Home » Budget Industry » Coast Guard: Icebreaker Polar Sea Now a ‘Parts Donor;’ Refurbishment Deemed Too Expensive


Coast Guard: Icebreaker Polar Sea Now a ‘Parts Donor;’ Refurbishment Deemed Too Expensive

USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11). US Coast Guard Photo

USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11). US Coast Guard Photo

The Coast Guard has determined it would be too costly to refurbish the heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11) and has designated the ship a “parts donor” to sister ship USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), the service’s assistant commandant for engineering and logistics said this week.

The service will focus on building a class of new heavy icebreakers and keeping Polar Star running until the new hulls come online.

A recent detailed examination of icebreaker – commissioned in 1977 – found the ship had a sturdy hull, but upgrading ship systems to make it operational would require an effort that was not deemed cost-effective, Rear Adm. Bruce Baffer said during American Society of Naval Engineers’ Technologies, Systems and Ships event.

Polar Sea is now the parts donor for Polar Star. When we looked at Polar Sea, the hull is in good shape but everything inside the hull was obsolete. There was not a thing inside that hull… that we could replace,” Baffer said.
“The hull is in good shape, but cutting from the top down and rebuilding the ship – virtually every thing on the ship, in place, stick built, it was just too expensive.”

Polar Sea has been sidelined since 2010, when an engine casualty left the ship immobilized. Polar Star was reactivated and put into service on 2012 at a cost of about $57 million, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Coast Guard also operates the 1990s-era medium icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB-20).

Polar Star is currently in New Zealand after recently breaking out the U.S. McMurdo science station in Antarctica from 60 miles of ice – its primary mission, as part of Operation Deep Freeze – for some “well deserved R&R,” Baffer said.

“We used to do this mission every year with two heavy icebreakers. Now we do it with one. That puts a severe strain on our maintenance and logistics system to keep that running,” he said.
“Every night was a new adventure in engineering casualties, and every day they were back up running again.”

In 2015, the Obama administration announced the acceleration of the icebreaker program for a planned construction start in 2020 for a new heavy icebreaker.

“We’re very excited about the new polar icebreaker that’s moving fast,” Baffer said. “We’ve got the Navy helping us [with the acquisition].”

Naval Sea Systems Command is assisting the Coast Guard in developing the acquisition strategy for the service.

“The total acquisition cost of a new polar icebreaker that begins construction in FY2020 has not been officially estimated but might be roughly $1 billion, including design costs,” read a report from the Congressional Research Service.

As part of its Fiscal Year 2017 budget submission, the Coast Guard requested $150 million for the acquisition effort.

  • Aubrey

    I hear in this the same thinking that advocated sinking USN combatants with 15+ years of life left in them.

    Penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  • PRONESE

    And then there were none.
    Do we now ask the Russians to make a way to McMurdo Station for the resupply ship?
    SMH…

    • Donald Carey

      Just supply them by air – the Airforce can do it! – Oh wait, they no longer have enough planes.

  • Yamanote

    We can contract with China’s Snow Dragon icebreaker to resupply when Polar Star inevitably breaks down. National shame we have not built a new heavy polar icebreaker yet.

  • 1coolguy

    One is none, two is one. Money says there won’t be another US icebreaker before 2024, at the very earliest. there is no congressional horsepower behind this and teh Navy gets the ship building money, not the USCG.

  • Fidei Defensor

    This is really sad. The remaining icebreaker, Polar Star, cannot carry all the load. No doubt, it and its crew are being run into the ground. America has got to come up with another heavy icebreaker — or forfeit its capability to operate unassisted in the polar regions.

  • free_one

    Leaving the country stranded with one, constantly breaking heavy icebreaker is unsafe and shameful. The new icebreakers cost $1billion each and will not be here until at least 2024. POLAR STAR was refurbished for $47 million. POLAR SEA can be modernized and refurbished and put back into service by 2019 for less than $200 million, and POLAR STAR can be given redundant spare parts and an overhaul for less than $80million. The order to fix POLAR SEA should be issued asap!

  • RayH

    I was part of the commissioning crew while the Star was being built we commissioned her in Jan 1976. Even then spare parts were hard to get, mainly because the ship’s supply officer wouldn’t invest in spare his attitude was this is a new ship it won’t be breaking down for years. The little light bulbs in the engineering console burned out an average of 35-50 a day we had maybe 4 of each kind in supply when we took it over us EMs only had 6 replacement florescent bulbs and the motors for everything started going through bearings within a few months after commissioning. In order to have the bearings we needed we in the shop had the supply office believing the motors had 4 bearings 2 on each end of the motor. It’s no wonder there aren’t many parts for 2 ships. I served on 2 icebreakers in my career the Burton Island and the Polar Star I can say the BI had better supply support.

  • jon spencer

    “The total acquisition cost of a new polar icebreaker that begins construction in FY2020 has not been officially estimated but might be roughly $1 billion, including design costs,”
    Arctech Helsinki Shipyard has designed and built their new icebreaker that is equivalent or better than the Polar class for under a $150 million.
    A $850 million difference in price should get some heads turning.

    • adde

      Well, there is somewhat less ice breaking capacity & endurance in the icebreaker you refer to but for 250 million $ Aker Arctic design bureau and another Finnish shipyard would fix a polar heavy icebreaker. Archtech would not qualify as it’s 100% Russian owned. The icebreakers built at archtech are designed by Aker Arctic with no Russian ownership.

  • Western

    Rather than design the new Zumwalt-class icebreaker with laser ice-melters, wouldn’t it be prudent to lay the keel for a new icebreaker today that uses existing, proven designs? Or are the armchair defenders of the sea lanes counting on “global warming” to eliminate the need for an ice breaker? Time for action.

  • old guy

    This is just an extension of the SWIPE (Shipyard Welfare indulgence Program, Expensive). Although, I feel a need to build a new class of ARMED icebreakers to offset the Russian’s huge incursion into the arctic, this is not the way.

  • John B. Morgen

    The Coast Guard would be much better off of buying Finish built ice breakers than building our own. Time is not on our side, besides Finland has built ice breakers for a few European nation-states, including the Russia/Soviet Union.

  • Stephen

    Sad state of affairs. We need the presence in the Arctic. USCG must have an ice-breaker. At the cost of an CVN? OK, 2 LCSs.

  • Robert Colombo

    The USCG should not design the next Ice Breaker, lets buy one from a proven design and construction firm and as for the donor ship, why don’t we sell it to someone that can refurbish the hull and sell it back to us? THANKS

  • Clark Dodge, C/E

    Interesting comment about the age of the ship. Maybe it should be looked at about the cost of restoring the ship, verses scrapping. Much better use would be to use the money to overhaul the USCG Icebreaker Polar Sea. I read a bid of $400,000 to overhaul. Someone is padding the bid. This is better use of the money verses the loss of one older of a class ship. There are so many of that class makes real sense, us it for a parts ship. The Polar Sea and Polar Star are real world class ships and both are needed. Most well built icebreakers could operate for 50 years with proper maintenance. Maybe it should be looked at about the cost of restoring the ship, verses scrapping. Much better use would be to use the money to overhaul the USCG Icebreaker Polar Sea The decision to use it as a parts hull was a very bad decision. She could be restored for a very extended life ad give the USCG years to use the vessel and to design and build a new ship. The other thing is if you want and Icebreaker, then build an Icebreaker. If you want a research vessel then built that. Just don’t try to do both in the same ship. I have spent many years watching these ship.

  • Lance Cooper

    I was stationed on the USS Staten Island AGB5 in 1975 & part of the crew who transitioned her to the USGC. Does anyone know her current status?
    Appreciate the DL Cooper USNR.