Home » Budget Industry » Document: Report to Congress on U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Modernization


Document: Report to Congress on U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Modernization

The following is the Sept. 2, 2015 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress.

  • Curtis Conway

    Assuming we build six (6) Icebreakers (3-Medium & 3-Heavy) To keep cost down and production as efficient as possible we should compete two yards against each other with Ice Breaker contracts. The winning yard for the one type will produce the lot of that type. If the general wisdom is that follow-on Ice Breakers may be required, and it sure looks like that might be the case, then compete the two yards for both contracts, and one gets the lion’s share of one type (heavy/medium), and the other yard gets the lion’s share of the other type.

    Studies of weather patterns in the Arctic show a very volatile environment that can change very rapidly (like be fundamentally different in 24 hours or less). As traffic increases across this region need for Ice Breakers is more likely to increase. The greater emphasis by science and industry in the region will necessitate more vessels in the region, and populations in disparate locations that can be cut off by an almost instant ice shelf stimulated by changing weather patterns that are difficult if not impossible to predict, will require greater emergency response capability. This truth necessitates the increased emphasis on Ice Breakers as a proactive and necessary support element to any increased operational tempo by anyone in the Arctic.

    If one wants to study climate change, then the Arctic is the place to be because weather can dramatically change in a shorter period of time with dramatically greater impact on operations that anywhere else on the planet with the exception of perhaps the Antarctic Region.

    Support for McMurdo in the Antarctic has been mitigated somewhat with the expansion of year round air support operations by C-17 Globemaster IIIs. Expansion of the 109th Airlift Wing New York Air National Guard may have to be expanded to accommodate addition of a new type of aircraft to their inventory, and begin reacquainting themselves of going both ways (Arctic/Antarctic). Flying in these regions have similarities, but support of operations is significantly different by region. The US Coast Guard may have to consider LC-27Js to support operations on Arctic ice.

    Because of the unique nature of polar operations a case could be made for a specific Polar Task Force covering the Arctic & Antarctic to be created and be the leading organization of logistical support on both poles. Maintaining the cadre of specific disciplines with the commensurate experience and institutional memory of Polar Operations is a precious and valuable commodity. Operations in Polar Regions are similar with some peculiar differences based upon the nature of the region. The Arctic Ice shelf comes and goes and is many times in a constant state of flux. Antarctica is a continent with its own peculiarities, many of which we are just beginning to gain some understanding of, and many more items that required further investigation. Both regions require a disciplined approach to exploration and a great emphasis on safeguarding these unique environments.

    “Arctic seasonal icebreaking demands through 2022 can be met with existing and planned Coast Guard assets……..”

    I would really like to have an opportunity to look through these folks crystal ball they used to make this prediction. There is no way that anyone on the planet, given the variables involved, can make an accurate prediction like this that far out. Anyone who thinks they can, should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

    After review of the report and consideration of the budget priorities shown through the consecutive funding levels, it becomes clear that the current administration is not going to take any meaningful action to counter the increased presence by the Russians, who are taking huge advantage of our absence in the Arctic.

    New leadership is required to establish a priority to rebuild the Polar Icebreaker fleet. Influence it the Polar Regions is a must and the United States cannot shrink from the task. We have National Security, scientific, and in the case of the Arctic, ‘economic interest’ in these regions, and they must be protected. It may in fact be necessary
    to treat icebreaker construction program like the Ohio Class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Replacement Program with a standalone line item in the budget to preserve the effort and prevent raiding of the funds by other agencies. This Icebreaker Fleet Reconstruction Program should receive a high priority.

    We could kill two birds with one stone if we build ‘Ice hardened’ National Security Cutters equipped as new navy frigates. Perhaps modification of the Senates Icebreaker Recapitalization Act (S. 1386) combined with considerations in the FY 2016 NDAA 1735 could be a creative way to handle at least 85% of the problem.

    “…. wise management of ice conditions,…” I really got a kick out of this mission
    requirement. I had heard that the US Government wanted to get into the ‘Weather Control’ business, but I had not realized they were that successful (tongue in cheek).

  • Secundius

    Everyone seems to be forgetting the Fourth Large Icebreaker in the Coast Guard Fleet. WLBB-30, USCGS. Mackinaw, the one that replaced the “old” WAGB-83 Mackinaw. She’s 20-feet smaller in the Beam, and should have NO PROBLEM passing through the Locks separating the Great Lake and the Atlantic Ocean…

  • John B. Morgen

    No, we are going to need at least six heavy ice-breakers, and eight medium ice-breakers due to the rapid environmental changes. We should be studying Canada’s, Finland’s, Denmark’s, Sweden’s and Russia’s ice-breaker fleets as possible models to follow. The report is a folly to be following because it offers too little for next coming winter years. The Coast Guard is going to be needing a lot more ice-breakers, even smaller ice-breakers…..

    • Secundius

      @ John B. Morgen.

      There are also NINE Bay class Icebreaker Tugs of ~660-tons and 140-feet long…

      • John B. Morgen

        That is correct, and probably the Coast Guard is going to need more Bay class (WTGB) tugs.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    At times the way our political leaders act is just plain stupid. I can’t see why The Coast Guard and the Navy can not just buy the hulls from other countries

  • Rick D

    If Russia forces the issue on territorial claims in artic , we don’t have the capability to place naval surface assets in the region at times of heavy sea ice . THATS STUPID !