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Coast Guard Releases Heavy Icebreaker Draft Request for Proposals

A curious Adelie penguin stands near the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star on McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Jan. 7, 2016. During their visit to Antarctica for Deep Freeze 2016, the U.S. military’s logistical support to the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program, the Polar Star crew encounters a variety of Antarctic marine life, including penguins, whales and seals. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard and Navy today released a draft request for proposals to industry for the detail design and construction of the Heavy Polar Icebreaker.

The draft RFP covers construction of the first ship, with options for two more.

Responses to the draft RFP are due Dec. 11, and the Coast Guard and Navy will release a final RFP early next year, to support a Fiscal Year 2019 contract award. Naval Sea Systems Command has provided contracting and other support to the Coast Guard for this major acquisition program.

The Coast Guard requires heavy icebreakers to support operations in Antarctica, particularly the annual McMurdo Station resupply effort. The service has just two heavy icebreakers – USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) and USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11) – and in 2011 Polar Sea was put into commissioned inactive status and turned it into a “parts donor” for Polar Star.

The Coast Guard also has one medium icebreaker, USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), for operations in the Arctic, where the ice is thinner.

“The Coast Guard will need a minimum of two new heavy icebreakers to ensure national year-round access to the polar regions and to provide some self-rescue capability,” the service states on its website.
“The United States has vital national interests in the polar regions. Polar icebreakers enable the U.S. to maintain defense readiness in the Arctic and Antarctic regions; enforce treaties and other laws needed to safeguard both industry and the environment; provide ports, waterways and coastal security; and provide logistical support – including vessel escort – to facilitate the movement of goods and personnel necessary to support scientific research, commerce, national security activities and maritime safety.”

Though securing funding is still an issue, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said the service needs three heavy and three medium icebreakers to provide persistent presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, which called a must in today’s security environment.

On Feb. 7, 2017, the United States and Canada signed an agreement that allows the Coast Guard to “test and validate potential heavy polar icebreaker design models at Canada’s National Research Council in St John’s, Newfoundland.” Later that month the Coast Guard awarded five contracts for design studies and analysis. In April, heavy icebreaker system specifications were released to industry in a request for information. Model testing is taking place currently at the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division in Maryland.

  • scotfahey

    consider the mission, add yard time and training, 6 NEW heavy ice breakers are in order, 2 on duty, 2 in
    the shipyard or being serviced, 2 in training. About time the USA stops trying to do the mission on the cheep. Ice Breakers need service . crews need training. You rotate ships to operate a FLEET. One functional Heavy Ice Breaker, will not meet the mission

    • Allen Snook

      I agree with your analysis, but don’t we have allies with ice breakers that can reduce that burden?

      • Mario Zocchi

        NDAA 18 authorized only 1 heavy icebreaker, not 6. Senator Sullivan’s “Arctic Bill” proposed 6. 3 heavy, and 3 medium. And we still have no funding for that 1.

        We can rely on our allies for assistance in the overall Arctic but what about Alaskan waters? Allies would want reimbursement which is never dollar for dollar what we would pay. And it would be constant during the Arctic winter. Priority goes to the owning country. Our remaining icebreaker is needed in Antarctica when it’s not in drydock. Also, the Polar Star is expected to be mothballed in the early 2020s.

    • Stephen

      Agreed, USCG asks for an Ice breaker; they need a fleet of ice breakers. They are viewed as a research vessel & don’t get the attention of a warship. In the 50s, a lot of Visionaries suggested a strong Arctic presence. We never seem to listen to Visionaries…

  • Centaurus

    Where is the Aegis ? Surface-to-surface weapons ? Russians are going to be out there. If it floats, it fights !

    • airider

      Yeah…..I doubt that….if they make it anything like the NSC’s in combat capability it would be a significant change in how U.S. Icebreakers have been built.

      • Centaurus

        I want BOMBS, BOMBS, BOMBS !!!

    • Luke Shaver

      It will probably only be delivered with defense anti-surface weaponry, definitely crew served .50 caliber machine guns, at most probably a couple of Mk 38s. It has been talked about leaving space, weight, and power reservations on them for offensive and defensive armament including cruise missiles. They will be built to a mix of commercial and military standards.

      • Centaurus

        I want to see weapons on these things if we’re bumpin’ up against Russians

  • Marcd30319

    Is nuclear power under consideration?

    • Rob C.

      Coast Guard won’t be able to afford it. The Navy would have to run it, along lending nuclear qualified personal to run the power plant.

      • Secundius

        [IF] the US Congress FUNDS Any kind of Icebreaker?/! It’s probably going to be either MORE “Bay” class Icebreaker Tugs of ~690-tons or “MacKinaw” class Supply Icebreakers of ~3,500-tons. Because of their Relative Ease to Mass Produce and Cost For the Buck…

  • Secundius

    Consider the US Congress (ei. “Pipe Dream”)…

  • Rob C.

    I rather see hybrid Cutter/ice Breaker since trade is going be following ot there more frequently with all the ice all but gone to small chunks out there. Keep them from be coming obsolete. MultiMission ship is better than one trick wonder.

    • wilkinak

      The Navy’s recent multi-mission ships haven’t worked out so well. Having a ship able to actually perform the mission it was built for is pretty nice.

  • John McHugh

    Without seeing the full RFP, it’s tough to grade it. With the expanding access to Arctic regions, one would think that building a robust fleet for coverage would make sense. Build at least (3) “heavies” (WAGB / HPIB). On station-support-in maintenance. With the increasing utilization of the regions, add at least one additional Healey research platform. In addition to the above listed vessels, I would wonder if designing and building a third icebreaker class that is less complex but equally capable. This vessel could perform the same mission set such as SAR / patrol but also function as a utility/support tug that meets at least the IACS Polar Ice Class-3 or ABS A3 “medium” level capability to support the growing fleet. Having 3 or 4 of these would go far towards constant coverage and support.

    Nuclear would be great but that would absolutely dictate USN ownership and is, unfortunately, most unlikely. Instead, creating a hybrid plant with large battery / fuel cell technology in conjunction with a proven gas turbine / diesel main plant would seem to be the best compromise. Very scalable with enough MW power gen to handle decades of improvements and requirements.

    Again, without seeing the exact RFP, we can probably assume little to no weaponry other than M2 Browning .50 Caliber. It would seem to make sense to add the OTO Melara 76mm and/or the 30mm Bushmaster. A provision for CIWS and/or SeaRAM with tactical length VLS cells for ESSM.

    A perfect opportunity awaits to further expand US shipbuilding. Philly Shipyard has prior connections with the Kværner Shipbuilding and Aker Philadelphia Shipyard which are already involved in the Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker evaluations. Adding up to 10 new rated vessels from a yard with a growing rep seems like a great opportunity for the USCG.

    • Lucas Shaver

      Yeah one of the older requirements was for multiple .50 cals, but it has been talked about to leave Space, weight, and power reservations for defensive and offensive armament. I also heard about some talk about installing Mk 38’s on them a while back.

    • Ako89

      The financialization of the American economy

      America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best And Brightest College Grads Head For Wall Street

      American De-Industrialization
      Continues Unabated

      America’s economic elite has long argued that the country does not need an industrial base. The economies in states such as California and Michigan that have lost their industrial base, however, belie that claim. Without an industrial base, an increase in consumer spending, which pulled the country out of past recessions, will not put Americans back to work. Without an industrial base, the nation’s trade deficit will continue to grow. Without an industrial base, stranded in low-paying service-sector jobs. Without an industrial base, the United States will be increasingly dependent on foreign manufacturers even for its key military technology.

  • Jeffrey Leee

    Two things: (1) Ice Breakers are un-armed (small arms for defense only) per international treaty. (2) That makes them single mission cutters — with the exception of SEARCH and RESCUE.

    • Lucas Shaver

      No, they will still have more than 1 mission, such as SAR, research, defense operations, etc, and will mount multiple .50 caliber machine guns like the past icebreakers, and may have Space, Weight, and Power reservations for additional armament, offensive and defensive.

  • John B. Morgen

    Are these ice breakers going to be armed?

    • Secundius

      According to “The Drive” dated May 2017, the USCG is asking of “Missile Armament”. But nothing Specific. First of Three “Medium” Tonnage Vessels (Similar to the “Healy” class) is expected to see service in 2023…

      • John B. Morgen

        The new ice breakers are going to need gun armaments.

        • Secundius

          No doubt, but what! They way this are going for the USCG lately, probably nothing bigger than a Mk.110 57x438mm. But with all probability something like a Mk.38 25x137mm most likely…

  • Secundius

    National Geographics Arctic Cruises, just signed a contract with Ulstein Shipyards of Norway for Four Ice Capable “X-Bow” Hulled Cruise Ships…