“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star completes Operation Deep Freeze 2023 mission, departs Antarctica” –PACAREA

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) visited Palmer Station, a United States research station on the Antarctic peninsula, March 3, 2023, after completing a successful deployment in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2023. This was the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s first visit to Palmer Station in 35 years. Operation Deep Freeze is one of many operations in the Indo-Pacific in which the U.S. military promotes security and stability across the region. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Aidan Cooney)

Below is a Pacific Area news release. You can also see it here. They do provide more photos. Note while Antarctic sea-ice is generally at a low level, at McMurdo it was unusually heavy.  

March 15, 2023

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star completes Operation Deep Freeze 2023 mission, departs Antarctica

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) and crew departed the Antarctic region March 2, after 67 days below the Antarctic Circle in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2023.

The Polar Star and crew broke a 17-mile channel through fast ice and conducted over 1,600 hours of ice breaking operations to create a navigable route for cargo vessels to reach McMurdo Station. The Polar Star and crew executed more than 60 hours of ice escorts for cargo vessels through difficult pack ice conditions.

“Though sea ice around the Antarctic continent overall has been determined to be at one of the lowest in recent history, the sea ice in McMurdo Sound was observed to be at the highest concentration on record dating back to at least 2012,” said Lt. Cmdr. Don Rudnickas, the onboard ice analyst. “The pack ice conditions this year were difficult and made icebreaker support critical not only for establishing the fast ice channel, but for the close escort through pack ice of three of the four cargo vessels resupplying McMurdo Station.”

While operating in Antarctica, the Polar Star and crew made two logistical stops at McMurdo Station. After the first stop in McMurdo, the cutter and crew assisted in moving a 30,000-ton aging and degraded ice pier from Winter Quarters Bay to make way for a modular causeway system that was installed for the season. The cutter also provided an ice escort to motor vessel Ocean Giant and crew, who delivered the 65-ton MCS that was offloaded, assembled, and used as a pier to replace the traditional ice pier used for cargo operations.

“The Antarctic region is a harsh and challenging environment to operate in,” said Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Litts, operations officer. “Despite the inhospitable conditions, our crew adapted and tirelessly performed at the highest level to ensure mission success.”

Before departing the Antarctic Region, the cutter also visited Palmer Station, the United States’ research facility located on the Antarctic Peninsula. Polar Star personnel went ashore to meet with the station manager and staff, tour the facility, and shared camaraderie in one of the most remote regions on the planet. This was the first visit from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker to Palmer Station since 1987.

“Ice breaking in Antarctica is a unique and dynamic mission requiring months of preparation and coordination among all our partners,” said Capt. Keith Ropella, commanding officer. “Mission success was a result of our crew working with fellow service members from the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy as a Joint Task Force to continue our proud support of the United States Antarctic Program.”

Operation Deep Freeze is the annual logistical support mission provided by the Department of Defense to the National Science Foundation (NSF) managed by the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). This includes 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. This is a unique mission demonstrating U.S. commitment to the Antarctic Treaty and to research programs conducted for the betterment of all humanity. The Polar Star and crew contribute to this yearly effort through icebreaking to clear the channel for supply vessels.

The Polar Star is the United States’ only asset capable of providing access to both Polar Regions. It is a 399-foot heavy polar icebreaker commissioned in 1976, weighing 13,500 tons and is 84-feet wide with a 34-foot draft. The six diesel and three gas turbine engines produce up to 75,000 horsepower.

“As Ice Recedes, Italian Ship Makes Record Journey into the Antarctic” –gCaptain

Italian Icebreaking Research ship Laura Bassi, the former RRS Ernest Shackleton. Photo credit Brian Burnell 

gCaptain reports,

“ROME, Jan 31 (Reuters) – An Italian ice-breaker carrying scientists researching in the Antarctic has sailed further south than any ship has done before, the organizers of the voyage said on Tuesday, a further sign of how ice is retreating around the poles.”

The Laura Bassi, the ship that did this most southerly voyage would be classified, by the Coast Guard. as a light icebreaker. It is only 80 meters (262 feet) in length and 5,455 tons full load. Its total generator capacity is only 5100KW or 6839HP, little more than half that of the old Wind class icebreakers (12,000 HP) built during WWII.

Clearly, things are changing in Antarctica.

“Of a titan, winds and power: Transnational development of the icebreaker, 1890-1954” –Sage Journals

A concept drawing of the development and angle of the icebreaker bow.
Source: KA, HR, 21. The drawing dates from the 1940s during the design of icebreaker Voima. It was digitized, digitally rearranged and enhanced by Aaro Sahari.

The International Journal of Maritime History has a scholarly explanation of the evolution of icebreaker design. There is also an accompanying podcast from CIMSEC, if you prefer that format, but you would miss a lot.

“Putin touts Russia’s ‘Arctic power’ with launch of nuclear icebreakers”

Launch ceremony for the nuclear-powered icebreaker "Yakutia" in Saint Petersburg

Launch ceremony for the nuclear-powered icebreaker “Yakutia” in St. Petersburg

Some news from MSN about two new Russian nuclear powered icebreakers, one launch, one “flag raising,” and a reference to a real monster,

Putin said a super-powerful nuclear 209-metre icebreaker known as “Rossiya”, with a displacement of up to 71,380 tonnes, would be completed by 2027. It will be able to break through ice four metres thick.

Want to Buy an Icebreaker?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Coast Guard is planning to buy the  icebreaking, anchor-handling tug-supply vessel Aiviq, “U.S. Looks to Buy Private Icebreaker to Help Patrol Contested Arctic.” The Coast Guard has been noncommital, but it seems likely. We have been talking about this ship since 2012. It is ten years old. When attempts to drill in the Arctic ended and the ship went on the open market without a buyer, I suggested the Coast Guard consider purchase. Probably not because of my urging, but the Coast Guard did look at it, and decided it did not meet our needs. Really it probably still does not. (The geared diesel propulsion looked like it might be problematic in the ice.) Buying it would probably help a major Congressional contributor cut his losses. It is going to require a major rework, and its only selling point is that it seems to be the only alternative, but is it?

gCaptain reports,

The Finnish Government is blocking Helsinki Shipyard from delivering an icebreaker to Russian mining company Norilsk Nickel.

The shipyard, which is known for its icebreaker construction, said Wednesday it had received a “negative decision” from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on September 30th related to the export license of the vessel, confirming reports in Finnish press. The shipyard’s statement did not go into specifics…the icebreaker was to be largest and most powerful diesel-electric icebreaker ever built in Finland, with an integrated dual-fuel engine that can run on both LNG and low-sulfur diesel oil.

No it is not finished, but the design is complete. “Helsinki Shipyard in January said it had completed purchasing contracts for the vessel’s main machinery and propulsion equipment and construction was expected to start this year.” Delivery had been expected in 2024.

This looks like an opportunity to get a powerful, state of the art icebreaker and help a company that has been hurt because Finland stood up against Russian aggression. Since construction has not begun, there may also be an opportunity to tweek the design to meet CG requirements. It has been less than two months since the Finnish government stopped construction. I suspect Finland could complete the ship promptly, probably by 2025. It should at least be looked at. We would need special dispensation from Congress to buy a foreign built ship, but it has been done before. There would probably still be some fitting out work to be done in an American shipyard.

Icebreaking Anchor Handling Vessel Aiviq

As for the Aiviq, we could still lease it, see how it works out, and buy it later if we like what we have seen.


“MEDIA ADVISORY: America’s only heavy icebreaker departs Seattle Wednesday; bound for Antarctica” –PACAREA

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

Media Advisory

U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

MEDIA ADVISORY: America’s only heavy icebreaker departs Seattle Wednesday; bound for Antarctica

Polar Star and crew in Antarctica

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

Who: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) and crew 

What: Polar Star and crew are scheduled to depart Seattle, en route to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze

When: Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022 at 2 p.m.

Where: U.S. Coast Guard Base Seattle

SEATTLE — The United States’ only heavy icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, is scheduled to depart its Seattle homeport, Wednesday.

This annual journey to Antarctica is conducted in support of Operation Deep Freeze, a joint military service mission to resupply the United States Antarctic stations of the National Science Foundation, the lead agency for the United States Antarctic Program.

The Polar Star crew conducts this essential mission to create a navigable path through ice as thick as 21-feet, to allow refuel and resupply ships to reach McMurdo Station, the largest Antarctic station and the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program.

The U.S. Coast Guard is recapitalizing its polar icebreaker fleet to ensure access to the Polar Regions, project U.S. sovereignty, and to protect the country’s economic, environmental and national security interests. To support this endeavor, the U.S. Coast Guard is exploring options to expand Base Seattle infrastructure to support the growing icebreaker fleet.

Media are encouraged to contact Coast Guard District 13 Public Affairs at 206-251-3237 or uscgd13@gmail.com to arrange an escort at Base Seattle to attend the ship’s departure. The commanding officer of the Polar Star, Capt. Keith Ropella, may be available for interview prior to the ship’s departure.

“MEDIA ADVISORY: U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker to return home after four-month Arctic deployment” –PACAREA

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

Media Advisory

U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

MEDIA ADVISORY: Coast Guard icebreaker returns home to Seattle after 124-day Arctic deployment

Who: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) commanding officer and crew

What: Returning to Seattle following four-month Arctic deployment

When: Friday, 4 p.m.

Where: Coast Guard Base Seattle, 1519 Alaskan Way S, Seattle, WA 98134

SEATTLE — U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) is scheduled to return home to Seattle, Friday, following a historic 17,000-mile, 124-day deployment in the high Arctic latitudes that included a transit to the North Pole.

The crew’s efforts demonstrated interoperability in the Polar Region, supported U.S. security objectives, and projected an ice-capable presence in Arctic waters and the Gulf of Alaska.

Commissioned in 2000, Healy is a 420-foot medium icebreaker and a uniquely capable oceanographic research platform. Healy’s crew traversed the ice-packed Arctic Ocean to the top of the world, reaching the geographic North Pole on Sept. 30, 2022. This was only the second time a U.S. vessel had reached 90 degrees north unaccompanied.

Media are encouraged to contact Coast Guard public affairs at 206-251-3237 or uscgd13@gmail.com to arrange an escort at Base Seattle to attend the ship’s arrival. Healy’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Kenneth Boda, will be available for an interview following their arrival.

Three New Strategies, National, Arctic, Coast Guard

October seems to be the month for new strategic documents. Normally I would like to read and summarize the highlights, but I just have not had the time and I don’t want to delay getting the information out. Maybe we will take a look at them in more detail or we can discuss in the comments. You can access them here:

I have had a little time to look at the Arctic strategy and it tells me there will be Icebreakers on the Atlantic side as well as the Pacific. There is of course a lot more, but I did not see anything surprising.

“Russia Launches Project 23550 Patrol Ship ‘Purga'” –Naval News

Official scale model of the Project 23550 ice-class patrol ship “Purga” for the Russian Coast Guard presented during the commissioning ceremony. Picture by Curious / forums.airbase.ru

Naval News reports the launch of a 9,000 tons, 114 meter icebreaker patrol ship for the Russian Coast Guard.

We have talked about this class before. Artist depictions of the class mounting containerized Kalibr cruise missile systems caused a bit of a stir, but we have yet to see containerized weapons on this class, nor have we seen Kalibr launched from containers against Ukraine. At this point, Russia may not have enough missiles to fully outfit its more capable combatants.

This is the first of the class for the Russian Coast Guard. The first two ships of the class were for the Russian Navy.

As I noted earlier, I really don’t think we need to mirror the Russian capability to put containerized missiles on our icebreakers, but the Polar Security Cutters will be valuable, almost irreplaceable auxiliaries, and unlike the Russians, we have very few icebreakers, so we need to be able to quickly upgrade their defensive capabilities.

These ships are in many respects similar to the Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, but they are reportedly slightly faster at 18 knots and much better armed–but only to a level similar to the OPCs, unless containerized weapons are added. I expect our Artic Security Cutters may be more like these than the Healy, though they probably will be larger than the Russian ships.

“Coast Guard could see more funding in new Senate legislation to help face Arctic challenges from Russia and China” –Stars and Stripes

USCG Cutter Bear transits out of Torngat National Park, Canada, on Aug. 9, 2022. The Bear was partaking in the Tuugaalik phase of Operation Nanook, an annual exercise that allows the United States and multiple other partner nations to ensure security and enhance interoperability in Arctic waters. (Matthew Abban/U.S. Coast Guard)

This isn’t through the budgeting process, but it is more indication of the Congress’ bipartisan support for the Coast Guard. Seems likely much of this will be incorporated in the final budget.

Stars and Stripes reports on action by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, that would provide money for the third Polar Security Cutter, establish an Arctic Security Cutter program, and provide “more options for child care, better access to affordable housing and expanded medical care and education opportunities…”

The bill would authorize $14.94 billion for the service for fiscal 2023, which begins Oct. 1. It would amount to a 21.5% budget increase from fiscal 2021.

The bill would support greater Arctic presence, combat IUU fishing, and improve polution response.