Could This Be the Start of Something Big?


We got word today of an interesting development in the Senate from frequent contributor Tups.

“Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Lisa Murkowski (R- AK) introduced the Icebreaker Recapitalization Act. The bill would authorize the U.S. Navy to construct up to 6 heavy icebreakers. The new icebreakers would be designed and operated by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is the sole service responsible for icebreaking missions.”

Here is the announcement of the bill.

The actual bill is here (pdf).

I note few things about how this bill and how it was written.

  • First it is a long way from funding a new icebreaker fleet.
  • Second funding through the Navy, while perhaps easier, will not help pump up the Coast Guard’s ship building budget so that adequate funding is seen as normal and expected.
  • Clearly they expect the ships to be built in Washington State.
  • The bill authorizes multiyear funding, but the program does not seem to meet the requirements of multi-year funding.
  • It only talks about up to six heavy icebreakers while the High Latitude Study also talks about medium icebreakers. In fact the most frequently sighted requirement is for three heavy and three medium icebreakers. This may be a ploy to insure that all the work goes to Washington, rather than being split between Washington and the Gulf Coast.
  • Even so, there is a requirement in the High Latitude study for six heavy and four medium icebreakers, under some circumstances. Series production of six heavy icebreakers might bring down the unit cost.

It is a Theme

FierceHomelandSecurity is reporting on testimony of VAdm. Charles Michel before the House Transportation subcommittee on Coast Guard and maritime transportation. As we have seen so many times recently, the Deputy commandant for Operations is pointing out that we simply do not have enough cutters to act upon all the intelligence we have for counter-drug operations. (If you look at the actual testimony, he also covers much more.)

It seems the Commandant and his staff have been repeating the same story at every opportunity.

I think they are doing the right thing. The Commandant makes a convincing case for why the country should want to do this. The other theme that accompanies it is the need for three heavy and three medium icebreakers, and the fact that the Coast Guard cannot afford to build them without a substantial budget increase.

It seems the Commandant and staff are doing their best to make a case for more money for shipbuilding. They are using the DHS Fleet Mix Study to point to the need for even more cutters than provided in the program of record and the “High Latitude Region Mission Analysis” to justify the Icebreakers.

I could point to additional shortfalls including the dearth of assets in the Western Pacific, but it looks like the Commandant has chosen his battle, and he is fighting it with determination.

The question now is, is anyone really interested in the Polar regions and our neighbors in Latin America and the problems created by the criminals that run the drug trade there.

Defense News Interviews the Commandant

DefenseNews.Com just posted a three part video interview with the Commandant. Each segment is five to ten minutes in length.

Impact of Sequestration:

The Commandant notes, in the first two months of 2015 we have seized more drugs than we seized in all of 2013. He talks about establishing priorities and specifically mentions the Arctic and Western Hemisphere Drug enforcement.  He did not say what will drop out.

Capability vs Affordability

The Commandant has quite properly put emphasis on the OPC, and he has hit the point that spreading out procurement will cost more in the long run. He talked about icebreakers and discussed how we will need help funding them. He is pushing the results of the previous High Latitude study, saying the US needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers.

Coast Guard Modernization

Here he repeated themes from the State of the Coast Guard address. The importance of defending against Cyber attacks both within the Coast Guard and in the larger Maritime Transportation industry, the formation of an Arctic CG forum, and making the Coast Guard a hostile environment for those that might attempt sexual assault.


Seems the Commandant has recognized the need to sell the service and push for more funding, particularly for AC&I. It would not hurt to see the rest of the Coast Guard repeating the themes that he seems to have focused on, to make sure the message gets delivered.

The Commandant will continue to focus on the six major topics he highlighted in the State of the Coast Guard Address. Specifically I expect to see a lot more Coast Guard effort in the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone; we will continue to hear that the US needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers as the Commandant pushes for supplemental icebreaker funding; less obvious, but I think he is laying the ground work for an attempt to speed up the OPC construction schedule which would require at least another $500M annually in the AC&I account. There will be a lot more emphasis on cyber and tougher action on sexual assault. In terms of the objective of “maximizing return on investment,” I think we will see closer examination of fuel efficiency, manning, and other operating economies as a basis for where to invest modernization dollars.

Whaling Conundrum

gCaptain reports that the Japanese will resume whaling in spite of rulings against it by the International Court of Justice and the International Whaling Commission.

Mostly, whaling has been done in the waters off Antarctica, although there has been some Arctic Whaling, where the US currently makes no specific territorial claim, but has reserved the right to make claims at a later date. Leaving the policing of these waters by others may be seen as weakening any future US claim and strengthening the hand of Nations that actually police these waters.

Will the US in the person of the Coast Guard attempt to stop Japanese whaling in either the Arctic or the Antarctic?

High Latitude Region Mission Analysis Study–Summary of Summary

File:Polar Star 2.jpg

Thanks to the Coast Guard and, we have a summary of the”High Latitude Region Mission Analysis,” that was given to Congress last year. You can get see it in the form of a pfd here.

Bottom line:

  • The Coast Guard requires three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions.
  • Naval Operations Concept 2010 (NOC 2010) included a requirement for a year-round continuous heavy icebreaker presence in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The Coast Guard would require six heavy and four medium icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions and maintain that continuous presence, if they are all conventionally manned and based in the US.
  • Using multiple crewing and basing two heavy icebreakers in the southern hemisphere (presumably Australia or New Zealand) both statutory and NOC requirements could be met by four heavy and two medium icebreakers.

How soon?:

“U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says the Coast Guard is including $860 million in its five-year budget plan for a new heavy polar icebreaker.”

     Even so, we probably will not see a new icebreaker before 2020. POLAR STAR commenced a major refit in May 2010 and is expected to return to service in late 2013, with a 6- to 7-year remaining service life. The Coast Guard’s only medium icebreaker, HEALY, will remain in-service until 2030. POLAR SEA is inoperative and is expected to be decommissioned this year.
     So one operational icebreaker until 2013. One heavy and one medium icebreaker 2013-2019. In 2020, POLAR SEA goes away and we are still at one heavy and one medium. Any Catastrophic failure and we are back to only one icebreaker.
     If we completed one heavy or medium icebreakers a year, by 2025, the Coast Guard could have the fleet required to meet our statutory responsibilities. Since we would be building OPCs concurrently, this would require a substantial increase in AC&I funding.
     A final note: It is not clear from the summary what constitutes a medium icebreaker. (Maybe it is in the full report.) HEALY is identified as “medium” and the POLAR SEA is “heavy,” even if the HEALY is actually larger. Presumably “medium” is less capable, as an icebreaker, than the POLAR class but more capable than the 140 foot icebreaking tugs. Would the MACKINAW (WLBB-30) qualify? How about the 225 foot JUNIPER class WLBs? the old WIND class breakers? the Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels? One clue is that the projected price starts at $590M for a single ship and goes down to less than $560M each for four ships. That is about 69% the cost of a heavy icebreaker so presumably about 70% the displacement–larger than USCGC_Glacier (WAGB-4). Would there really be a point in making one or two ships of a different class, if they so close in size to the Heavy icebreakers?