Wintering Over in the Arctic

A large number of research teams conduct very different experiments

As you may know, there is currently an expedition underway utilizing the German Icebreaker Polarstern to winter over in the Arctic, drifting with the ice. A German friend and blogger, Sven, pointed me to a 19 Sept 2019 German language interview that provides background on the purpose of the expedition and how it was to be conducted. The original article has more pictures and links to additional information. Using Google Translate I have provided a rough English translation below. Hopefully Deutsche Welle will forgive me. 

MOSAiC: Great Arctic Expedition Launches
For a year, the research vessel Polarstern will drift frozen through the Arctic Ocean. Researchers want to better understand the influence of the Arctic on the climate, says tour manager Christian Haas in the DW interview.

Deutsche Welle: On 20 September, a large-scale expedition of the Alfred Wegener Institute will take off with the research vessel Polarstern to the Arctic. What is it going to be about?
Christian Haas: On the expedition, we want to better understand the processes and energy flows between the air, the ocean and the ice. For this purpose, we will be freezing in the Arctic for a whole year with our research icebreaker Polarstern.
The processes and conditions there change greatly over the course of the seasons. In winter, we examine the factors that affect the freezing and growing of the ice. In the summer, the situation reverses. Then the ice melts and the ice sheet breaks open to form ice floes.
As the ice is several years old, it is necessary to know the interplay between winter freezing and summer melting in order to be able to assess whether the ice is getting thicker or thinner.

The polar star will drift through the Arctic Ocean with the ice. How exactly does it work?
The sea ice of the Arctic becomes only a few meters thick. Because it is so thin, it can easily break and be driven away by winds and currents, so it is constantly moving. We use this movement, the so-called ice drift, to drift from Siberia over the North Pole to Greenland.
It also has a crucial advantage to drive with the same ice, because we can only judge how the ice is exposed to all the external influences and changes.

There have already been some expeditions to the Arctic. What makes MOSAiC so special?
The special thing about MOSAiC is that we are really there over the course of a year, i.e. throughout the freezing and melting season, and we can observe the processes in all their diversity. We are also a huge team of researchers from 19 nations. A total of 300 scientists are involved.
But everyone will only be on board for two months. We take turns and travel with Russian icebreakers to the POLARSTERN and away again. There are a total of six sections of the journey, each with 50 scientists on board. I myself will be there from December to February.

And what will be your task on the ground?
I am the tour leader of the expedition for my journey section. That means I take overall responsibility for the whole company during the two months. Our group deals with the properties of ice, with a focus on ice ceiling measurement.
In order to measure the thickness of the ice, it was necessary to drill holes earlier, which is very complex. We have developed a new procedure at the AWI. Using electromagnetic probes, we can measure the conductivity of the subsurface.
The ice is solid and therefore a bad electrical conductor while the salt water underneath is very good. This allows us to determine the distance between ice and water, i.e. the thickness of the ice, very precisely.
We will then compare the data with satellites, in particular the European CryoSat, which has been launched specifically for ice ceiling measurement. So we can then observe how the ice grows and becomes thinner.

You spoke of a variety of processes being investigated. What are the other groups exploring?
The main aim is to investigate why the thickness of the ice changes. This depends on a huge number of influences, such as the air temperature and humidity of the winds, solar radiation and also how much heat gets from the water to the ice.
All these factors are measured simultaneously in high temporal resolution – all with the question “How does this affect the thickness of the ice?”

Working at home and in the Arctic is certainly different. They have been there many times. What are the working conditions there?
Of course, there are risks that we do not have. You can get frostbite, break into the water or meet polar bears. I’ve met many polar bears. Everyone who moves in the Arctic carries a gun with them.
However, the Polarstern has never fired a shot at a polar bear. Because they are primarily curious and come because of it. Since they are also very anxious, they can easily be expelled with noise. So these are not risks that pose great dangers if you behave correctly.
The far bigger challenges are more in the extreme situation of being so far away from home, for so long. Especially in winter we work in complete darkness. In addition, we are constantly there with many other people, there is no more privacy.
In addition, all the means of communication that we are used to here, i.e. the Internet, satellite communications and telephone, are only possible to a very limited extent. Because there is only one satellite communication system that still works north of 75 degrees North.

Nevertheless, this expedition is very important – keyword: climate change?
The whole world is worried about climate change. The Arctic is the hotspot, or the epicenter of global climate change. Because in the Arctic we are seeing the most significant climate changes.
These are also particularly well observed due to the retreat of the ice. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world. That’s why you have to go to the Arctic to understand what’s happening there and to be able to make predictions for the world.
And how is sea ice doing at the moment?
The area of arctic ice in summer has decreased by more than 50 percent in the last 40 years. Now, in September, the ice retreats most every year before expanding again in autumn and winter.
This year we are seeing the second smallest sea ice extent ever observed in the Arctic. From this point of view, it is good that MOSAiC is starting this year. This means that the initial conditions are among the most extreme and we are just looking at how the Arctic has changed in recent years and what the state of the ‘new Arctic’ is.

“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” Updated 10 June, 2020, CRS

The Congressional Research Service has once again updated their report on the Polar Security Cutter. You can see the whole report here. I have reproduced the one page summary below. The entire report is a 66 page pdf. 

Summary

The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new medium polar icebreakers. The PSC program has received a total of $1,169.6 million (i.e., about $1.2 billion) in procurement funding through FY2020, including $135 million in FY2020, which was $100 million more than the $35 million that the Coast Guard had requested for FY2020. With the funding it has received through FY2020, the first PSC is now fully funded and the second PSC has received initial funding.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $555 million in procurement funding for the PSC program. It also proposes a rescission of $70 million in FY2020 funding that Congress had provided for the procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th National Security Cutter (NSC), with the intent of reprogramming that funding to the PSC program. The Coast Guard states that its proposed FY2021 budget, if approved by Congress, would fully fund the second PSC.

The Coast Guard estimates the total procurement costs of the three PSCs as $1,039 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) for the first ship, $792 million for the second ship, and $788 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated cost of $2,619 million (i.e., about $2.6 billion). Within those figures, the shipbuilder’s portion of the total procurement cost is $746 million for the first ship, $544 million for the second ship, and $535 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated shipbuilder’s cost of $1,825 million (i.e., about $1.8 billion).

On April 23, 2019, the Coast Guard-Navy Integrated Program Office for the PSC program awarded a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction (DD&C) of the first PSC to VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard owned by Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. VT Halter was the leader of one of three industry teams that competed for the DD&C contract. The first PSC is scheduled to begin construction in 2021 and be delivered in 2024, though the DD&C contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery.

The DD&C contract includes options for building the second and third PSCs. If these options are exercised, the total value of the contract would increase to $1,942.8 million (i.e., about $1.9 billion). The figures of $745.9 million and $1,942.8 million cover only the shipbuilder’s costs; they do not include the cost of government-furnished equipment (GFE), which is equipment for the ships that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ship, or government program-management costs. When GFE and government program management costs are included, the total estimated procurement cost of the first PSC is between $925 million and $940 million, and the total estimated procurement cost of the three-ship PSC program is about $2.95 billion.

The operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Star, and one medium polar icebreaker, Healy. In addition to Polar Star, the Coast Guard has a second heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Sea. Polar Sea, however, suffered an engine casualty in June 2010 and has been nonoperational since then. Polar Star and Polar Sea entered service in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and are now well beyond their originally intended 30-year service lives. The Coast Guard plans to extend the service life of Polar Star until the delivery of at least the second PSC. The Coast Guard is using Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

Memorandum on Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions

The President has issued a memorandum, dated 9 June, 2020, regarding the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter Program. The Memorandum is relative short and is duplicated below. I have added emphasis to what I see as some of the more important points by making some of the text bold. Below that, I will provide my comments.

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND
BUDGET
THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL
SECURITY AFFAIRS
SUBJECT:    Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the
Arctic and Antarctic RegionsTo help protect our national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and to retain a strong Arctic security presence alongside our allies and partners, the United States requires a ready, capable, and available fleet of polar security icebreakers that is operationally tested and fully deployable by Fiscal Year 2029.  Accordingly, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:Section 1.  Fleet Acquisition Program.  The United States will develop and execute a polar security icebreaking fleet acquisition program that supports our national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

(a)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), shall lead a review of requirements for a polar security icebreaking fleet acquisition program to acquire and employ a suitable fleet of polar security icebreakers, and associated assets and resources, capable of ensuring a persistent United States presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions in support of national interests and in furtherance of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, as appropriate.  Separately, the review shall include the ability to provide a persistent United States presence in the Antarctic region, as appropriate, in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty System.  The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of OMB, in executing this direction, shall ensure that the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) Offshore Patrol Cutter acquisition program is not adversely impacted.

(b)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, acting through the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, acting through the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Energy, as appropriate, shall conduct a study of the comparative operational and fiscal benefits and risks of a polar security icebreaking fleet mix that consists of at least three heavy polar-class security cutters (PSC) that are appropriately outfitted to meet the objectives of this memorandum.  This study shall be submitted to the President, through the Director of OMB and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, within 60 days from the date of this memorandum and at a minimum shall include:

(i)    Use cases in the Arctic that span the full range of national and economic security missions (including the facilitation of resource exploration and exploitation and undersea cable laying and maintenance) that may be executed by a class of medium PSCs, as well as analysis of how these use cases differ with respect to the anticipated use of heavy PSCs for these same activities.  These use cases shall identify the optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers for ensuring a persistent presence in both the Arctic and, as appropriate, the Antarctic regions;

(ii)   An assessment of expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium PSCs not yet contracted for, specifically including the maximum use of any such PSC with respect to its ability to support national security objectives through the use of the following:  unmanned aviation, surface, and undersea systems; space systems; sensors and other systems to achieve and maintain maritime domain awareness; command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems.  This assessment shall also evaluate defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion;

(iii)  Based on the determined fleet size and composition, an identification and assessment of at least two optimal United States basing locations and at least two international basing locations.  The basing location assessment shall include the costs, benefits, risks, and challenges related to infrastructure, crewing, and logistics and maintenance support for PSCs at these locations.  In addition, this assessment shall account for potential burden-sharing opportunities for basing with the Department of Defense and allies and partners, as appropriate; and

(iv)   In anticipation of the USCGC POLAR STAR’s operational degradation from Fiscal Years 2022-2029, an analysis to identify executable options, with associated costs, to bridge the gap of available vessels as early as Fiscal Year 2022 until the new PSCs required to meet the objectives of this memorandum are operational, including identifying executable, priced leasing options, both foreign and domestic.  This analysis shall specifically include operational risk associated with using a leased vessel as compared to a purchased vessel to conduct specified missions set forth in this memorandum.

(c)  In the interest of securing a fully capable polar security icebreaking fleet that is capable of providing a persistent presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions at the lowest possible cost, the Secretary of State shall coordinate with the Secretary of Homeland Security in identifying viable polar security icebreaker leasing options, provided by partner nations, as a near- to mid-term (Fiscal Years 2022-2029) bridging strategy to mitigate future operational degradation of the USCGC POLAR STAR.  Leasing options shall contemplate capabilities that allow for access to the Arctic and Antarctic regions to, as appropriate, conduct national and economic security missions, in addition to marine scientific research in the Arctic, and conduct research in Antarctica in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty System.  Further, and in advance of any bid solicitation for future polar security icebreaker acquisitions, the Secretary of State shall coordinate with the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify partner nations with proven foreign shipbuilding capability and expertise in icebreaker construction.

(d)  The Secretary of Defense shall coordinate with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to continue to provide technical and programmatic support to the USCG integrated program office for the acquisition, outfitting, and operations of all classes of PSCs.

Sec2.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of OMB relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

DONALD J. TRUMP
Commentary:
Notably this is in reference to both Arctic and Antarctic. There are a number of issues raised here:
  • Optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers
  • What does “persistent United States presence” mean?
  • How the Medium icebreakers will be used differently from the Heavy icebreakers?
  • Expanded operational capabilities
  • Defensive armament
  • Nuclear power
  • Basing: “two optimal United States basing locations and at least two international basing locations”
  • “Leasing options, both foreign and domestic”
  • “Identify partner nations with proven foreign shipbuilding capability and expertise in icebreaker construction.”
In most cases these topics are not new. With few exceptions, the Coast Guard has certainly considered these topics and should have well thought out positions.

Basing “two optimal United States basing locations and at least two international basing locations”

The Basing question seem the most original and may suggest the US may want to have icebreakers based in the Atlantic. First it is not clear what is meant by bases. Does it mean homeports, permanent US Navy/Coast Guard overseas bases, or just a place to replenish?
We already know the Coast Guard plans to base the first Polar Security Cutters (PSC) in Seattle.
When bound for Antarctica, icebreakers operate out of Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. At one time there was consideration of basing icebreakers there, but it seems unlikely New Zealand would actually welcome a year round Navy or Coast Guard base, and there seems to be little reason to seek one. Perhaps this could qualify as a base if we are only talking a regular replenishment station.
The US unlike the rest of the world includes the Aleutians and Bering Sea as part of the Arctic, although they are below the Arctic Circle. There has been a lot of discussion about an “Arctic (really near Arctic) Base” for the Navy and Coast Guard. Likely candidates are Adak, Port Clarence, or Nome. We talked about it here, here, and here.
Seattle, Christchurch, and the Alaskan Arctic base might account for three of the four bases referred to, two domestic and one “international,” all on the Pacific side of the World. What about the fourth base? I don’t see need for another base in the South Pacific. Could he actually be thinking about having icebreakers based on the Atlantic side? There might be reason to base some icebreaking capability with easier access to the Atlantic side. We discussed that here. If that is the case, he is really talking two homeports, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic or perhaps Great Lakes, plus two supporting locations, one in the South Pacific and one closer to the Arctic on the Atlantic side. (We don’t need an “international” base to access the Pacific side of the Arctic.) An Atlantic support base could mean Canada, Greenland, Iceland, or least likely, Norway. If we wanted to count the proposed Alaskan near Arctic base that would mean two homeports and three support locations.

Optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers:

The High Latitude Study, now at least eight years old, has been what the Coast Guard has hung its hat on for an establish requirement, specifically three heavy and three medium icebreakers.  Based on the rule of thumb, that you need three ships to keep one fully operational (one in maintenance, one in training, work-up, or standby, and one operational), that would mean we could have one heavy and one icebreaker underway essentially year round. Problem is that we need heavy icebreakers for both the Arctic winter and the Antarctic summer which occur at the same time. We might even need heavy icebreakers to operate in the Arctic Spring and Fall, and we would really like to have two heavies go south to provide a rescue capability.

This suggest that since the price of the Heavy PSC has come down to close to what we had anticipated for the Medium PSC, perhaps we should simply continue building the more capable ship.

Six Heavy PSC would still not provide any icebreaking capability on the Atlantic side and would preclude the possibility of ever using the ships in the Great Lakes. Maybe there is a place for medium icebreakers there?

What does “persistent United States presence” mean?

Do we really need an icebreaker in Antarctic waters year round? We do have a presence in the form of people who winter over in Antarctica.

In reference to the Arctic, presence might be in the form of a continuous Icebreaker presence, but it also might be in the form of surveillance with an icebreaker on call somewhere below the Bering Strait which the US considers the Arctic, where it might be useful for SAR and fisheries enforcement.

Does Presence include an Atlantic side presence? We need some better definitions here.

How the Medium icebreakers will be used differently from the Heavy icebreakers?

This might be a back door way to ask if we really need two different classes? One of my impressions was that the while Heavy icebreakers might go North or South, the medium breakers would operate exclusively in the Arctic. The lack of treaty obligations gives us more flexibility in how to equip ships that would not be subject to inspection, so medium breakers might have heavier weapons, ESM, classified sensors, or intelligence spaces. None of this however precludes equipping Heavies this way, if they will not be going South.

Expanded operational capabilities:

The memorandum specifically mentions unmanned aviation, surface, and undersea systems; space systems; sensors and other systems to achieve and maintain maritime domain awareness; command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems.

The heavies are large vessels with lots of space, plus organic weight handling equipment. They should be readily adaptable for operation of unmanned systems. Maritime Domain Awareness in the Arctic is challenging, but unmanned air systems should expand the ship’s horizons. There should be space for command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems but what they actually carry and the choice of installed or containerized system would depend on anticipated employment.

Defensive armament:

It may be significant that it specifies defensive armament. The Commandant has referenced the Russian’s building of Project 23550 armed icebreakers illustrated with containerized cruise missile systems on their stern. Adm. Zukunft suggested that given the unpredictability of the situation in the Arctic the Coast Guard might need to add Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM) and consequently the PSCs were being built with reserves as a hedge against such future additions.
So far the only armament seen on illustrations of the PSCs appear to be 25mm Mk38 Mod2/3 mounts like those being fitted to the Webber class WPCs. That is probably adequate for law enforcement.
Given the Navy’s desire to have distributed lethality, it might make sense to put ASCMs on icebreakers that do not go South to Antarctica.
All icebreakers should have the option of adding defensive systems. If we ever have a conflict in ice covered area, the icebreakers will be critically important, perhaps irreplaceable. There should be provision for providing adequate defense including perhaps two SeaRAM, Electronic Warfare systems, decoys, and torpedo warning system and countermeasures,
Nuclear power:
The Coast Guard did consider this, quite a while a go (back when I was a cadet). The Navy at that time had, not only nuclear powered carriers and submarines, but also a number of nuclear powered surface combatants. Since then, the Navy has backed away from nuclear power except for subs and carriers. After serious consideration, the Coast Guard decided they could not maintain a cadre of nuclear trained engineers.
Nuclear power is very expensive, especially if you take into account the cost of disposing of the waste at the end of the vessels life.
There is also the consideration that nuclear powered ships are not welcome at all ports.
We have apparently succeeded in providing sufficient endurance for the Polar Class icebreakers that they could winter over in Antarctica if necessary, so it does not appear there is a strong case for nuclear powered icebreakers.
“Leasing options, both foreign and domestic”:
The question of leasing has come up repeatedly in Congressional hearings. The options are limited and none can do what the Polar Star can do when its operational. The Coast Guard has decided to invest in keeping the Polar Star operational until the second PSC is fully operational.
Should the Polar Star have a catastrophic failure that leaves her stuck in the ice the Coast Guard have to hustle to find a way to get her out, but the same would apply to any leased icebreaker.
There might be an opportunity to lease vessels to fulfill the Medium PSC role, but so far the Coast Guard has not moved in that direction.
“Identify partner nations with proven foreign shipbuilding capability and expertise in icebreaker construction.”
I think the Coast Guard has done that. Building Coast Guard icebreakers in a foreign yard is against established policy and would probably be a non-starter politically–too many jobs at stake. In developing the PSC the Coast Guard cooperated with Canada and it appears sought advice around the world.
Conclusion: 
The Coast Guard is probably ready to answer this memorandum. Most of these questions were addressed in preparation for the PSC contract. I don’t think there is anything here that will require a contract modification to the existing PSC program.
Still, I am a bit mystified by the basing question.

Thanks to the readers alerted me to this topic and particularly Tups who found the original memorandum.

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated April 15, 2020” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has again updated their “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.” The last updated edition of this analysis, that I reported on here, was dated 28 Jan. 2020. The FY2021 PC&I request includes funding for OPC#3 and long lead time material for #4, plus small amounts for the NSC and FRC program. Not addressed here is the second Polar Security Cutter for which funding is also requested, addressed in a separate CRS report. There is a good breakdown of the entire request for vessels here.

As noted earlier, eight Marine Protector class, 87 foot WPBs are to be decommissioned without replacement. 

Congress has routinely added Webber class Fast Response Cutters to previous budgets. I have to believe the Congress will fund four additional FRCs, if not in FY2021 then in 2022, so that we can ccomplete the program of record and replace all six Island class WPBs of PATFORSWA. A 12th NSC seems much less likely, but not impossible. The summary for the 15 April edition is quoted below. 

Summary

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests a total of $597 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs. It also proposes a rescission of $70 million in FY2020 procurement funding that Congress provided for the NSC program.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are replacing the Coast Guard’s 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2020 has fully funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. In FY2020, Congress provided $100.5 million for procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th NSC, so as to preserve the option of procuring a 12th NSC while the Coast Guard evaluates its future needs. The funding can be used for procuring LLTM for a 12th NSC if the Coast Guard determines it is needed. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $31 million in procurement funding for activities within the NSC program; this request does not include further funding for a 12th NSC. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget also proposes a rescission of $70 million of the $100.5 million that Congress provided for a 12th NSC, with the intent of reprogramming that funding to the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program. Eight NSCs have entered service; the seventh and eighth were commissioned into service on August 24, 2019. The 9th through 11th are under construction; the 9th is scheduled for delivery in 2020.

OPCs are to be less expensive and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC and PSC programs as the service’s highest acquisition priorities. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $411 million per ship. The first OPC was funded in FY2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $546 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth, and other program costs. On October 11, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which the Coast Guard is a part, announced that DHS had granted extraordinary contractual relief to Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) of Panama City, FL, the builder of the first four OPCs, under P.L. 85-804 as amended (50 U.S.C. 1431-1435), a law that authorizes certain federal agencies to provide certain types of extraordinary relief to contractors who are encountering difficulties in the performance of federal contracts or subcontracts relating to national defense. ESG reportedly submitted a request for extraordinary relief on June 30, 2019, after ESG’s shipbuilding facilities were damaged by Hurricane Michael, which passed through the Florida panhandle on October 10, 2018. The Coast Guard intends to hold a competition for a contract to build OPCs 5 through 15.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $65 million per boat. A total of 60 have been funded through FY2020, including four in FY2020. Four of the 60 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four FRCs, 56 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2020. The 36th FRC was commissioned into service on January 10, 2020. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $20 million in procurement funding for the FRC program; this request does not include funding for any additional FRCs.

The Forgotten American Explorer Who Discovered Antarctica — and Why It Is Important

USS Vincennes in Disappointment Bay, Antarctica, during the Wilkes expedition. (Public Domain)

Smithsonian Magazine brings us the story of American explorer Charles Wilkes, who while commanding USS Vincennes, was the first to map the coast of Antarctica. They talk about why it is important and why the apparent decline in US interest in Antarctica is dangerous.

As the northern ice melts, the Arctic Ocean is already the scene of international jockeying for mining rights. But as China scholar Anne-Marie Brady has documented extensively, Beijing views Antarctica as the last great terrestrial frontier on Earth, hosting great deposits of coal, natural gas, precious minerals, added to plentiful fish stocks in the surrounding ocean and even vast freshwater reserves locked up in Antarctic ice. China intends to exploit the continent fully once the current Antarctic Treaty expires in 2048, if not sooner. With nations hungry for new sources of oil and mineral wealth, and China laying the groundwork for industrialization of the pole, the stakes for Antarctica couldn’t be higher.

This is why we need icebreakers, and why they have to have provision installing effective self defense weapons. We cannot expect the Antarctic treaty to extend beyond 2048. As soon as one nation withdraws there is going to be a land rush there and it could lead to armed conflict.

As the nation with the greatest historical investment in Antarctica, the U.S. has the resources and authority to lead an international re-commitment to south polar conservation. By reaffirming its leadership role at the pole, America can ensure that the great game of the 21ar century does not repeat the mistakes of those of centuries prior, when the world’s pristine frontiers were fought over and ransacked with little thought for environmental damage, or for what future human generations might do once the last wilderness on Earth melts away.

 

“US’s only heavy icebreaker returns home following 123-day Antarctic Treaty inspection and resupply mission” –News Release

Below is a news release. The unusual part of this, is that Polar Star was involve in inspection of foreign stations in Antarctica. These are the first such inspections since 2012. I certainly doubt there are any problems with the Italian and South Korean stations. Perhaps the Chinese presence bears watching. It is not that I expect they will find a military base, but it would not be surprising to find “dual use” facilities. Systems that could support both scientific activity and possible future military use. This was the way they started on their South China Sea artificial islands. I don’t think we can expect the current treaty to stay in place forever. 

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
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

US’s only heavy icebreaker returns home following 123-day Antarctic Treaty inspection and resupply mission

Rear Adm. Jack Vogt, commander of the 13th Coast Guard district, welcomes the crew of USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) at Base Seattle, Wednesday, March 25. The nation's only heavy icebreaker, during Operation Deep Freeze 2020 the Polar Star created a path through 451.1 nautical miles of ice up to 6 feet thick so that provisioning vessels could reach McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Michael Clark)
USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) returns to homeport of Seattle A crewmember aboard Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) supervises as mooring lines are passed to the pier on Base Seattle, Wednesday, March 25. The Polar Star crew completed a 4-month deployment to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Michael Clark) Rear Adm. Jack Vogt, commander of the 13th Coast Guard district, welcomes the crew of USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) at Base Seattle, Wednesday, March 25. The nation's only heavy icebreaker, during Operation Deep Freeze 2020 the Polar Star created a path through 451.1 nautical miles of ice up to 6 feet thick so that provisioning vessels could reach McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Michael Clark)

SEATTLE — The 150-member crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star returned Wednesday to their homeport of Seattle following a 123-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze.

This mission marks the Polar Star’s 23rd journey to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, an annual joint military service mission to resupply the United States Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation – the lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program.  This year also marks the 63rd iteration of the annual operation.

The Polar Star crew departed Seattle on Nov. 27, 2019, for their sixth deployment in as many years and traveled more than 26,350 miles through the North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans.

In the Southern Ocean, the crew travelled through nearly 500 miles of pack ice and broke through 23 miles of fast ice in order to create a nearly 18-square-mile navigable channel to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Because of the efforts of the Polar Star crew, two resupply vessels and one tanker travelled to McMurdo Station unescorted in order to refuel and resupply U.S. Antarctic stations.

This year’s operation required the construction of a temporary, modular mobile causeway to replace an ice pier, which disintegrated during Operation Deep Freeze 2018-2019.  The modular pier required a three-day construction period prior to the offload of supplies, followed by a three-day deconstruction period at the conclusion of the mission.

Three resupply ships required 23 days to offload 19.6 million pounds of cargo and 7.6 million gallons of fuel during this year’s operation, more than doubling the operation duration and capacity as previous years. Together, the three ships delivered enough fuel and critical supplies to sustain NSF operations throughout the year until Polar Star returns in 2021.

Among the cargo offloaded were construction materials for a five-year, $460 million Antarctica Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) project to recapitalize McMurdo Station, South Pole Station and other American outposts on the continent.  

Additionally, the Polar Star crew also supported a team of U.S. government officials from the U.S. Department of State, National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard who conducted a five-day inspection of foreign research stations, installations and equipment in Antarctica.

The United States continues to promote Antarctica’s status as a continent reserved for peace and science in accordance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The inspection serves to verify compliance with the Antarctic Treaty and its Environmental Protocol, including provisions prohibiting military measures and mining, as well as provisions promoting safe station operation and sound environmental practices.

The team inspected three stations: Mario Zucchelli (Italy), Jang Bogo (South Korea), and Inexpressible Island (China). This was the fifteenth inspection of foreign research stations by the United States in Antarctica and the first since 2012.

Inspections emphasize all of Antarctica is accessible to interested countries despite territorial claims and reinforce the importance of compliance with the Antarctic Treaty’s arms control provisions. The United States will present its report on the inspection at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in May 2020.

“I am very proud of the tenacity of this Polar Star crew,” said Coast Guard Capt. Greg Stanclik, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “158 crew members earned the Antarctic Service Medal during Operation Deep Freeze 2020. The words inscribed on the back of the medal are Courage, Sacrifice and Devotion. Each and every one exhibited the courage to make this 123-day Antarctic voyage, sacrificed time away from their loved ones and devoted themselves to executing this nationally critical mission.”

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is the United States’ only operational heavy icebreaker, capable of breaking ice up to 21 feet thick. Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the ship spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, returns to dry dock in order to conduct critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze mission.

If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability.

By contrast, Russia currently operates more than 50 icebreakers – several of which are nuclear powered.

The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965 and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

In April 2019, the Coast Guard awarded VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a contract for the design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, which will also be homeported in Seattle. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

“Replacing the Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet is paramount,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area. “Our ability to clear a channel and allow for the resupply of the United States’ Antarctic stations is essential for continued national presence and influence on the continent.”

“Coast Guard releases request for proposal for Polar Star service life extension program” –CG-9, Time to change Homeport?

The Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) has issued a request for proposal for a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for the Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star. This is expected to be done over a five year period.

There is a good chance that the winning shipyard will not be in the Seattle area, where the ship is currently homeported. The last few years, Polar Star has undergone extended annual availabilities in a shipyard in Vallejo, California. This has to have been a hardship on the crew and their families. Once the contract is awarded, we will be fairly sure where the ships will have her availabilities for the next five years. If the winner is not in the Seattle area, I hope the Coast Guard will consider changing the Polar Star’s homeport so that the families can be near the shipyard where the renovation will take place.

I have duplicated the CG-9 announcement below

ISVS RFP

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star travels through the 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 one tanker and two cargo vessels to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.


The Coast Guard released a request for proposal (RFP) Jan. 31 to support the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star service life extension program (SLEP) as part of the In-Service Vessel Sustainment program (ISVS). When completed, the SLEP effort will recapitalize a number of major systems and extend the service life of the cutter until the second Polar Security Cutter (PSC) is operational. This future contract will include SLEP work items and recurring maintenance in a five-year phased production schedule between 2021 and 2025. The future contract will also include an award fee with potential to be earned for making the ship available ahead of schedule.

The RFP is available here. The deadline to submit responses is March 18 at 2:00 p.m. EDT.

The 399-foot cutter – commissioned in 1976 – is the Coast Guard’s only active heavy icebreaker. It supports nine of the 11 Coast Guard statutory missions. Each winter, the cutter travels to McMurdo Station in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which supports the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program.

When the cutter is eventually decommissioned, its duties will be assumed by the planned PSCs. The Coast Guard and the Navy are working together for the acquisition, through an integrated program office. Delivery of the first PSC is planned for 2024.

For more information: In-Service Vessel Sustainment program page

“Davie to become Canada’s third National Shipbuilding Strategy strategic partner” –Marine Log

To no one’s surprise MarineLog reports that Davie Shipbuilding, Lauzon, Quebec, Canada’s largest shipyard, has been selected as the third shipyard partner in Canada’s “National Shipbuilding Strategy” and will build six icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Polar Sea Sails for McMurdo, and We Need Six PSC

Below is quoted a press release about the departure of the Polar Star for the annual McMurdo resupply mission.

I may be reading too much into this, but the paragraph regarding the Polar Security Cutter program seems to represent a change from previous pronouncements.

The Coast Guard … is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

The same message is now on the Acquisitions Directorate Polar Security Cutter page, “The Coast Guard needs six new PSCs to ensure national year-round access to the polar regions and to provide self-rescue capability.”

The High Latitude study that the number six was based upon, said the Coast Guard needed three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers. The heavy icebreaker became the Polar Security Program. Are medium icebreakers also being called Polar Security Cutters? It does not seem so. There is no mention of this second type.

There is logic to simply building only a single class. It would save the development costs of a new, second class. The cost of the PSC is less than originally estimated and with the cost potentially dropping as the shipyard continues the learning curve with each new ship, building three less capable ship may not save much. Having instead six of the more capable ships would increase flexibility, and commonality pays dividends in logistics and training. Six more capable ship could allow a Northern Hemisphere winter deployment of two ships to McMurdo, while a second pair of ships could alternate, one on patrol in the Arctic, and the other on standby in Seattle, while a third pair are in the yard for maintenance to be ready for deployment during summer months.

Of course for any mission requiring an icebreaker, a heavy icebreaker Is more likely to get there quicker and be capable of doing more than a smaller ship when it gets there.

The Press Release

united states coast guard

News Release

Nov. 26, 2019
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3319
After Hours: (510) 333-6297
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Nation’s only heavy icebreaker departs for Antarctic military operation

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020
USCGC Polar Star crew departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020 https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5941169/uscgc-polar-star-crew-departs-seattle-operation-deep-freeze-2020 USCGC Polar Star crew departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

SEATTLE — The crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) departed Tuesday commencing their annual deployment to Antarctica where the cutter and crew will support Operation Deep Freeze 2020, a joint military service mission to resupply U.S. interests in Antarctica.

“We set out today on an important mission, saying goodbye to the friends and families who have supported us and our ship for the past seven-months since we returned from Operation Deep Freeze 2019,” said Capt. Gregory Stanclik, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “We are looking forward to this year’s mission to McMurdo Station with a ship that is running the best it has since reactivation. This mission is critical to the United States and our continued strategic presence on the Antarctic Continent and I have the best crew possible to ensure we safely accomplish our goal.”

Homeported in Seattle, the 43-year-old Coast Guard cutter is the United States’ last remaining operational heavy icebreaker. This is the cutter’s seventh deployment in as many years to directly support the resupply of McMurdo Station – the United States’ main logistics hub in Antarctica.

Each year, the crew aboard the 399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar Star create a navigable path through seasonal and multi-year ice, sometimes as much as 21-feet thick, to allow a resupply vessel to reach McMurdo Station. The supply delivery allows Antarctic stations to stay operational year-round, including during the dark and tumultuous winter.

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is showing its age. Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the Polar Star spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, the cutter returns to dry dock in order to complete critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze mission.

The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965, and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

In the fiscal year 2019 budget, Congress appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new polar security cutter this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second.

The Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, working through an integrated program office, awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., a fixed price incentive contract in April for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, including options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

“The Coast Guard greatly appreciates the strong support from both the Administration and Congress for funding the polar security cutter program,” said Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard. “These new cutters are absolutely vital to achieving our national strategic objectives in the Polar Regions – presence equals influence, and we must be present to meet the Nation’s national security and economic needs there in the future.”

Canada’s New Icebreaker, John G. Diefenbaker

Canadian Polar Icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker

Some information from Canadian ship design agency VARD, on the planned Canadian polar icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker. The project is long delayed and construction has not yet begun.

There is much more detail in the VARD brochure and Wikipedia entry linked above, but a few significant data points.

  • Displacement, full load: 23,500 tons
  • Length overall: 150.1 m 492’-6”
  • Length waterline: 137.6 m 451’-5”
  • Breadth moulded 28.0 m 91’-10”
  • Design draft: 10.5 m 34’-6”
  • Generators: 39,600 kW 53,100 hp
  • Propulsion: two 11 MW (14,751 hp) wing shafts and a 12 MW (16,092 hp) azimuth thruster. total 34 MW (45,595 hp),
  • Speed: 18 knots ice free, 3.0 kn, 2.5m ice 
  • Range:  26,000 NM @ 12 kn ice free 
  • 1,800 NM @ 3.0 kn 2.2 m of ice
  • 60 core crew + 40 program personnel
  • Endurance  270 days

For comparison these are figures for the planned Polar Security Cutter. Projected delivery dates, 2024, 2025, 2027.

  • Displacement, Full Load: 22,900 tons
  • Length: 460 ft (140 meters)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 meters)
  • HP: 45,200
  • Accommodations: 186
  • Endurance: 90 days

In many ways the designs are remarkably close. Looks like the Canadian breaker will be slightly larger than the PSC, but will have a much smaller crew.

Presumably there will be no provision for armament since the Canadian Coast Guard does not arm its vessels.

The Diefenbaker’s very long endurance is a bit of a surprise, in view of Canada’s lack of a requirement to go to Antarctica, a feature that has driven the design of the PSC.

Propulsion power is almost identical, a bit over 45,000 HP, and both designs include three propellers, but the way it is done is different. While the PSC has a conventional shaft on the centerline and rotatable drive units to port and starboard, the Canadian design has a single rotating drive unit on the centerline and conventional shaft driven props port and starboard. This may provide the PSC with a redundancy advantage in that it might allow steerage even if one unit is damaged. On the other hand the single Canadian unit may be less likely to be damaged because of its position.