“China Navy deploys its Type 272 icebreaker ship Haibing to carry out 84th ice survey mission”

Chinese Navy Type 723 icebreaker ship Haibing. (Picture source China MoD)

Navy Recognition reports,

“According to information published by the Chinese Ministry of Defense on January 29, 2021, the Chinese Navy sent the Type 272 icebreaker ship Haibing (Sea Ice, Hull 722) to the Bohai Sea and the northern waters of the Yellow Sea to perform the 84th ice survey mission on January 25, 2021.”

The accompanying photo (above) is the first I have seen of this ship. An older Global Security post has a description of the vessel and its activities.

Reportedly its specifications include:

  • Displacement: 4,800 tons (probably a light displacement)
  • Length: 103.1 meters (338′)
  • Beam: 18.4 meters (60.4′)
  • Speed: 18 knots

It appears to be smaller, longer, and narrower than the Wind Class icebreakers the US built in the 1940s.

  • Displacement: 6,500 tons full load
  • Length: 269′ (82m)
  • Beam: 63.5′ (19.5m)

Length to beam ratio is narrow for an icebreaker at 5.6:1. There is a finer taper on the bow and stern than you might expect.

Length to beam ratio for US icebreaker designs are:

  • Wind Class: 4.24
  • Glacier: 4.18
  • Polar Star: 4.77
  • Polar Security Cutter: 5.23

Only the PSC, designed for long open ocean voyages, comes close.

This Chinese icebreaker entered service just over five years ago. It is one of a class of two, is unarmed, and it appears its operations have been confined to the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea, a Westward extension of the Yellow Sea. It almost certainly has less than 20,000 HP so would be considered a light icebreaker by the USCG.

“A Break in the Silence: Anecdote from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker’s winter Arctic patrol” –News Release

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

A PACAREA news release. Apparently operating in the Arctic in the Winter still holds some surprises. Nice photos too.

united states coast guard

Feature Release

Jan. 29, 2021
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3375
After Hours: (510) 816-1700
Pacific Area online newsroom

A Break in the Silence: Anecdote from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker’s winter Arctic patrol

Co-written by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham & Petty Officer 2nd Class Tedd Meinersmann

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021 Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021
Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic West Winter 2021 Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021 Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic West Winter 2021

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

On a months-long winter mission to project U.S. presence and sovereignty into the Arctic, and to conduct scientific research in the remote area, the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker, is using its one-of-a-kind capability to navigate the dark polar wilderness.

After departing Seattle, crossing the Gulf of Alaska and transiting the Bering Sea’s treacherous waters, where 20-foot swells mercilessly tossed the mighty Coast Guard ship, the resilient crew traversed the Arctic Circle into equally windy, but far calmer, ice-bound waters.

After a few dark days and nights of the Polar Star methodically backing and ramming northbound through the Chukchi Sea’s heavy blanket of sea ice, crewmembers started to chatter about something keeping them up at night.

The polar sailors, many who sleep in staterooms on a lower deck of the ship, were taking collective notice of a persistently clamorous sound.

Though the crew who serves aboard Polar Star are not strangers to ice-serenaded work and slumber, this Arctic patrol was audibly different than prior, more routine icebreaking deployments to the opposite end of the world.  

Polar Star annually travels to world’s southernmost continent in support of Operation Deep Freeze where skilled ice pilots drive the powerful ship through ice up to 21-feet thick. The icebreaking mission opens critical navigation channels for other ships allowing for essential supplies to be delivered to scientists conducting research at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

When, earlier in 2020, Operation Deep Freeze was cancelled due to COVID-19 safety concerns at the station, the Polar Star crew instead headed north on the Chukchi Sea – farther north than any U.S. surface ship ever travelled in the winter – in support of the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy.

Navigating one of the world’s most northern frozen oceans presented the Polar Star crew an auditory experience far different than its southern sister ice. No two crewmembers describe the omnipresent sound of patrolling the Chukchi Sea similarly and creative metaphors for labeling the noise quickly became an amusing way for the crew to make light of the often palpable noise.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic West Winter 2021

Like screeches and bangs from a perpetual car crash, a blaring elephant, freight train, or driving through concrete, freshly broken Arctic sea ice, scraping alongside the Polar Star’s hull, holds the likeness of screaming. It was a mysterious conundrum leaving many of the crew wide-eyed and wondering “why is this Arctic ice so loud?”

Fortunately, the Polar Star deployed north with a handful of scientists and researchers to advise the command and collect Arctic data in an effort to lessen the void of information available from the region. Evan Neuwirth, an ice analyst from the U.S. National Ice Center in Washington, D.C., is aboard Polar Star and proposed a theory about why navigating through Arctic ice is so noisy.

Neuwirth said temperature may be the greatest factor contributing to the sound heard while icebreaking. Sea ice in the winter is generally more dense, cold and brittle than in the summer. When winter Arctic ice strikes or rubs alongside the Polar Star’s exterior, more of the impact energy is transferred to the hull which results in a louder noise. Ice the crew experiences on their southern summer patrols is warmer and softer, making it more likely to compress and crush on impact with Polar Star – resulting in the absorption of energy that would otherwise result in a lot of noise.  

To best understand his theory, Neuwirth said to think of what it would sound like to throw a snowball at the ship’s hull versus a solid chunk of ice.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021

The winter Arctic air and ice is so cold, often well below zero with the wind temperature factored in, that even after being broken into pieces, the ice chunks remain rock-hard creating the notorious noise made in the process that has, for the most part, been accepted by the crew as part of their unique, historic polar experience.

By experiencing and operating in one of the world’s most remote and harsh environments, the Polar Star crew is gaining critical familiarity of the Arctic necessary to develop and train future polar sailors and advance U.S. interests and power in the region.

As the Polar Star’s understanding of the Arctic grows by the day, one thing the crew knows for sure is that patrolling the frozen winter world above the Arctic Circle is desolate, dark and serene, but from aboard the Coast Guard Polar Star – it’s far from silent.

“The great lakes are freezing at a glacial pace” –CNN

Beset in ice, the M/V Stewart J. Cort and three other Great Lakes vessels await the assistance of an icebreaker on Lake Superior–not from this year.

The weather reported here will certainly have an effect on this year’s Great Lakes icebreaking requirements and may ultimately effect what seems to be the perpetual push for another Great Lakes icebreaker.

“…Great Lakes are currently dealing with record low ice. According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), the Great Lakes total ice coverage right now is sitting at 3.9%. This same time last year, it was sitting at 11.3%, and the year before at 18.5%…”The Great Lakes region is experiencing warmer-than-usual weather, and the max ice cover is projected to be 30%, way below the average of 53%…”

“Removable bow turns tugboat into icebreaker” –Marine Log

image description

Motorized bow enables tugboat to break ice up to 70 cm (2.3 feet/27.6″) thick

MarineLog reports progress on this. We talked about this earlier, looks like this is happening. This description from the earlier report.

Danfoss Editron’s hybrid electric system will powering the removable bow with two generators, built as a DC system, and two propulsion systems. In addition, the company has provided a front supercapacitor so that peak powers can be efficiently controlled. The Editron software also cuts fuel consumption and delivers high efficiencies as the diesel-generators in the DC system can be driven at variable speeds.

Lake Saimaa, where it operates is not very large. Looks like it is about 40 miles from corner to corner. Note while the tug pushing it is not an icebreaker, it is ice strengthened.

Below is a comment on the earlier post by, Tups, a Finn, and our resident icebreaker expert.

“… the technology is easily scalable and, since you don’t have to worry about seakeeping during the open water season – you can go for a slightly more “extreme” icebreaking bow to increase the performance at the cost of slamming impacts in head seas. Perhaps this could be a solution for commercial (contracted) icebreaking in the Great Lakes?

“By the way, this relates to another post you published some time ago – the tug that pushes the removable bow is the one that was fitted with the new ice-strengthened bronze propellers.”

“Arctic Operations: We Really, Really Need the Right Equipment and an Arctic Port” –EagleSpeak

Conceptual illustration, Finland’s squadron 2020 corvette

Naval blog “EagleSpeak” decries our inability of operate surface warships in the Arctic, but this is his bottom line

“Fault finding will get us nowhere, the need is to look to our allies who operate in these waters and see if, among the hull types we need they have some ice-hardened ships whose designs we can obtain. Now.”

If we do want to do that, there is really only one choice, Finland’s new ice capable corvette we talked about here. The original post is now more than five years old, but updated information is in the comments, much of which I have linked below.

Fortunately they are already designed to us a great deal of familiar equipment much of it from US manufacturers.

They will use the same 57mm gun used by the NSC, OPC, and both classes of LCS.

They will use the Sea Giraffe radar common to the OPC and Independence class LCS.

They will use ESSM surface to air missiles, a standard item on most US surface combatants, apparently to be launched from Mk41 VLS.

The Finns will be using the Israeli Gabriel V as their surface to surface missile, but it should be relatively easy to substitute a standard US surface to surface missile, particularly the Naval Strike Missile, which is considerably smaller.

The sonars currently planned are from Kongsberg Maritime AS. If not replaced by US sourced units, they would be unique in the US fleet but the hull mounted “SS2030 sonars will be delivered to the Finnish Navy complete with hoistable hull units and ice protection to ensure safe and efficient operation in the often harsh conditions of the Baltic Sea.”  The variable depth “SD9500 is a light and compact over-the-side dipping sonar with outstanding horizontal and vertical positioning capabilities for diver detection, ASW duties and volumetric survey assignments in shallow, reverberation-limited waters.”

They would be unique among US warships in being able to both lay and counter mines.

Propulsion is CODLAG, combined diesel electric and gas turbine. Four diesel generators producing 7,700 KW (10326 HP) provide power for cruise (probably about 20 knots). A GE LM2500 gas turbine provides over 26 knot sprint speed. This is the same gas turbine that powers the NSC, Burke class destroyers, the new FFG, and numerous other ships. It is the most common gas turbine in the world.

The propellers were developed with the help of the US Navy.

“The propellers are a minor project on their own, and are set to be of a highly advanced design. This is due to the somewhat conflicting demands of high top-speed, small diameter (due to overall draught requirement), and low noise (and high cavitation margin). All this, while at the same time being strong enough to cope with ice.”

Its primary characteristics are reported to be:

  • Length: 114 m (374 ft)
  • Beam: 16 m (52 ft)
  • Displacement: 3,900 tonnes (3,800 long tons; 4,300 short tons)
  • Crew: 70 to 120 sailors
  • Speed: 26+ knots

This makes about 13% smaller than the OPC or NSC, but 30% larger than the 378s. First of class is expected to be completed 2024.

We could buy the plans and then compete procurement in a US shipyard. These might be built concurrently with the OPCs, possibly replacing some of them. Ten units could give a two squadrons, one for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific. In wartime that would almost guarantee the ability to keep three underway in either ocean.

Lease an Icebreaker? Going in Style

Icebreaking yacht Ragnar

There has been talk of the Coast Guard leasing an Icebreaker, with the Aiviq being frequently mentioned. But perhaps we should look here.

Reportedly she is rated as Ice Class 1A Super, “which means it can operate in temperatures as low as -31 degrees Fahrenheit at a speed of four knots, in ice that is 20 inches thick.” No indication of speed or horsepower. But she could be leased for only $525,000 per week. Might even get a price break on a long term lease.

This reminds me of the stories of yachts pressed into service as escorts during WWII. Reportedly one had a button that, when pressed, would move the XO’s bed into the Captain’s cabin and dump anyone in the XO’s bed into the Captain’s bed.

“As a former supply vessel, the rear area is purely utilitarian, ideal for an expedition vessel.” Burgess Yachts

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.

Authorization (not money) for Six Icebreakers and Better Comms in the Arctic

The Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as part of the Polar Scout project. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

Breaking Defense reports the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes six icebreakers for the Coast Guard and better satellite communications for the polar regions.

Not really a reason to get too excited yet. Authorization does not include any money. There was already general bipartisan acceptance of the idea that the Coast Guard needs new icebreakers with the 3 heavy and 3 mediums apparently seen as reasonable. Funding ($555M) for the second Polar Security Cutter was requested by the administration and agreed to by both Senate and House oversight committees, so should be in the FY2021 budget.

The addition of better comms may be the best news in the NDAA for the Coast Guard. It has been a major problem in US Arctic operations.

“Schultz: Upcoming Coast Guard Budget Has ‘Dollars For People’ Focus” –USNI

The US Naval Institute’s news service has an excellent article about the Commandant’s recent remarks on the budget.

It is wide ranging. I will not try to outline it, but there was one particularly interesting discussion on the coming icebreaker fleet that suggest we may ultimately see more than six icebreakers. 

“There’s been conversation” in the administration and with Congress about expanding upon his plan for to have six icebreakers in the fleet to meet missions in the polar regions.”

Take a look, its well worth the read.

“Renew the Coast Guard Greenland Patrol” –USNI

Orthographic projection of Greenland. Credit Connormah via Wikipedia

The US Naval Institute blog has a proposal from Ensign Philip Kiley, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve that the Coast Guard reestablish a “Greenland Patrol.” This seems to have been prompted by the recent deployments of WMECs Tahoma and Campbell to participate in Canadian sponsored Exercise Nanook.

I agree Greenland is strategically important. I also believe that if we build three heavy and three medium icebreakers, we will have one or two of the medium icebreakers on the Atlantic side, maybe all three. Its just that a Greenland Patrol, as discussed, is not an adequate rationale. At least, the thesis is not adequately developed to support the proposal.

What would the Coast Guard do that the Danes are not already doing?

Thetis-class ocean patrol vessel belonging to the Royal Danish Navy. Source: konflikty.pl, Author: Łukasz Golowanow

The Danish Navy already does a “Greenland Patrol” and they may be better equipped to do it than the US Coast Guard. They certainly have more reason to be there. The have seven ice-strengthened patrol ships, four ships of the 368 foot Thetis class and three of the 236 foot Knud Rasmussen class.

P570 Knud Rasmussen. The first of the Danish Navy Knud Rasmussen-class ocean patrol crafts. Commisioned in 2008. Photo from Flemming Sørensen

The US Coast Guard currently has no ice-strengthened patrol ships, and has no plans to build any, unless we consider the proposed medium icebreakers, aka “Arctic Security Cutter.”

When US Coast Guard was doing the Greenland Patrol in WWII, it included ice-strengthened ships with significant armaments, including ultimately Wind class icebreakers with four 5″ guns. The Danish ships are armed with 76mm guns and the ability to add StanFlex modules that might include surface to surface and surface to air missiles.

If the “Arctic Security Cutters” could fit through the St. Lawrence Seaway, they could break ice in the Great Lakes in the winter and support DOD construction in the Arctic during the Summer. Presumably, when the High Latitude study determined that the Coast Guard needed three heavy and three medium icebreakers they had enough missions planned to justify their construction without adding a Greenland patrol.

On the other hand, its entirely possible we still have much to learn from the Danes.

“Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star Bound for the Arctic in December” –USNI

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

US Naval Institute News Service reports Polar Star will deploy to the Arctic in December. We knew this was coming, but we have been short of details of when and for how long. This at least indicates it will begin in December. (I will speculate, she will be gone about three months, returning in March to provide a little inport time before going into the yard.)

There seem to be a couple of errors in the story.

“For the first time in almost five decades, the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker won’t be supporting Antarctic scientific missions in coming months…”

Coast Guard heavy icebreaker support has not been continuous over that period, at least once, and I believe more than once, the McMurdo break-in was done by non-Coast Guard icebreakers, either contracted foreign icebreakers or the National Science Foundation’s own smaller icebreaker.

“This would be the first Coast Guard operation in the Arctic Ocean since August 1994 when a now-deactivated heavy icebreaker with a Canadian Coast Guard heavy icebreaker reached the North Pole.”

This seems to be missing a qualifier. The Coast Guard has certainly operated in the Arctic since August 1994. There is better information on Polar class operations in the Arctic here, in a Military.com report.

“It will be the first deployment of a U.S. Polar-class icebreaker to the Arctic on a non-science mission (emphasis applied–Chuck) since August 1994, when the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea, now inactive, became one of the first two American surface ships to reach the North Pole.

“In 1998, Polar Star spent three months in the region on a science mission. And in 2009, the Polar Sea conducted a three-month Arctic deployment, also dedicated solely to science.”