“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated May 9, 2019”

The Congressional Research Service has updated their report on the Polar Security Cutter Program. This is the first revision since the award of the contract, so there are significant changes, including a section on the selected design found on pages 5-9.

“VT Halter releases more details of winning Polar Security Cutter design” –Marine Log

Marine Log provides some additional details on the specifications for the Polar Security Cutter (Heavy Polar Icebreaker) construction project, recently contracted to VT Halter.

Projected delivery dates, 2024, 2025, 2027.

  • Displacement, Full Load: 33,000 tons
  • Length: 460 ft (140 meters)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 meters)
  • HP: 45,200
  • Accommodations: 186
  • Endurance: 90 days

For comparison, USCGC Polar Star is:

  • Displacement: 13,623 long tons (13,842 t) (full)
  • Length: 399 ft (122 m)
  • Beam: 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m)
  • HP: (3 × 25,000 hp (19,000 kW))
  • Accommodations: 187

Thanks to Secundius for bringing this to my attention

“Coast Guard Hopes to Have 3 Polar Security Cutters Fielded by 2028” –USNI

The US Naval Institute reported on the Commandant’s remarks from the service chiefs panel at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference regarding the Polar Security Cutter program.

“right now my sense is we enjoy support from the administration, we enjoy bipartisan, bicameral support” in Congress, he said

The first ship is supposed to deliver to the Coast Guard in 2023..The Commandant did not speculate on the future funding profile, saying only that he expected three PSCs operational by 2028. USNI noted,

…buying the second and third ships in FY 2021 and 2023, respectively – would allow for all three to be in the fleet by 2027 or 2028.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson also remarked on Freedom of Navigation Operations in the Arctic and the Navy’s intention to operate in the Arctic.

Thoughts on PSC Diver Support Requirements

I am passing along some thoughts on Diver Support requirements for the Polar Security Cutter from a former USCG diver, Michael W. Carr, 

Divers are assigned to all Coast Guard Icebreakers, but this operational requirement has, in the past, been an afterthought. Dive lockers were cramped, not designed to support diving operations, and hampered equipment maintenance. Additionally, Coast Guard Icebreakers have rarely carried recompression chambers, even though these ships operate thousands of miles from diving medical assistance. I have not seen the specifications for these new vessels but I hope this new design incorporates DIVING features, and there is a DIVING OFFICER assigned to the design and construction team. Listed below are features which should be on these new Coast Guard Icebreakers:

1. Doublelock Navy approved recompression chamber.
2. Full suite of Surface Supplied Diving Systems, capable of supporting a US Navy MK21 Diving System.
3. Two independent Air Compressors capable of supporting Recompression Chamber Operations, Surface Supported Diving Systems, and SCUBA Operations.
4. A dedicated Diving equipment repair and maintenance space.
5. A dedicated space for a Diving Medical Corpsman.
6. Direct Access to the outside (weather) deck and diving station, with necessary heat and lighting for day/night operations.
7. Necessary equipment to support both hot water suit and dry suit operations.
8. Systems for supporting hydraulic and pneumatic tool operations.
9. Equipment necessary to support ship husbandry operations (propellor, sea chest, transducer, etc maintenance, and repair).
10 Dedicated meeting/training room for Dive Team planning and operations.
11. A Navy approved diving stage and crane to lower and raise divers (In the past divers conducted diving operations from the ice alongside the ship, or from a small boat tied alongside the icebreaker.
12. And finally: NO overboard suctions or discharges in the area of the diving station.

We need to think far into the future, ensuring these vessels meet both present needs, and the expansion of responsibilities as the Arctic and Antartic change due to our rapid climate changes. Coast Guard Divers assigned to Icebreakers are likely to be tasked with many more missions repairing other vessels and offshore structures, oil spill response actions, maritime security, and a myriad of other tasks. Lets really think this through and get it right. Bring on Divers with experience and knowledge to ensure we make these new icebreakers state of the art. Let’s examine icebreakers from all the other countries which operate in Arctic and Antarctic regions, and incorporate that knowledge.

Michael W. Carr is a Coast Guard Academy graduate (1977) and attended US Navy Diving & Salvage Officer training while in the Coast Guard. He then served as Diving Officer on US Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team Dive Team for 6 years. After 10 years in the Coast Guard, Carr went into the US Army Watercraft community. He retired from Army in 2015.

“VT Halter Marine to Build New Coast Guard Icebreaker” –USNI

PSCconcept1

An artist’s rendering of VT Halter Marine’s winning bid for the U.S. Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter. VT Halter Marine image.

US Naval Institute News Service reports that the first Polar Security Cutter (Heavy Icebreaker) contract has been awarded to VT Halter, and it is notably cheaper than initial estimates. Cost is actually not a lot more than for a National Security Cutter. The contract includes options for two additional ships, if all options are exercised total contract would be $1.9B.

More on China in the Arctic

Video: Russian nuclear powered icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Russian: 50 лет Победы), translated as 50 Years of Victory or Fiftieth Anniversary of Victory. The new Chinese Nuclear icebreaker will be similar in size.  

Some recent writings on China’s increasing interest in the Arctic caught my eye.

First there is this piece, “Opinion: China Is Joining the Rush for Arctic Riches.” by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis noting China’s apparent high level interest in the Arctic and its increasing military, political and economic alignment with Russia.

A wide ranging article from the Canadian Naval Review looks at “China’s Arctic Policy and its Potential Impact on Canada’s Arctic Security.” The author sees the roots of the Chinese policies in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) quest for legitimacy. As a result China has asserted “rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines, … and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area,” The author also suggests the Chinese see the Northern Sea Route as a way to avoid the US Navy’s potential blockage of the Straits of Malacca, but I cannot see that as a possibility, given the US possession of the Eastern half of the Bering Strait.

Lastly, some details about the new Chinese icebreaker have been reported by NavyRecognition. It is going to be very large.

“Next, came the official announcement that China intends to build a nuclear icebreaker. It will be 152 meters in length, 30 meters wide, and will displace 30,000 tons.”