Bollinger Wants to Build CG Icebreakers in Tampa

MarineLink provides what is almost certainly a quote of press release from Bollinger stating they hope to build the three heavy and three medium icebreakers the Coast Guard has been saying it needs in Tampa. They are reminding every one (hay, you guys in Congress) how many jobs this could mean for Florida.

This cannot hurt our case for building more than one icebreaker.

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika in the Kara Sea. RIA Novosti archive, image #186141. Also keep reminding them how many icebreakers the Russians have and that the Chinese have one, are building one, and are planning a nuclear icebreaker. 

 

Chinese Nuclear Icebreaker Planned

China Defense Blog reports that China is has begun the process to design and build a nuclear powered icebreaker, as a prelude to building a nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

The post includes a quotation that is wrong on a couple of counts.

“The US and former Soviet Union used their experience with nuclear-powered icebreaker ships to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, he noted.”

The US, of course, never built a nuclear icebreaker, and the Soviet Union never built a nuclear carrier. The Soviets did build some very large cruisers with a hybrid nuclear and conventional steam powerplants, but those were their only nuclear powered surface warships. Both nations built nuclear submarines before building nuclear surface warships. China has also already built several classes of nuclear submarines

“Canada taps Davie for three AHTS-conversion medium icebreakers”–Marine Log

Projresolvbig

Our resident icebreaker expert, Tups, told us in a comment this was coming. Marine Log confirms the official announcement.

“On behalf of the Canadian Coast Guard, Public Services and Procurement Canada has issued an Advanced Contract Award Notice (ACAN) to shipbuilder Chantier Davie of Lévis, Quebec, for the acquisition and conversion of three medium commercial icebreakers.

“… The three candidate ships proposed by Project Resolute for this role are the Viking Supply Ships AB vessels Tor Viking II, Balder Viking and Vidar Viking.

There was an earlier proposal to lease these three ships and the icebreaking anchor handling vessel Aiviq, but these three will be purchased and there is no mention of the Aiviq in the announcement.

Based on the accompanying illustration, conversion will add a helo deck and hangar. These ships are 82 meters (276 ft) in length, 18 m (59 ft) of beam, and 18,300 HP.

The first of these is expected to go to work this winter.

Maritime Transportation in the Arctic: The U.S. Role–House Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Above you will find a video of a hearing held on June 7, 2018 regarding “Transportation in the Arctic”. You will find the subcommittee web page here. It includes the video, the list of witnesses which I have reproduced below, and the Chairman’s opening remarks.

The video does not actually start until time 21:45.

Witnesses:

  • Admiral Charles W. Ray, Vice Commandant United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Mr. David Kennedy, Senior Arctic Advisor, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Heather A. Conley, Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, Center for Strategic and International Studies | Written Testimony
  • Dr. Lawson Brigham, Faculty and Distinguished Fellow, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Molly McCammon, Executive Director, Alaska Ocean Observing System | Written Testimony
  • Rear Admiral David W. Titley, USN (Ret.), Professor of Practice, Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, Pennsylvania State University | Written Testimony

 

As you may see, the new Vice Commandant, Adm. Ray is the first witness. He completes his prepared remarks at time 32:30.

Incidentally one of the Witnesses Lawson Brigham (prepared testimony begins at time 44:00 to 48:25) is a retired Coast Guard captain with extensive polar icebreaker experience.

Questioning begins at time 1:00:00 with the “trick question” explored further by the Washington Examiner Magazine, “The Next ‘Cold’ War: America May Be Missing the Boat in the Arctic.”

There are few surprises here. There is almost no infrastructure in the Arctic. Apparently there is a slow effort to provide better domain awareness. Only about 5% of the American Arctic waters are charted to international standards.

The most significant thing to come out in the hearing was that there is no National or Naval strategy for the Arctic Ocean. (This might be because NORTHCOM, which is air and ground oriented, has responsibility for the Arctic Ocean area.) Congress has added a requirement for development of an Arctic Strategy in the FY2019 DOD budget, and they certainly expect the Coast Guard to have a large role in the strategy.

If you don’t listen to anything else, particularly listen to John Garamendi’s remarks 1:41:30 to 1:43:30.

 

 

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Program: Background and Issues for Congress–23 May, 2018

USCGC Polar Sea

The latest edition of the Congressional Research Service report on Coast Guard Polar Icebreakers, by Ronald O’Rourke, was published on 23 May, 2018. You can see it here. 

I have reproduced the summary immediately below.  

The Coast Guard polar icebreaker program is a program to acquire three new heavy polar icebreakers, to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new medium polar icebreakers. The Coast Guard wants to begin construction of the first new heavy polar icebreaker in FY2019 and have it enter service in 2023. The polar icebreaker program has received about $359.6 million in acquisition funding through FY2018, including $300 million provided through the Navy’s shipbuilding account and $59.6 million provided through the Coast Guard’s acquisition account. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $750 million in Coast Guard acquisition funding for the program.

The acquisition cost of a new heavy polar icebreaker had earlier been estimated informally at roughly $1 billion, but the Coast Guard and Navy now believe that three heavy polar icebreakers could be acquired for a total cost of about $2.1 billion, or an average of about $700 million per ship. The first ship will cost more than the other two because it will incorporate design costs for the class and be at the start of the production learning curve for the class. An April 13, 2018, Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the polar icebreaker program states that the Coast Guard has reduced its estimated cost for the first heavy polar icebreaker to less than $900 million, which would imply an average cost of something more than $600 million each for the second and third icebreakers. When combined with the program’s $359.6 million in prior-year funding, the $750 million requested for FY2019 would fully fund the procurement of the first new heavy polar icebreaker and partially fund the procurement of the second.

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 has used Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Mission Need Statement (MNS) approved in June 2013 states that “current requirements and future projections … indicate the Coast Guard will need to expand its icebreaking capacity, potentially requiring a fleet of up to six icebreakers (3 heavy and 3 medium) to adequately meet mission demands in the high latitudes….”

The current condition of the U.S. polar icebreaker fleet, the DHS MNS, and concerns among some observers about whether the United States is adequately investing in capabilities to carry out its responsibilities and defend its interests in the Arctic, have focused policymaker attention on the question of whether and when to acquire one or more new heavy polar icebreakers as replacements for Polar Star and Polar Sea.

On March 2, 2018, the U.S. Navy, in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard under the polar icebreaker integrated program office, released a request for proposal (RFP) for the advance procurement and detail design for the Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker, with options for detail design and construction for up to three heavy polar icebreakers.

Issues for Congress for FY2019 for the polar icebreaker program include, inter alia, whether to approve, reject, or modify the Coast Guard’s FY2019 acquisition funding request; whether to use a contract with options or a block buy contract to acquire the ships; whether to continue providing at least some of the acquisition funding for the polar icebreaker program through the Navy’s shipbuilding account; and whether to procure heavy and medium polar icebreakers to a common basic design.

Icebreaker Communications Requirement

A 4ISRnet report confirms that the Coast Guard intends to have a full range of communications equipment on the new Heavy Polar Icebreaker, up to an including military secure satellite communications.

“Communication is severely degraded at higher latitudes, beyond 65 degrees north and south,” said Eric Nagel, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s acquisition directorate. “Coast Guard polar icebreakers need to be able to communicate in Polar Regions with a wide range of groups from commercial shipping and recreational boaters to scientific researchers. The polar icebreakers also need to maintain network connectivity with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and other federal and international partners.”

 

 

From the LCS Mission Modules, What We Might Want, What We Might Need

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided access to the second “Annual Report to Congress for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Mission Module Program.” Some of these systems should be of interest to the Coast Guard, either as regular equipment for peacetime law enforcement and counterterrorism missions, for temporary use, as in the case of a naval mining incident, or as wartime add-ons if the Coast Guard is mobilized for a major conflict.

Keep in mind, the procurement cost of these systems would presumably come out the Navy budget.

Mine Countermeasures Mission Package

The Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Mission Packages (MP) has already been addressed. 24 are planned including nine to be built for “Vessels of Opportunity.” These nine extra packages probably meet any peacetime augmentation requirement and provide a reserve for mobilization. Testing is expected to continue through FY 2022. Production is expected to continue well into the future as less than half the packages will have been delivered by FY2023.

ASW Mission Packages for NSCs and OPCs

An earlier post discussed the possibility of using mission modules and Navy reservist to augment large cutters. In a protracted conflict against a near peer naval power like Russia or China, our large patrol ships are most probably going to be needed to perform open ocean ASW escort duties.

Only ten ASW Mission Packages are planned. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is expected in FY 2019, but testing will continue through 2020. The Multi-Function Array is already a fielded system. Deliveries are expected to begin in FY2021 at a rate of two systems per year. If that rate is continued, the ten planned systems will be complete in 2025.

At an estimated cost of less than $20M the ASW Mission Package is the least expensive of the three types of Mission Packages. Adding this system as a mobilization capability or perhaps even as a peacetime capability to 35 or more large cutters would provide a higher return on investment than just about any other Naval program.

It might even help us locate semi-submersibles.

Vertical launch Hellfire

As I have noted before, the Coast Guard has a potential need to be capable of countering terrorist efforts to use a wide spectrum of vessels to make an attack. These craft range between small, fast, highly maneuverable boats on one extreme, to large ocean going vessels at the other. Our ability to counter these threats must be widely available, quickly effective, and have both a probability of success approaching 100% and do so with minimal danger to innocents who may be in the vicinity. Guns do not meet these criteria.

Hellfire missile have the potential to meet these criteria, at least against the lower half of the threat spectrum, and, using more than one round, might have a degree of success even against the largest vessels.

Apparently the SSMM Longbow Hellfire testing is going well, with 20 out of 24 successful engagements, and there’s a software fix for the root cause of the 4 failures.

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28, 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

A recent US Naval Institute News Service report quoted LCS Mission Modules Program Manager Capt. Ted Zobel “all of our mission packages…are finishing up development, proceeding into test, and then from test into production and ultimately deployment.”

“…surface-to-surface missile module (SSMM) will add a Longbow Hellfire missile to increase the lethality of the LCS. Testing begins this month on USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) and will move to USS Detroit (LCS-7) over the summer. Testing should wrap up by December, Zobel said, with Detroit planning to bring the SSMM with it on its maiden deployment about a year from now. Written testimony from the Navy at a March 6 House Armed Services Committee hearing states that IOC is planned for Fiscal Year 2019.”

The Surface to Surface Mission Module (SSMM) planned for the Littoral Combat Ship, seen above, can store and launch up to 24 missiles. 24 missiles would weigh about 2,500 pounds. As a very rough estimate, Its foot print appears to be about 9×12 feet (late note–a little photo analysis suggest the three mission module positions on each LCS are about 15-16′ square), probably not too large for an NSC, OPC, or icebreaker, but probably too large for the Webber class WPCs where I really think we really need the capability. They are after all, much more likely to be in the right place, at the right time. For them we probably need a smaller system.

In the video above, beginning at time 2m58s there is a model of a 12 meter unmanned surface vessel mounting a four tube Hellfire vertical launch system. Knowing that the Hellfire is only 7 inches in diameter and 64 inches long, it appears this installation would have a footprint of no more than 6×8 feet and probably would be no more than seven feet high. It seems likely we could find a place for one or two of these on each Webber class and at least one when we build the replacements for the 87 footers.

I have often seen missiles compared unfavorably to guns, based on the cost of the projectiles, but cost of providing a system like Hellfire pales in comparison to the cost of a medium caliber gun, its ammunition allowance, and the maintenance, training, and technicians required to keep it operational. Compared to the guns we have used in the past:

  • Maximum range of almost 9,000 yards is less than the maximum range of the 5″/38, 76mm, or 57mm, but it is very near the effective range of these medium caliber weapons. This range is likely more than enough to remain outside the effective range of improvised weapons installations that might be used in a terrorist attack.
  • Effective range is more than three times greater than that of the 25mm Mk38 mod2/3
  • Warhead appears to be more effective than even the 5″ rounds.
  • Every round will likely be a hit.
  • Those hits will come very quickly.
  • It may be possible to accurately target specific vulnerable areas on the target.
  • They require only minimal training and maintenance compared to medium caliber guns.
  • If the target is within range, its only real disadvantage is the limited number of rounds.

While I have never seen it claimed official, I have seen reports that Hellfire can be used against slower aircraft such as helicopters and UAVs.

 These small missiles could allow our patrol vessels to hit like much bigger vessels.

30 mm Mk46 Gun Mission Module (GMM)

Gun Mission Module by Northrop Grumman

The “Gun Mission Module” (GMM) could be one way to arm the icebreakers relatively quickly when needed, while allowing the option of removing the weapons before going to Antarctica if desired.

Production of these units is quickly running its course, and if we want to use these on the icebreakers, it may be desirable to have our needs added to the production schedule before the production is shut down. The last two are expected to be delivered in FY2020.

How important this is will depend on the Coast Guard’s intentions and the alternatives.

Setting up the installations in the same format as found on the LCSs means improvements or alternative systems developed to LCS systems could be easily incorporated in the icebreakers as well.

On the other hand, the included 30mm Mk46 gun weapon system is not limited to the LCSs. It is or will be mounted on the three Zumwalt DDG-1000 class destroyers, 13 San Antonio (LPD-17) class, and probably 13 LX(R)/LPD-17 Flight II class still to be built, about 58 mounts in addition to the 20 planned for the LCSs.

It doesn’t look like it would be too difficult to remove or re-install just the gun mount (seen below) if that would meet our needs. It would of course require a dedicated space, permanent installation of supporting equipment, and a way to seal the opening for the mount long term when the mount is removed.

Although it is not as effective as the Mk46 mount, because of the smaller 25 mm gun currently used, the Mk38 Mod2/3 is also an alternative, and has the advantage of already being in the use with the Coast Guard. It is even more widely used, “As of 2016, 307 MK 38 MOD 2 systems have been delivered. There are 50 MK 38 MOD 3s on contract. The total POR (program of record–Chuck) is for 517 systems.”

Still the 25mm gun is markedly inferior to the 30mm in that its effective range is considerably less and the individual projectiles are far less potent. The Mk46 mount also has many more rounds on the mount compared to the Mk38 mod2/3. Upgrading the Mk38s to mount 30mm guns would address much of the current inferiority.

The inferiority of the Mk38 would also be much less of a concern if the Icebreaker had an additional, more powerful anti-surface weapon system, like the Hellfire Surface to Surface Missile Module or Anti-Surface Cruise Missiles. These might be useful if it is ever necessary to provide Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) in the Arctic or Antarctic.