“Icebreaker Xuelong 2 joins service on China national maritime day” –Global Times

China’s first domestically built polar research vessel and icebreaker, Xuelong 2 docks at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai on Thursday morning. Photo: Polar Research Institute of China

Global Times is reporting completion of China’s first domestically produced Polar Icebreaker. (Their existing polar icebreaker was built in the Ukraine.)

According to Wikipedia, she was designed by Finnish firm Aker Arctic Technology. Specs are as follows.

  • Polar Class 3
  • Double Acting, can break ice going ahead or astern
  • Displacement of 14,300 tons
  • Length: 122.5 metres (402 ft)
  • Beam: 22.3 metres (73 ft)
  • Draft: 8.3 metres (27 ft)
  • Max Speed: 15 knots
  • Accommodations: 90 Passengers and crew
  • Diesel-electric propulsion system, two 16-cylinder, two 12-cylinder engines, both Wärtsilä 32-series, drive through two 7.5 MW Azipods. Just under 20,000 HP

It is a lot smaller than the planned Polar Security Cutter, but it is also larger and about as powerful and almost certainly more effective than the Glacier that served the US effectively for many years.

The hull and power plant looks like something we might want for our medium icebreakers, and I note, it looks like this size could negotiate the Saint Lawrence Seaway. That would mean a similar ship could potentially operate both on the Great Lakes and support Atlantic Fleet operations if required.

Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention.

Seattle to be Homeport for Polar Security Cutter

Not surprisingly the Coast Guard has announced that Seattle is the planned homeport for the new Polar Security Cutter (heavy polar icebreaker). Below is the press release. 

U.S. Coast Guard announces homeport of newest Polar Security Cutter

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Coast Guard today announced that Seattle, Wash. will be the home of the service’s new Polar Security Cutters.

“I am pleased to announce that Seattle, Washington will be the home of the Coast Guard’s new Polar Security Cutters,” said Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.  “The Pacific Northwest has been the home of our icebreaking fleet since 1976, and I am confident that the Seattle area will continue to provide the support we need to carry out our critical operations in the polar regions.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access in the polar regions.  The addition of the Polar Security Cutters in Seattle will support the United States’ ability to conduct national missions, respond to critical events, and project American presence in the high latitudes.

The Coast Guard conducted a detailed analysis to identify locations that could accommodate the Polar Security Cutter. Based on operational and logistical needs, Seattle was determined to be the appropriate homeport for the first three Polar Security Cutters.

In April 2019, VT Halter Marine, Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was awarded a contract for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter class.

Does Atlantic Fleet Need an Icebreaker Capability?

USCGC Southwind Commissioning.

This post is going to be a little strange, because it starts with a question no one has ask and it will not provide any real answer. It is more the start of a thought process about possibilities. 
Does the Atlantic Fleet need icebreakers to support high latitude operations? Particularly US military icebreakers? And if so, could this support be provided by icebreakers that might also provide icebreaking services in the Great Lakes during peacetime?
I don’t know, but we do know that the Coast Guard’s first icebreakers were not based in the Pacific and they were not intended for Antarctic. They were used during World War Two in the Atlantic, particularly around Greenland.
We also know that NORAD and NORTHCOM are going to need to start replacing the Dew Line Systems with more modern systems that are need to protect against, not just ballistic missiles and high altitude strategic bombers, but also surface skimming cruise missiles.
LANTFLT may not have considered the question  They only recently operated a carrier strike group North of the Arctic Circle for the first time in almost three decades. The question may not have come up, or they may have assumed that when the Coast Guard gets new icebreakers some of them will operate in the Atlantic.
If the Coast Guard persists in its current pattern, all icebreakers, except small icebreaking tugs and those in the Great Lakes, will be homeported in the Pacific. Of course that makes some sense. The US Arctic coast is all in Alaska and most readily accessible from the Pacific. The US Antarctic base at McMurdo Sound is also most accessible from the Pacific.
Atlantic Area’s only icebreaking requirement for assets more capable than the 140 foot icebreaking tugs and the 2,000 ton, 6,200 HP, 225 foot Juniper class buoy tenders is in the Great Lakes.
What kind of icebreaker might both operate in the Great Lakes and be available to support LANTFLT?
In World War II this was impossible. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was not opened to ocean going traffic until 1959. The Saint Lawrence Seaway currently admits ship up to a length 740 ft (225.6 m), a beam of 78 ft (23.8 m) and a draft of 26.5 ft (8.1 m) (SeawayMax). Clearly, it is the beam and draft which are the limiting parameters for any icebreaker design that is intended to operate alternately in both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. The Polar Security Cutters with a beam of 88 feet are clearly too large, as would be the 13,623 ton Polar Star, with its 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m) beam and the Healey with its 82 foot beam.
In looking at what sorts of icebreaker might be usable in both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, we have to recognize that draft will increase in fresh water because it is up to about 3% less dense but on the other hand the icebreaker could transit the locks in a lightened condition, at less than full load, reducing their draft. There may be a bit more flexibility relative to draft. 
The newer USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) is not limited by the locks, with a displacement of 3,500 tons, it has a beam of only 58.5 ft (17.8 m) and a draft of 16 ft (4.9 m). Even the much larger original Mackinaw would have fit, (Displacement:5,252 long tons (5,336 t), Length: 290 ft (88 m), Beam: 74.3 ft (22.6 m), Draft: 19.5 ft (5.9 m)) as would the Wind class.

Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel Svalbard. Photo by Marcusroos

A couple of modern military classes that might be available to aid in the Arctic are the Norwegian Coast Guard Cutter Svalbard and the very similar Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS). Both could easily transit the Saint Lawrence Seaway, but, with 12,000 to 13,410 HP, neither could be considered a medium icebreaker. Even so they are more powerful than the Mackinaw.

USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4)

USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4) (8,449 long tons (8,585 t) full load) would be considered a medium icebreaker due to her 16,000 MW (21,000 HP) motors. Her draft appears too deep at 29 ft (8.8 m), but since her beam 74 ft (23 m) was well within the SeawayMax, it should be possible to make an at least comparably capable ship that could navigate the Seaway. Additional length over and above Glacier’s 309 ft 6 in (94.34 m) could provide space to meet additional requirements. 
Conclusion: 
It should be possible to make a reasonably capable class of medium icebreakers that could be homeported in the Great Lakes and also be available to support any LANTFLT operation requiring icebreaker support.
These ships might be seen as overkill relative to the requirements of the Great Lakes, but if they wish to extend the navigational season, the additional capability might be useful.
An ability to support naval operations might provide additional justification for these vessels. For peacetime operations on the Lakes, armament is unnecessary and might be seen as a treaty violation, but provision for adding armament in case of a future conflict might be a good hedge against an uncertain future.
Could the same design also serve as the Medium Icebreakers currently planned? This is less clear. There is also the possibility that the best course to provide the six icebreakers currently being discussed is to simply build six of the current design Polar Security Cutters.

“Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Shipping: We need Icebreakers” –MarineLink

Launch of USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) on April 2, 2005. Photo by Peter J. Markham.

Marine Link reports that,

“The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping industry is calling for at least five new icebreakers to be part of the (Canadian–Chuck) federal government’s recent announcement of $15.7 billion for Canadian Coast Guard fleet renewal.”

This appeal was addressed to the Canadian government, but we can expect to hear continued appeals for more USCG icebreakers on the lakes as well.

“Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard crews worked tirelessly during the Great Lakes spring break-out, but were hampered by the age and condition of the fleets at their disposal. Two U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers were out of service in March and a Canadian icebreaker assigned to Lake Superior was only able to operate at 60 per cent of capability and was idled in April due to mechanical issues.”

Congressmen from states bordering the Great Lakes have been asking for more icebreakers for years. There was $5M in the FY2019 budget to start work on procurement of a Great Lakes icebreaker at least as capable as USCGC Mackinaw.

There is an indication that the system may be expanded and the navigation season extended,

That economic contribution is only set to increase as ports and their customers invest in increasing the capacity of the waterway as well as looking at options like lengthening the navigation season of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

There might be an opportunity here to combine the program to provide medium polar icebreakers with a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes icebreaker might serve as a prototype for the medium polar icebreaker.

“Canadian coast guard welcomes first ‘new’ icebreaker” –Workboat

The Canadian coast guard icebreaker Captain Molly Kool was welcomed to its new homeport of St. John’s, Newfoundland, May 30, 2019. Shipspotting.com photo

Workboat is reporting that the Canadian Coast Guard has taken procession of the 307.4’x59’ Captain Molly Kool, the first of three refurbished icebreaking anchor handling vessels that will fill in, as older Canadian Coast Guard vessels are taken out of service for major overhauls. We talked about these vessels earlier.

It does appear the Canadian Coast Guard has become an election issue and is starting to get some attention. As noted only last week, 18 more vessels are on the way.

 

“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