Antarctic Land Rush?

Photo credit: CIA

DefenseNews reports on the growing South American interest in Antarctica and the proliferation of polar ships that support these interests. The increased interest is fueled by anticipation that changes in the Antarctic Treaty system will allow resource exploitation.

If the current treaty is altered or abrogated, a number of nations have already made claims to Antarctic territory, held in abeyance by the current treaty. Some of these claims overlap. Interestingly neither the US or Russia has made any specific claims but have reserved the right to make them in the future. (Click on the map above to enlarge and see where the various stations are located.)

There is already much animosity between Argentina and the UK and between Argentina and Chile. The existing treaty system could breakdown at any time. This looks like another good argument for both a new Icebreaker and for bringing back the Polar Sea.

Rethinking Polar Sea–Another Alternative–Renovate, Simplify, Make Her Arctic Station Ship

USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11): US Coast Guard Photo
The question of whether the Polar Sea should be reactivated has been kicking around for a while. After all, the Navy and the Coast Guard have been saying the country needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers. The proposed new icebreaker is projected to cost about $1B and will not increase the size of our icebreaker fleet. It will simply arrive in time to replace the Polar Star. The renovation of the Polar Sea was projected to cost on the order of $100M and provide seven to ten years of additional life. If you compare that to $1B for 30 years for a new icebreaker that sounds like a good trade-off, so why not?
FierceHomelandSecurity is reporting that the Coast Guard has told Congress they can do without her,
“Although a second heavy icebreaker would provide redundancy, the cost of this redundant capability would come at the expense of more pressing and immediate operational demands.
This is the conclusion of a report to Congress entitled “USCGC Polar Sea Business Case Analysis” dated November 07, 2013, that I will refer to simply as the analysis. download (pdf): Their summarized findings:

“A total of 43 mission critical systems in five general categories were assessed and assigned a condition rating. Overall, Propulsion, Auxiliary and Prime Mission Equipment are rated Poor to Fair, while Structure and Habitability are rated Fair to Good. POLAR SEA reactivation is estimated to cost $99.2 million (excluding annual operations and support costs) to provide 7-10 years of service to the Coast Guard. Given the age of the icebreaker, operations and support costs are projected to rise from $36.6 million in the first year of operation to $52.8 million in the tenth year of operation. Combining reactivation costs and point estimates for operating costs, reactivation would cost $573.9 million. Accounting for operational and technical uncertainties, using a 90% Confidence Level Risk Analysis, the total potential cost rises to $751.7 million.

“Arctic seasonal icebreaking demands through 2022 can be met with existing and planned Coast Guard assets, as current requirements do not justify the need for heavy icebreaking capability in the Arctic. Heavy icebreaker capability is needed to perform Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica, but Coast Guard assets may not be the only option available to the National Science Foundation to support this activity. Although a second heavy icebreaker would provide redundancy, the cost of this redundant capability would come at the expense of more pressing and immediate operational demands. POLAR STAR, when fully reactivated, will provide heavy icebreaker capability until a new icebreaker can be delivered to meet both current and emerging requirements.”

It does not take much reading between the lines to see that the real issue here is not the one time renovation cost, it is the high annual cost of maintaining a complex plant that is increasingly unsupportable. Congress might fund the renovation costs, but the annual maintenance costs are likely to be taken out of hide and the projected $36.6M to $52.8M per year is just too much for the increased capability. The conclusion that restoring her to her original configuration is not a viable option is probably reasonable, but it is the only alternative. Because

Polar Sea’s basic structure is sound. Quoting the analysis,

“Based on the results of the inspection, the structure is rated EXCELLENT and the average remaining service life for the structure remains 25+ years. No significant wastage or corrosion was noted and no major repairs have been necessary since the last report.”

Maine Engines and Propellers:

The Polar Class have always been “maintenance intensive” and a good part of the reason is the complexity of her nine engine propulsion system and her controlable pitch propellers (CPP).
The complexity of her six diesel engines and three gas turbines is rather self explanatory. That they are now old and virtually unsupportable makes the problems even more obvious, but the propellers merit additional explanation. Quoting from the analysis (p.16),
“The CPPs are rated POOR.

“The following discussion is quoted from the Polar Service Life Extension Project (SLEP), Option A, Scope and Feasibility Analysis submitted by M. Rosenblatt and Son! AMSEC LLC, May 2006 and is an excellent description of the challenges that still confront the CPP system: Controllable Pitch Propellers and Associated Hydraulic Systems. This remains the most significant problem that must be solved if the cutters are to continue to provide reliable service. The propellers are subject to particularly severe conditions during heavy icebreaking conditions and a significant failure may lead to cancellation of a mission, as well as presenting the potential for leakage of hydraulic fluid to the environment. There are issues relating both to the propeller hubs themselves and the internal hydraulic system components. The following discussion will continue to address the propeller hubs separately from the rest of the CPP system for three reasons: 1) their current condition is  different than the rest of the system, 2) the likelihood for a known fix is different, and 3) the propeller hubs cannot be repaired while the ship is deployed or while in the water which vastly impacts operational availability.
“Propeller Hubs. The hubs are rated POOR. In recent years, it has been necessary to dry dock the cutters and inspect the propeller hubs after every heavy icebreaking deployment. Throughout the 50 years of experience with the two Polar Class ships, the interval between hub overhauls has never been more than two heavy icebreaking missions. According to the Coast Guard Technical Point of Contact for the CPP hub overhaul contract, every time the hubs have been overhauled there has been some unusual wear, scoring, cracking, leaking, broken parts or other indicator that it was appropriate that the hubs be overhauled before an additional heavy icebreaking mission was attempted. In other words, there has been no indication that overhauls were unnecessarily being performed at too short an interval. Over the past 25 years, dozens of modifications have been made to the hubs attempting to eliminate the negative conditions found. Typically corrections in one spot have lead to new symptoms in another location. Sizes, clearances, and material strengths are in critical balance. While the hubs have undoubtedly been improved over the past 25 years, their service life without overhaul remains relatively short.
Overall Condition:
The following is the “Reader’s Digest” version of the Analysis’ report on the summary of the ship’s condition:
Overall main propulsion system
Main propulsion diesel engines
Controllable Pitch Propellers (CPP)
Ship Service Diesel Engine
Uncontaminated Seawater System
Electrical distribution system (parts and technical support)
Cargo Cranes
Propulsion Gas Generators and Turbines
Propulsion Control System: Switchgear, Rectifiers, and Exciters
Machinery Control and Monitoring System (MCAMS)
Ship Service Diesel Generator (SSDG)
Steering Gear
Ventilation System
Fire Main and Flushing (Seawater) System
Sanitary Systems
Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) Systems
Central Hydraulic System (CHS)
Anchor Windlass
Bus transfer switches
Electrical distribution system (preservation).
Propulsion Generators
Aft Stem Tube Bearings (as yet untested)
Forward Stem Tube Bearings
Cooper Split Roller Bearing
Lube Oil Purifiers
Oily Water Separator
Fresh Water Systems
Chilled Water System
Halon Systems
400 Hz Switchboard
Electrical distribution system (mechanical)
Reduction Gears
Propulsion Shafting
Thrust Bearing
Emergency Diesel Generator (EDG)
Auxiliary Boilers
Helicopter Power Supply
Local Monitoring & Alarm System
Diesel Fuel Transfer & Purification System
Boat Davits
Electronics systems
Outfit and spares
An Opportunity in the form of a Problem:
The Coast Guard has been using a National Security Cutter over the last two summers to provide the equivalent of a Coast Guard Section afloat in the absence of infrastructure ashore, effectively a helicopter airstation, a small boat station, communications, and command and control. These very expensive ships certainly have a number of desirable characteristics, but they are hardly what one would envision if planning an Arctic station ship from scratch. The hull is simply not strong enough for the environment. Not only is it not an icebreaker, it is not even ice strengthened.
If we take advantage of the Polar Sea’s still robust hull, by spending more money up front (Congress would have to appropriate it, it could not come out of hide) and replace the engineering plant with good choices that both reduce manning and increase reliability, we might have effectively an additional medium icebreaker for up to 25 years.
Yes, it would take more planning and more money up front, but with a bit of redesign and reconstruction it appears the Coast Guard could have an icebreaker of at least 18,000 horsepower with fixed pitch props that could be tailored for an Arctic Station Ship role freeing the NSCs and/or the Polar Star for more normal patrol functions. The six main prop diesel generators could be replaced by perhaps three modern diesel generators, and the three turbines removed altogether. Used as main propulsion generators, three MTU 20V 1163 diesels like the ones on the Bertholf Class would allow any two engines to drive the three existing electric motors at full power. Allowing the existing motors to run in reverse would probably require a new propulsion control system, but the existing system is only rated as fair now anyway. A new digital system would almost certainly be more flexible and easier to maintain and would probably require fewer watch standers. 18,000 horsepower using the existing motors, is way down from her current designed combined diesel and gas turbine output, is more than many of the world’s icebreakers, and more than either of the National Science Foundation’s icebreakers. If more power were deemed essential, it might be possible to put one LM2500 on the center shaft and still get the benefits of a greatly simplified and modernized engineering plant. The Ship Service electrical system might also be updated to provide the capability for one generator to handle the entire load, something the ship does not currently have. It might even be possible to add retractable fin stabilizers (removal of the turbines having made more room in the hull) or at least a rudder roll stabilization system added (the rudders system does need work). Stabilization is desirable in that it would allow her to operate boats and helicopters in more severe conditions.
By re-engining the Polar Sea, the Coast Guard would not only get a more reliable ship, requiring a smaller crew, potentially cheaper to operate than a National Security Cutter, it would also leave free up the Polar Sea’s existing engines and propellers and possibly other systems to use as spares to keep Polar Star functional and free her from duties in the Arctic.

Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation: Examining Cutter, Aircraft, and Communications Needs

“The Coast Guard’s FY2014 Five Year (FY2014-FY2018) CIP (Capital Investment Plan–Chuck) includes a total of about $5.1 billion in acquisition funding, which is about $2.5 billion, or about 33%, less than the total of about $7.6 billion that was included in the Coast Guard’s FY2013 Five Year (FY2013-FY2017) CIP. (In the four common years of the two plans—FY2014-FY2017—the reduction in funding from the FY2013 CIP to the FY2014 CIP is about $2.3 billion, or about 37%.) This is one of the largest percentage reductions in funding that I have seen a five-year acquisition account experience from one year to the next in many years.”–Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service

The video above is long (one hour and forty two minutes) but I think it is important, and it might even make you mad. This is a hearing before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. The first hour and ten minutes are fairly routine and I’ll summarize some of it below. It includes the obligatory thank you to the Department Secretary (Secretary Nepolitano has been “particularly supportive”) when in fact the Coast Guard has been cut far more deeply than the rest of DHS. The real meat begins with Ronald O’Rourke’s presentation at 1hr.10min.

(1:10 to 1:15) Mr. O’Rourke’s stance is neutral, as befits a good researcher, preparing a balanced assessment for the law makers, but he succeeds in making some of the best arguments I have heard for increased funding for the Coast. (Unfortunately this seems in marked contrast to the passivity of the Coast Guard leadership. Hopefully this is more apparent than real and there are things going on that we do not see. There is some indication this is true, here and here.) He also takes the Coast Guard to task for not employing multi-year and block buy contracting.

(1:15 to 1:19) Dr. Bucci provides his personnel view, noting that the Coast Guard has not learned to play the Washington bureaucratic game of asking for more than really need. (He also specifically advocates an exemption to the Jones act to allow the Coast Guard to lease foreign built icebreakers.)

(1:19 to 1:24) Dr. Korb advocates a Unified National Security Budget that looks as trade-offs between the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State. He also advocates including the Commandant in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and appointing a Civilian Service Secretary to act as an advocate. Later, when questioned, he points out that the Coast Guard’s unofficial motto is “We can do more with less” and if that is what you ask for “that is what you will get.” Among his telling points was that the Navy budget is 16 times that of the Coast Guard even though they have only eight times the people.

(1:24 to 1:42) Testimony of these three witnesses continued in response to the Representatives’ questions.

You can take a short cut and read the text of the prepared statements, but the Congressmen’s questions and reactions are also instructive, and generally supportive of the Coast Guard.

(0:00 to 1:10) Discussion with Vice Admiral Currier, Vice Commandant

Vice Admiral Currier’s prepared statement was completed at 14 minutes. Questions, answers and committee member statements continued to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

(Note, I am not taking the points in chronological order as discussed)

C-27J: The Coast Guard is apparently counting on getting at least 14 of these aircraft, perhaps as many as 21. Eighteen C-144s have been funded so far of a total of 36 in the “Program of Record.” Substituting C-27Js (which do have a higher operating cost) for the remaining 18 could represent a savings of up to $800M in acquisition costs. Calling it a strategic pause, the Coast Guard has zeroed additional C-144 purchases as it waits to find out if it will get these surplus Air Force assets.

Zeroing future C-144 purchases accounted for about a third of the reduction of the CIP compared to last years. As much as I have supported this course of action, and as confident as the subcommittee sounded, this is really not a done deal because the Air National Guard wants to keep the planes and they are very well connected politically. Additionally there are others who also want these aircraft.

Webber Class WPCs: Another major change was the decision to fund only two Fast Response Cutters annually instead of the four or six funded previously. Simply spreading out the buy is a really bad decision. Building six per year cost less per ship. Buying only two per year will require a renegotiation of contract. In addition, inflation in the ship building industry is not only higher that inflation in general, its rate is higher than the interest rate on government borrowing, so it would cost less in the long run to borrow money and build as rapidly as we can, even including the interest paid on the bonds. This consideration applies to the Offshore Patrol Cutter as well as the FRC. I don’t think this is the last word on construction of the FRCs, and we may see more money added to the budget.

Bertholf Class WMSLs: It now appears all eight National security Cutters will be completed, but we can waste time and money if we do not fund long lead time items and this is currently the plan. This was also discussed and generally deplored.

Multiple Crewing: Questions were raised about when the Coast Guard would demonstrate the “Crew Rotation Concept” which has been touted as being able to provide 225-230 days per year from each of the larger cutters. The Vice Commandant responded that the plan would not be implemented until 2017, but until that time the NSCs are expected to average 210 days AFHP.

Offshore Patrol Cutters:  VAdm Currier said the CG expects to select to three preliminary designs for further development by the end of this FY, and that the final selection will be made a year later, by the end of FY2014.

Unmanned Air Systems: The uncertain future of the Coast Guard’s Unmanned Air Siystem (UAS) programs, and its dependence on the US Navy’s development, was discussed, with Representative Garamendi pointing out this represented a major hole in the Coast Guard’s plan to maintain Maritime Domain Awarenes (MDA).

Response Boat Medium: A Representative questioned why the Coast Guard had stopped the Response Boat, Medium program at 170 RBMs rather than building the 180 approved by Congress, without submitting a justification report for the smaller program as required by Congress.

Port Security: Representative Janice Hahn, California, expressed discomfort with the current container inspection rate of only 2 to 3%. She also suggested the possibility of diverting from some customs money to port security.

The Arctic: A pleasant surprise was that VAdm Currier expressed confident that the Coast Guard can already demonstrate good Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Arctic. Don Young, Alaska, asked several questions about icebreaker. He opined that the Coast Guard should lease an “American built” icebreaker, never mind the fact that no heavy icebreakers have been built in the US since the Polar Sea. We could of course lease a ship someone would call an icebreaker, but that sort of misses the point. VAdm. Currier did say the Polar Sea could be returned to operation after about three years work at a cost of $100M and have a seven to ten year additional useful life.

Missions: The question, what missions the Coast Guard will not do, given reduced funding. The only answer was that we will have to make some tough choices and the CG and the Department will do a portfolio analysis, date of completion unknown.

Tone: Generally the Committee was supportive. The irony of spending $5B for an East Coast Missile Defense system while shorting the Coast Guard assets that are necessary to prevent a much more probable method of introducing weapons of mass destruction was not lost on the Committee. They also saw the foolishness adding $46B to  beef-up patrols along the Mexican Border and simultaneously undercutting the Coast Guard. They also discussed the double standard by which they could write a $2.6B blank check to purchase unspecified aircraft for Afghanistan, while demanding detailed justification for all Coast Guard purchases. They seemed to recognize that if “National Security” were considered in a holistic fashion, the Coast Guard would do a lot better, but that the committee structure in Congress prevented this kind of evaluation of trade-offs.

Sexual assault: The Vice Commandant addressed this in his prepared remarks and it was also discussed in the subsequent question and answer period.

Things the Coast Guard might do differently:

There was a clear message from the three civilian witnesses that the Coast Guard has not learned to “play the game,” that the Coast Guard has been excessively modest in pointing out its needs, and that because of this reticence important missions are being short changed.

We have repeatedly told our elected representatives about our successes, but that leaves the impression everything is alright. Everything is not alright. We need to keep reminding them what is not getting done and the possible consequences of inaction. Every time a Congressionally mandated task is not done to the fullest extent, it should be reported, and they should be made to understand that the reason it was not done is lack of resources. We need to put the onus on Congress and the Executive.

When asked what mission the CG will not do, Adm Currier “we can adjust.” Given an opportunity to address why the aging fleet’s patrol hours now down 8-12%, Admiral Currier said, Currier, “We are OK for OPC/MEC” (Frankly I don’t think that is true. The Coast Guard’s own studies point out a need not only for newer replacements but also more ships) and “The gap is in the Offshore and the NSC is key.” The construction of the eight NSCs seems assured, it was time to point out how the fleet will continue to age and deteriorate. We can expect even more breakdowns and higher maintenance costs for the legacy fleet. In the nine years 1964 to 1972, 28 new ships entered service with the Coast Guard (3.11 ships per year). Only three have been replaced and we are building at a rate of less than one a year, and we don’t expect to deliver more than one replacement per year until at least 2023 and then never more than two a year. Things are going to get much worse before they get better.

We have done an absolutely terrible job of conveying an sense of urgency in replacing our over-aged patrol ships. I have on my desk the August issues of the Navy League’s magazine “SeaPower” and the US Naval Institute’s Magazine “Proceedings.” Both magazines carry happy glowing reports of the Coast Guard’s successes. There is hardly a word about the growing problems with our major cutters. There is hardly a mention of the OPC and certainly no article designed to explain the urgency of its funding and why the naval and maritime community should be excited about it.

The Coast Guard needs to publish a 30 year ship building plan. When I first saw that the Navy was doing this, I thought it was ridiculous, but think about what it does for you. It lays out intentions far into the future and prepares the decision makers to deal with uneven funding requirements. It also highlights the bow wave effect of deferring acquisitions.

If the Coast Guard can get seven to ten years out of the Polar Sea for $100M then compared to 30 years from a new $800M to $1B icebreaker then the costs are not out of line. Perhaps we should not reject the idea. By the time the new icebreaker is ready, the remaining life in Polar Star will be used up (if it actually lasts that long) and we will still have only one heavy icebreaker. Putting an second heavy icebreaker into the fleet, as soon as possible, is the best way to create a presumption that there will be a second new icebreaker to follow the one currently planned. These ships break, we really need more than one.

Perhaps it is also time to make another examination of the legacy of Deepwater that is still with the Coast Guard. Are there alternatives to the long range aircraft/UAVs and the ship types that have been perpetuated long after the program failed?

The Coast Guard has belittled its role in national defense and in doing so has also minimized the future utility of its assets in this role. Fear is a stronger motivator than altruism. We need to recognize that the nation is motivated more by fear than by the desire to do good or maintain its infrastructure. This is the reason the Defense Department is well funded.  The national defense role of the Coast Guard, both against terrorism in peacetime and as a naval auxiliary that can bring needed additional numbers to the fight in wartime needs much more emphasis. It is obvious, listening to the subcommittee, that the counter-terrorism role was what they had in the forefront of their minds.

The Sub-Committee:


Duncan Hunter, California, Chairman
Don Young, Alaska
Howard Coble, North Carolina
Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey
Patrick Meehan, Pennsylvania
Steve Southerland, II, Florida, Vice Chair
Tom Rice, South Carolina
Trey Radel, Florida
Mark Sanford, South Carolina
Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania, (ex officio)


John Garamendi, California, Ranking Member
Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland
Corrine Brown, Florida
Rick Larsen, Washington
Timothy H. Bishop, New York
Janice Hahn, California
Lois Frankel, Florida
Nick J. Rahall, II, West Virginia, (ex officio)

Icebreaker Fleets of the World

The US Naval Institute News has published a chart, prepared by the USCG, listing their best estimate of the world icebreaker fleets. Ships are listed by country, horsepower class, and year the ship entered service. Ships under construction or planned are also listed.

Only ships of more than 10,000 Brake Horse Power (7,457 MW), capable of independent Arctic operation, are included. There are notations to indicate nuclear propulsion, whether the ship has made it to the North Pole, whether it is government owned, and if the ship is designed specifically for the Baltic.

“Operating in the Arctic, Resourcing For The 21st Century,” An Interview with RAdm Jeff Garrett, USCG (ret)

I’d like to point out an excellent interview that forcefully makes many of the points the Coast Guard needs to be pushing to have an effective polar capability. It needs wider dissemination. RAdm. Garrett is apparently an excellent spokesman for the Coast Guard.

There are some points in the article that also deserve to be highlighted.

A icebreaker can do more than break ice. It can serve effectively as Coast Guard infrastructure in the Arctic–logistics base, air station, SAR station, MLE, ATON, etc.

USCGC Healy was built with money from the USN budget. (It could, perhaps should, happen again.)

The Canadians are building a mix of high-low ice capability ships, a large icebreaker and ice-strengthened patrol ships. (For a while the Coast Guard also had a high-low mix, Polar class on the high end and Glacier and Wind class as the low end.)

The Polar Star (Credit:
The Polar Star Credit: