The Navy has issued a Request for Proposal with options for up to three heavy polar icebreakers. Its not a block buy, but it is a bit of a surprise. I have copied and pasted the brief summary below. (Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention.)
The following is a news release quoted in full. Frankly I think it is a good thing that we are reporting the problems rather than just happy news. The public and our law makers in particular need to understand that we are putting people, and the mission, in danger because we are making do with overage systems that should have been replaced long ago. Incidentally, USAP is apparently U.S. Antarctic Program.
This additional note was attached to the release, “Editor’s Note: All dates and times are in New Zealand Daylight Time, which is 21 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time and 24 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Video of the Cutter Polar Star’s operations are available by clicking the thumbnails above or clicking here and here. Photos from the cutter’s operations by clicking the thumbnails above or clicking here. ”
MCMURDO STATION, Antarctica – The crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star completed their mission Tuesday in support of National Science Foundation (NSF) after cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the continent.
The Polar Star sailed from Seattle to assist in the annual delivery of operating supplies and fuel for NSF research stations in Antarctica during Operation Deep Freeze by carving a navigable path through seasonal and multi-year ice sometimes as much as 10-feet thick. Operation Deep Freeze is the logistical support provided by the U.S. Armed Forces to the U.S. Antarctic Program.
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects it makes the hard work worth it.”
On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.
Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programing issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”
The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.
The Polar Star departed their homeport in Seattle Nov. 30, 2017, and are expected to return to the U.S. in March 2018. The 399-foot Polar Star is the only operational heavy icebreaker in the U.S. fleet. The cutter, which was built more than 40 years ago, has a crew of nearly 150 people. It weighs (displaces–Chuck) 13,500 tons and uses 75,000 horsepower to break ice up to 21 feet thick.
The U.S. military is uniquely equipped to assist the National Science Foundation in accomplishing its USAP mission. This includes the coordination of strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical intra-theater airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, search and rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling, and transportation requirements supporting the NSF, the lead agency for the USAP.
Above is the video of the Senate Subcommittee hearing for which I provided the Commandant’s prepared remarks earlier.
Participating Senators I noted were:
- Dan Sullivan, Sub-Committee chair (R, Alaska)(Lt.Col., US Marine Corps Reserve)
- Gary Peters, ranking member (D, Michigan)(LCdr. US Navy Reserve, Supply Corps)
- Bill Nelson, ranking member of the Commerce Committee (D, Florida)(Capt. US Army Reserve)(NASA Scuttle payload specialist)
- Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Seapower sub-committee (R, Mississippi)(Lt.Col. ret. USAF reserve)
- Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) (USMC Reserve 1970 to 1976 discharges as Sargent)
- Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii)
- Ed Markey (D, Mass.) (Spec4, US Army Reserve, 1968-73)
- Jim Inhofe (R, Oklahoma) (Spec4, US Army, 1956-1958)
- Maria Cantwell (D, Washington)
You can also check out the original post from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. (Same video is available there, but the meeting does not actually start on that version of the video until minute 36.) There you can also find the written statements of the other three witness who constituted the second panel. The Commandant was the sole witness on the first panel.
This was something of a love fest for the Coast Guard with repeated praise for the people and actions of the Coast Guard.
This hearing was reputedly about how the Coast Guard had been impacted by the unusually severe Hurricane season. There is not a lot new here but there were some interesting remarks.
Polar Icebreaker Contracts
The intention is to Contract for the first Icebreaker and then employ block buy for the next two (28m). To me this seems to negate most of the advantage of a block buy. I don’t believe we will or should buy one and then wait until we have tried it out before contracting for the next two. That would necessitate a delay of at least five years during which we would still have the nightmare scenario of our only heavy icebreaker having no rescue if it should break down in the ice–certainly not an impossibility even with a new ship. If we are going to contract for the remaining two before testing the first, we might as well block buy all three.
First of class is always the most expensive. If the shipyard gets a block buy they know that initial improvements in productivity can be amortized over the entire block buy quantity. In some cases, in order to win the whole project, the shipyard will cut the price of the first ship substantially knowing they will make a profit over the entire project.
If we buy one and then block buy the second and third, we have paid for improvements to the winning yard with the first contract and minimized the chances for a competitive bid for numbers two and three.
Legislation has capped DOD participation in icebreaker procurement, so the bulk of icebreaker procurement costs will come out of the Coast Guard budget.
There was a lot of discussion about the need to have the Coast Guard Authorization Bill signed into law, still not approved. You can see it here.
There was a discussion of the high cost of the Coast Guard response to the recent series of Hurricanes.
Representative Sullivan spent a lot of time, discussing and advocating for an eleven mile road from King Cove (population estimate–989) to Cold Bay, Alaska (population estimate–122) which has an all-weather airport with two runways, one 10,180 feet and one 6285 feet in length. The Coast Guard connection is that the road would minimize or eliminate the necessity for the Coast Guard to Medivac emergencies from King Cove by helicopter, which is frequently hazardous. It is a Federal issue, because the road would run through a Federal reserve. The Commandant fully supported the desirability of completing the proposed single lane gravel road as a means of minimizing the requirement for helicopter medivac.
28m Domestic icebreakers–Design work on new domestic icebreakers is expected to start in 2030. That sounds a bit late to me. Mackinaw was commissioned in 2006 so if that is what he is really talking about, that makes sense, but the 140 foot icebreaking tugs are a different story. The first for of these will be 51 years old in 2030. More than half of them have already completed in-service which was expected to add 15 years to their service life. Morro Bay, at least, is expected to reach the end of her service life in 2030, and considering how long it takes us to build a ship we really need to start the process not later than 2025.
45m Western Pacific Fisheries Protection–They have not seen much risk of Illegal, Unregulated, or Unreported fishing.
51m Inland River Tenders
56m We may need to replace the 52 ft MLBs with something larger than the 47 foot MLB sometime in the future, but their end of life is not yet apparent
58m Coast Guard Museum in New London
60m Sexual Assault in the CG
1h02m Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands continuing commitment and its effects on drug seizures and alien migrant interdiction.
1h05m Vessel homeporting
1h08 CG center of expertise, particularly in regard to clean up spills in ice and fresh water
1h16m Army Corp of Engineers dredging backlog.
1h17m Second Panel begins.
1h19m Medivac from King Cove
1h31m Mr Smithson regarding Deepwater Horizon experience, unified approach, investment in mitigation.
Now we have the “Icebreaker Gap” which is real, but largely irrelevant. Hopefully it will get money for the Coast Guard.
It is certainly true that the Russians have far more Icebreakers than the US, but shouldn’t it enough that we really need these ships, regardless of what the Russians may be doing?
I hate to see fear replacing logic, but perhaps the ends justify the means. Is there a military dimension to the Russia/US icebreaker fleet comparison? Certainly neither country is going to invade the other over the poles. We are not likely to see fleets of icebreakers shooting at each other, the Russians already have plenty of missile carrying aircraft and submarines in the Arctic. But we may need to place sensors, bases, or other assets in high latitudes even when others don’t like it. That may be impossible without icebreakers. The US has fewer icebreakers than any other type of critically important vessel. We have far more carriers, SSBNs, destroyers, amphibious warfare ships, underway replenishment ships. The loss of any one of them would not mean the end of a capability. The loss of even one of our icebreakers could.
That means we need more icebreakers, and they need to have the ability to defend themselves if necessary.
Marine Link reports award of a $320M contract for construction of a 30,000 gross ton 150 meter Polar Class 2 expedition vessel to be powered by a hybrid LNG/electric power plant. “The vessel can accommodate 270 passengers in 135 staterooms, in addition to a crew of 180 persons.”
It is expected to host two helicopters and 16 Zodiac dinghies.
They think they can take it to the geographic North Pole.
“I think we have one functioning icebreaker today,” Tillerson said at the Wilson Center. “The Coast Guard’s very proud of it, as crummy as it is.”
I am only posting this because of who said it.
Secretary Tillerson may not well informed about our icebreaker situation, but generally he got it right. This is a bad news, good news story.
Bad news, the Coast Guard was the butt of the joke.
Good news, at least someone in the Administration knows we need more icebreakers.
MarineLog reports Gulf Island ship is building an icebreaking/buoy tending tug for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. $18.14 million (About a third the cost of a Webber class WPC). It is expected to be 118′ x 45′ x 16′, all-steel, with an ice-breaking bow, powered by two controllable-pitch Z-drive propulsion units, each driven by a high-speed diesel engine. Crew of 14.
Sounds like a type the Coast Guard might be interested in.
The Coast Guard’s domestic icebreaker tugs are 140′ x 37′ 5″ x 12′ 6″. These ships are up to 36 years old. The Coast Guard’s 65 foot tugs, that also do some domestic icebreaking are all at least 50 years old. Clearly our tugs are getting long in the tooth.
It is certainly not clear how good this new little ship will be either as an icebreaker or as a buoy tender, but sounds like it will be worth a look.
Adding a three or four more small icebreakers in the Great Lakes might be a reasonable substitute for the often called for second icebreaker for the Lakes. If they could help with buoy tending, so much the better.