards at sea, Coast Guard personnel from the 17th Coast Guard District and Sector Anchorage completed 172 facility inspections, and 405 commercial fishing vessel safety exams. The Coast Guard also continued its partnerships and provided critical support to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Office of Naval Research.

“The Coast Guard is dedicated to ensuring the protection of the Arctic maritime environment and all those who depend upon it,” said Cmdr. Molly Hayes, Operation Arctic Shield operational planner, Coast Guard District 17. “Our crews recognize and respect the sensitive environmental characteristics of the region and partner with Northern Alaskan communities to advance our shared interests in maritime safety and security.”

Operation Arctic Shield is the Coast Guard’s mobile and seasonal presence focused on performing the service’s 11 statutory missions throughout the Arctic to ensure maritime safety, security and stewardship. It is an annual operation that began in 2009.

“Nation’s sole heavy icebreaker to deploy to the Arctic this winter” –News Release

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

Below is a press release from Pacific Area, making it official that Polar Star will not make the trip to Antarctica this Winter. Instead they will be going to the Arctic this winter. Winter deployments to the Arctic are unusual, but it is something the Coast Guard expects to do, once the planned fleet of six icebreakers is complete. Really I do not  know if we have ever done this before. It will certainly be a unique experience. Much of the time, there will be no sun at all. 

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3375
After Hours: (510) 816-1700
Oct. 29, 2020
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Nation’s sole heavy icebreaker to deploy to the Arctic this winter

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) is in the fast Ice Jan. 2, 2020, approximately 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 399-foot icebreaker is the only ship in U.S. service capable of clearing a path through the Antarctic ice to escort three refuel and resupply ships to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze. The ships deliver enough cargo and fuel to sustain year-round operations on the remote continent. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) is in the fast Ice Jan. 2, 2020, approximately 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 399-foot icebreaker is the only ship in U.S. service capable of clearing a path through the Antarctic ice to escort three refuel and resupply ships to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze. The ships deliver enough cargo and fuel to sustain year-round operations on the remote continent. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi


ALAMEDA, Calif. — The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) will deploy to the Arctic this winter to help protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security in the region. 

The United States is an Arctic nation, and the Coast Guard has served as the lead federal agency for homeland security, safety, and environmental stewardship in the Arctic region for more than 150 years.  As the nation’s primary maritime presence in the polar regions, the Coast Guard advances U.S. national interests through a unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority, and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance.

In April 2019, the Coast Guard released the Arctic Strategic Outlook, which reaffirms the service’s commitment to American leadership in the region through partnership, unity of effort, and continuous innovation.

“The Arctic is no longer an emerging frontier, but is instead a region of growing national importance,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The Coast Guard is committed to protecting U.S. sovereignty and working with our partners to uphold a safe, secure, and rules-based Arctic.”  

Typically, the Polar Star travels to Antarctica each year in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual military mission to resupply the United States’ Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation.

This year’s maritime resupply at McMurdo Station was cancelled due to COVID safety precautions, and a limited resupply will be conducted via aircraft.  However, Operation Deep Freeze is an enduring mission that requires a heavy icebreaker for a full resupply, and the Coast Guard anticipates resuming this critical deployment next year.

“Norwegian Coast Guard sails high-latitude Arctic voyage to Beaufort Sea” –The Barents Sea Observer

KV Svalbard is Norway’s largest Coast Guard vessel and has icebreaker capabilities. Photo: Marius Vågenes Villanger / Forsvaret

The Barents Sea Observer reports on Norwegian Coast Guard efforts to recover data from a study of Arctic under ice temperatures that might otherwise be lost as a result of the breakdown of USCGC Healy.

Seeing the performance of this ship, in recently reaching the North Pole, has to be good news for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard, in that they are building eight similar Harry DeWolf class ships (6 RCN and 2 CCG).

Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention and for his many previous contributions.

“VESSEL REVIEW | ARKTIKA – NUCLEAR-POWERED 33,000-TONNE BEHEMOTH IS LARGEST ICEBREAKER YET BUILT” –BairdMaritime

Russian Nuclear Powered Icebreaker Arctika

Baird Maritime has a review of the new Russian nuclear powered icebreaker Arctika. Its total shaft horsepower is about 80,000 (not a lot more than Polar Star’s 75,000). It open water speed of 22 knots is high for an icebreaker. The crew does seem to be remarkably small at 54 (31 less than Healy). An earlier more extensive post on these ships with some interesting comments here.

“Steer Clear of the Polar Regions” –USNI

 Photo: Official USCG Polar Star Facebook

The US Naval Institute Blog has a new post. Its bottom line,

For Semper Paratus to move beyond a mere slogan, the Coast Guard should steer clear of the Poles, decommission the two heavy icebreakers, and redirect resources toward coastal operations to better secure the homeland. As the smallest armed force, the Coast Guard must proactively roll back the nefarious reach of transnational human smuggling and narcoterrorism for the sake of national security. Leave the Poles to the Navy and to private sector research-and-development firms.

I am not going to comment, but I am sure someone will.

“Arktika Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker Completes Sea Trials” –Naval News

The lead nuclear icebreaker “Arktika”, project 22220 (LK-60Ya), built at Baltic Shipyard JSC (part of United Shipbuilding Corporation JSC) for Atomflot FSUE, is entering the first stage of sea trials. St. Petersburg, 12.12.2019 (c) JSC United Shipbuilding Corporation

Naval News reports that the world’s largest icebreaker, “Arkika,” has completed sea trials. This is the first of five Project 22220 nuclear powered icebreakers.

This class is quite remarked for its number of ships, their size, their speed, their power, and for their small crew size.

These are dual displacement icebreakers designed to operate in rivers as well as the Arctic Ocean, using huge amounts of ballast water.

Dimensions:

  • Displacement:33,530 t (33,000 long tons) (dwl) 25,540 t (25,140 long tons) (min)
  • Length: 173.3 m (569 ft) (overall), 160.0 m (525 ft) waterline
  • Beam: 34 m (112 ft) (maximum), 33 m (108 ft) waterline
  • Draft: 10.5 m (34 ft) (dwl) 8.65 m (28 ft) (minimum; operational)
  • Propulsion: three shafts, total 60 MW (80,461 HP)
  • Speed: 22 knots.
  • Crew: 75

Even larger Project 101510 ships, capable of breaking up to 4-metre-thick (13 ft) ice, are under construction. They will be 209 metres (686 ft) in length, with a beam of 47.7 metres (156 ft) with four shafts providing 120 megawatts (161,000 hp).

Polar Security Cutters and Coast Guard ASW

The US Naval Institute Proceedings web page has a couple of Coast Guard related articles that did not appear in the print version of Proceedings,

I have reproduced my comments on these topics below.


In regard to arming the Polar Security Cutters (the author seemed fixated on cruise missiles. We did discuss this topic earlier here)

There are limits to what we want to put on ships bound for Antarctica, since they have to be open for inspection. On the other hand if we ever do have a near peer conflict involving the Arctic or Antarctic, these will become rare and essential naval auxiliaries. As such they will probably operate with other vessels, including more powerful warships if appropriate, but that does not mean they should not be able to defend themselves against the possibility of leakers. We need to make provision for last ditch defense with systems like SeaRAM.

Meanwhile the fact that they are law enforcement vessels means they should be able to forcibly stop any private or merchant vessel regardless of size. So far it seems they will have at most, 25mm Mk38 Mod3 guns.

The follow on Medium Icebreakers or Arctic Security Cutters, which are unlikely to go to Antarctica, are more likely to be more heavily armed from the start.


Coast Guard ASW (comments were generally surprisingly adverse):

It is a fact that in WWII most U-boats were sunk by aircraft, but about a third (about 230) were sunk by surface vessels, primarily those of our allies Britain and Canada.

Even when surface vessels did not sink U-boats, they often performed valuable service in blocking access to convoys and in rescuing mariners from sunken ships.

US Naval vessels only sank about 38 U-boats. Coast Guard cutters and Coast Guard manned Navy ships were involved in sinking a disproportionate number of those (ten) for various reasons. Most of the US Navy effort went into the Pacific and most of the USN effort in the Atlantic at least through mid-1943, was in escorting high speed troop convoys than largely avoided contact with U-boats.

Circumstances we will face in any near peer conflict may be very different.

The advantages provided by code breaking in WWII are unlikely.

The advantages provided by radar equipped aircraft detecting U-boats charging their batteries or transiting the Bay of Biscay on the surface during the night no longer exists.

The Chinese surface and air threat would divert the most capable USN assets from ASW tasks.

Unlike the Japanese during the Pacific campaign, the Chinese are likely to make a concerted effort to disrupt our logistics train.

We simply do not have enough ASW assets.

Augmenting Coast Guard cutters to allow them to provide ASW escort and rescue services for ships that are sunk by hostile subs, in lower threat areas, is a low cost mobilization option that can substantially increase the number of escorts at low cost.

This could be facilitated by augmenting cutter with USN Reserves. Navy reserve ASW helicopter squadrons could be assigned to fly from cutters.
LCS ASW modules could be placed on cutters and manned by reactivated Navy reservists with LCS ASW module experience.

Our few US merchant ships need to be protected and when inevitably, some are sunk, we need someone to rescue those mariners, because they have become a rare and precious commodity.

The crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Midgett (WMSL 757) and Kimball (WMSL 756) transit past Koko Head on Oahu, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2019. The Kimball and Midgett are both homeported in Honolulu and two of the newest Coast Guard cutters to join the fleet. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West/Released)


In answer to this comment from James M

Add : For (millions)

ASIST : 6.263
Mk 32 SVTT : 3.237
SLQ-25 Nixie: 1.727
AN/SRQ-4 LAMPS III: 4.625
VDS/MFTA combo: 14.802
ASW Combat Suite: 33.684
64.338 total. I am sure something could be arrived at for less. I look at this as what it takes to fit out an NSC the whole way. For one, OPC will never fit that VDS/MFTA on its stern. At best it would be a Nixie, maybe a container towed sonar we don’t yet use, and the mods for MH-60R. It would be good to know the plan for MUSV as it might help the equation. After all, the 64.338 would buy 2 MUSVs without payload. It could also buy an additional FRC.

So, we could equip ASW equip all eleven projected Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) for less than the cost of a single frigate.

Why do you believe the VDS/MFTA would not fit on the Offshore Patrol Cutter? It is fully as large as the NSCs and does not have the boat launch ramp cut into the stern. They are also substantially larger than the LCSs.

OPC “Placemat”