Massive Investment Coming to Northern Alaska


Photo from Wall Street Journal, Click to enlarge.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that little known Caelus Energy has made a huge find of oil in Smith Bay off the North Slope of Alaska, West of the current North Slope oil fields.

To get at the oil they expect to use “barges built along the Gulf Coast, then towed to Alaska and permanently sunk in the bay to create man-made drilling islands.”

To move the oil they expect to build “an $800 million, 125-mile pipeline that will carry the oil underneath state-owned waters to connect with existing pipelines.”

What does this mean to us?

Certainly, it means that there will be more activity in the Arctic. That may mean more work for the Coast Guard. On the other hand, it may not be a bad thing to have some of the assets the oil company will bring to the Arctic there for mutual aid.

Those commercially built, medium icebreakers are probably going to have another buyer soon, and may not be on the market for long.

This may also be an opportunity to share some infrastructure in the Arctic.

I do have to wonder why the pipeline will be, “underneath state-owned waters,” when it would be much shorter if it went from point to point rather than following the coast. Do they think it will be easier to maintain, or are they avoiding Federal regulation?


Three New Ships for Norwegian Coast Guard


KV Nordkapp, lead ship of a class of three which will be replaced. Photo by Marcusroos

The Barents Observer reports Norway is ordering three new icebreaking cutters for the Norwegian Coast Guard which will replace the Nordkap class.

I note the Nordkapp class looks like they could have been a contender for the OPC contract–3.200 tons, 345 ft (105 meters) long, ice strengthened, helo deck and hangar, 22 knots, 57mm gun, plus hull mounted sonar and provision for adding Penguin ASCMs and ASW torpedoes. The new ships may end up looking a lot like the OPC.

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.

NORTHCOM on the Arctic–Reason Enough to Buy Icebreakers

EagleSpeak has a report on a conversation with NORTHCOM and NORAD Commander, Admiral Bill Gortney, and it seems to suggest that the US military may need a serious icebreaker capability in about ten years.

Q: Sir in the past couple of months, U.S. officials expressed desire for some sort of new multipurpose sensor in the Canadian Arctic, not just for the ICBMs for maritime vessels, airplanes, that kind of thing. Haven’t really gotten much details on that. Can you give us kind of what you’re looking for there? And what timeline …

ADM. GORTNEY: Yeah, well the — the — the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line — the air defense radars that we maintain on northern Canada and then the Canada-U.S. border are, you know, in a few years — I’d say 10 years I think is the number — you know, they’re going to reach a point of obsolescence and we’re going to have to reinvest for that capability.

The question is what sort of technology do we want to use to reconstitute that capability? We don’t want to put in the same sorts of sensors because they’re not effective against the low-altitude, say, cruise missiles. They can’t see over the horizon.

So now the question is, what’s the technology that’s going to work up there? Is it an over-the-horizon radar system that would work, but it has challenges in the Arctic?

So that’s — those are the questions we’re asking the community about.

When the DEW line was being built several icebreakers would go north every Summer escorting ships carrying building supplies and equipment.

Apparently the DOD is studying the problem and should have a report out soon.

Q: The loss of sea ice in the Arctic, what — what security issues does that raise as we see that whole area changing up there?

ADM. GORTNEY: Well, that’s part of what we’re going to be reporting out, the necessary threats.

You know, the reality is, is that it is. The sea ice is melting. The Arctic shelf is getting smaller.

That said, it is still a very inhospitable place, you know. And today, if we wanted to go up there, you know, we don’t have the ability to reliably navigate, communicate and sustain ourselves up there.

And so that’s huge investments for the services to figure out how to do that, and when do we need to lay those investments in to be able to communicate, navigate and sustain?

And — and before we can communicate and navigate, we have to — we have to do the sustainment. We have to supply ourselves. You know, it’s three times as expensive and takes three times as long to put anything up there in the Arctic. I mean, it is a very, very harsh place.

We are seeing more intermodal traffic from ships that are going in there, but we’re not seeing — we’ve worked with the shipping industry and talked with the shipping — the major shipping companies, and they’re not really interested. You know, they need ships that can make them money 350 days out of the year. They can’t rely on a particular period of time; they need to move large numbers of containers and a large number of crude or liquid natural gas that happens to be out there.

But the reality is, there’s going to be more activity up there, and it’s actually more dangerous today than when we had a stable shelf.

So that’s what we’re — I’m looking forward to reporting that out here in the spring.

Two More New Medium Icebreaker–Not for the Coast Guard


Drawing by North American Shipbuilding, click for larger

gCaptain reports that Edison-Chouest is building another icebreaker (Anchor Handling Tug Supply (AHTS) ship), with an option for a second. Another gCaptain post appears to indicate that they are in fact building two.

These vessels appear to be similar to the earlier M/V Aiviq.

If I read the report correctly, each ship will have Four 5060 KW generators. If so these ships will each have more horsepower (20,240 KW/27,131 SHP) than the diesel electric engines of the Polar class (18,000 HP), more than the Glacier (16,000 KW/21,000 SHP), and almost as much as the Healy (22,400 KW/30,027 SHP). They will be more than twice as powerful as the Wind class breakers (12,000 SHP), the National Science Foundation’s leased M/V Nathaniel B. Palmer (9,485 kW/12,720 HP), or USCGC Mackinaw (6,800 KW/9,119 SHP). They will also be more powerful than all but one of Canada’s icebreakers

They will be Polar Class 3. Polar class 3 means “Year-round operation in second-year ice which may include multiyear ice inclusions.” It appears we might be seeing the emergence of a whole class of privately owned American medium icebeakers.

Researching this, I found reference to two similar, if perhaps less capable, Class 4 icebreakers, both built in 1983 in Canada, as commercial AHTS vessels, one, CCGS Terry Fox, is now used by the Canadian Coast Guard, and her sister ship, Vladimir Ignatyuk, is now owned by Russia’s Murmansk Shipping Company and was chartered by the National Science Foundation to lead the break-in to McMurdo sound two seasons, during the Antarctic summers of 2011/12 and 2012/13.

The Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk breaking a path in the annual sea ice to McMurdo Station, Antarctica on January 26, 2012. Credit: Steve Royce

The Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk breaking a path in the annual sea ice to McMurdo Station, Antarctica on January 26, 2012.
Credit: Steve Royce

So far I have seen no indication of official Coast Guard interest in filling the stated requirement for three medium icebreakers. These ships do not have the redundancy we would like in a our ships. But that could be fixed. Plus lower cost might allow a different kind of redundancy, assigning two ships to the task rather than only one, allowing an organic Coast Guard self rescue capability that the Commandant has pointed out is missing with our current very limited icebreaker fleet. If the cost of these is similar to that of the M/V Aiviq ($200M, 16,240 KW/21,760 HP), even after upgrades to meet Coast Guard requirements, e.g. flight deck, hangar, communications, etc., and additional overhead that are included in Coast Guard procurement cost, we should be able to build a medium Icebreaker of similar capability for a third the $1B cost of a heavy icebreaker.

Is a medium icebreaker sufficient for our needs? We already have a documented requirement for three medium icebreakers in addition to three heavy icebreakers compared with the current fleet of one each. In a Defense News interview the Commandant pointed out, “First of all, it’s heavy ice breaking capability. Last year the Polar Star had to rescue a medium ice breaker from China. Just before they arrived, the wind shifted and they were able to get out on their own. Clearly, [that] is no place for a medium ice breaker. It does require heavy ice-breaking capability.” While I would never suggest that a Heavy icebreaker is not desirable, in fact the MV Xue Long (Snow Dragon) is more ice strengthened cargo ship than icebreaker with a large hull (21,025 tons) and relatively weak engines (13,200 KW/17,694 HP) and would be considered by the Coast Guard a light polar breaker (less than 20,000 HP). Historically the Operation Deepfreeze break-in has been done most frequently by ships we would now classify as medium or light icebreakers.

If you look at this chart, prepared by the Coast Guard, in 2013, of the 78 icebreakers of over 10,000 HP, operated by 17 countries, only eight of them were Heavy icebreakers (=>45,000 SHP). 34 were medium icebreakers of 20,000 to less than 45,000 HP, and 36  were smaller icebreakers of 10,000 to less than 20,000 HP. Interestingly, in addition to five heavy icebreakers, four medium, and two smaller icebreakers have managed to make it to the North Pole.

Even if funding can be found for a new heavy icebreaker, by the time it is built, we will again have only one heavy icebreaker (unless Polar Sea is reactivated), because the Polar Star will almost certainly be out of service by the time it enters service. We really need to consider alternatives to give us the numbers we need in the not too distant future. Apparently there is agreement we need at least two more medium icebreakers in addition to USCGC Healy. Getting them into the budget looks a lot more do able than a $1B heavy icebreaker, and far, far easier than two Heavies.

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?