Home » Budget Industry » Coast Guard Renames New Icebreaker Program ‘Polar Security Cutter’

Coast Guard Renames New Icebreaker Program ‘Polar Security Cutter’

Crew of U.S Coast Guard icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) in 2014. US Coast Guard Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard changed the name of its heavy icebreaker program to highlight its importance to national security, as funding for the first-in-class ship may be in jeopardy.

Now dubbed the Polar Security Cutter, Coast Guard leadership and backers on Capitol Hill are determined to secure funding for the planned new class of heavy icebreaker – the first for the Coast Guard in more than four decades – by marketing its vital role protecting the nation’s sovereignty.

“When we talk about icebreaking capability, that doesn’t sell very well to all audiences,” Rear Adm. Melvin Bouboulis, the Coast Guard’s Assistant Commandant for Engineering and Logistics, said during the recent American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.
“We understand that some folks think just it goes and breaks ice, but we’ve purposely changed the name of that program to Polar Security Cutter because it is really the U.S. presence in the Arctic regions and preserving our national interest and security in those areas.”

The Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker mission has traditionally supported scientific research. But the new icebreaker’s request for proposals released earlier this year hinted at a possible future national security mission. After much speculation about whether the ship would be armed, Coast Guard officials said in the RFP they wanted the ability to add deck-mounted weapons to the icebreaker in the future.

The name-change was talked about by Adm. Karl Schultz almost as soon as he became Coast Guard commandant in June. At the time, the program appeared on track. But in late July, the $750-million funding request to pay for construction of the first ship in the heavy icebreaker program was stripped out of the House version of the Fiscal Year 2019 Homeland Security appropriations bill. The funding remained in the Senate version of the bill.

In August, Schultz suggested a program name change when appearing at an event co-hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“You know right now it’s the heavy icebreaker, the polar icebreaker. I think the paradigm has shifted a little bit,” Schultz said. “I’m having a conversation with my team about, maybe that’s the polar security cutter. I mean, that’s really what we’re talking about: we’re talking about national sovereign interests up there, we’re talking about competition. … The Coast Guard is the face of that competition, and we’ve really got to press into that.”

A conference committee for both chambers to iron out differences in each version of the Homeland Security appropriations bill will likely not meet until after the November election. Schultz and the Coast Guard were essentially given about three months to make a case for restoring icebreaker funding to the appropriations bill.

The Coast Guard’s proposed icebreaker is now officially called the Polar Security Cutter, Lt. Amy Midgett, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, confirmed to USNI News. The hull designation will be WMSP. W is the standard prefix for Coast Guard vessels, and MSP stands for Maritime Security-Polar, Brian Olexy, a Coast Guard spokesman, told USNI News. The intended missions of the icebreaker will remain the same – supporting scientific research – and designating the ship a security cutter does not alter how it is funded.

Coast Guard officials routinely mention how Russia has a fleet of roughly 40 heavy icebreakers and is developing nuclear-powered heavy icebreakers. China, though not considered an Arctic nation, regularly sends icebreakers to the region.

The U.S. Coast Guard has only one heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), which runs on an aggressive schedule, Bouboulis said. The Coast Guard plans to perform service life extension work during the brief drydock periods scheduled into Polar Star’s operations.

“It heads down south, breaks out McMurdo, resupplies, then it comes back for a drydock availability period,” Bouboulis said, referring to the Antarctica-based science station built on a bare volcanic rock on Ross Island’s Hut Point Peninsula, the southernmost point still accessible by ship, according to the Nationals Science Foundation. During the winter, scientists have recorded temperatures as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit. “We are in our fifth concurrent year of that [operating tempo], which is pretty unprecedented.”

  • Ed L

    The Russians have 50 icebreakers. Most of them medium class

    • Fred Gould

      And we have 2. This has been dragged out more than 10 years. The need and planning started in the Bush Administration.

  • Michael Lopez

    As a former member of the Navy Submarine Service, I have to say that if necessary we should take funding from the Navy shipbuilding budget to start immediate construction of Heavy Icebreakers. This is a matter of National Security.

    • NavySubNuke

      That depends – are we going to take it away from actual warship construction or from pork construction added by congress? We don’t have enough DDGs and SSNs as it is but we could easily do without the extra unneeded LCS congress added as a jobs program for the shipyards.
      The funding allocated for those two LCS would more then pay for the icebreaker.

      • vetww2

        “Actual warship construction” is a naive statement. If you are operating in an ice bound sea, the most critically needed “WARSHIP” is an icebreaker.

        • NavySubNuke

          Sure but the adversary we really need DDGs isn’t going to be fighting us in an icebound sea.

          • vetww2

            I disagree. But I hope for no such encounters.

          • Stephen

            USCG, if armed, would be better served with an air cushioned over ice vessel, in the Arctic. An Ice Breaker is needed in Antarctica

          • Rocco

            Nobody in Antarctica but seals & penguins!!

      • Rob C.

        Problem is order of the LCS is matter of law. So you got change purchasing bill Congress approved. So they have change the law if i’m not mistaken.

    • vetww2

      I agree with you 100%. All you have to do is examine the Russian icebreakers, including nuclear powered, to know that the CG, though, well intentioned but not nearly aggresive enough to get some of the Navy’s puffed up budget to equip our forces with vitally needed assets for the coming competition for the arctic,

    • Duane

      Not only no, but heck no.

      Icebreakers will never be surface combatants, unless some idiot decides to mount a gun or a missile launcher on deck,at which point it will become a destroyed icebreaker in any real war.

      Also, we have no icebound assets to protect in the United States. No commercial shipping ports, no commercial shipping lanes, no naval ports, no nothing worth protecting from a sea based attack along the limited stretch of Arctic Ocean coastline that we have in Alaska. What exactly would these ships be flailing away at trying to defend, and failing in doing so?

      We are never going to see a 355 ship Navy, all political rhetoric aside. We have way more challenges to meet on the world’s useful temperate and tropical oceans than we can possibly defend with the 278 ships that we have today … and maybe 320 or so in another decade (or not – depending upon how Congress funds the military).

      A truly useful mission set for the Coast Guard is to build more medium to large cutters that can help us and our allies in the West Pac and Persian Gulf deter the real bad guys, where we and our allies actually have ports to defend, naval and air bases to defend, and shipping lanes to keep open.

      The Russians and Chinese would dearly love for the US to piss away our forces defending the ice cubes in the far north. This is otherwise called a “head fake”.

      • El_Sid

        “Icebreakers will never be surface combatants”

        Project 23550 Papanins will break 1.5m+ ice and are likely to carry a 76mm gun and 8xKlubs….

      • vetww2

        Congratulations. You have reached the epitome of inane comment. Ship class titles have little to do with capability. When I was SEA03R, in the 70s, one of the desirable features suggested for the DDX (later DD963) was an icebreaking capability. It was removed to asuage neanderthals like you appear to be.

        • Rocco


      • Kevin

        Funny, they were in WWII, in fact, the Northland captured a a German vessel acting as a weather station off Greenland. That capture led to her ferrying a group of soldiers who captured a contingent of 100 German soldiers trying to establish a clandestine base on the Greenland coast. a one, the CGC Eastwind, also captured a German Vessel off the
        Greenland coast.

        We most definitely have interests in Ice Bound areas. There is this little state up there called Alaska. Ice Breakers are needed to keep supply routes open, as well as to protect our interests in the Arctic. It’s not just about ports and bases, but fisheries and other natural resources. Assuming there is not a rapid cooling the North is going to become more important, and see more and more traffic. The CG needs to maintain a presence up there.

        Last but not least there are the research stations in Antarctica. The CGC Polar Star leads the resupply mission into McMurdo sound every year. Oh BTW, the as built for the Wind Class breakers included two twin-mount 5 in (130 mm) deck guns. Her anti-aircraft weaponry consisted of three quad-mounted Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft autocannons and six Oerlikon 20 mm autocannons. They also carried six K-gun depth charge projectors and a hedgehog as anti-submarine weapons.

      • Rocco

        You have no idea what your talking about!!

  • DaSaint

    Just get it done. Take a page out of Burke Flight III procurement and order 5 of them.

    • Fred Gould

      Start by taking the USCG out of the DHS. I remember when the service was transferred from the Treasury, there were warnings that something like this would happen.

      • DaSaint

        Agree. Leave CBP, ICE and TSA under DHS.
        Move the USCG to DOD, and put NOAA under USCG.

        • Kevin

          USCG can not be placed under DOD and perform their missions .The Posse Comatus Act makes it a felony to use DOD personnel to enforce civil law. That’s why if the Navy does say a drug interdiction patrol or boardings in the Gulf, they embark a CG detachment.

          • Hank Hill

            The Posse Comitatus act never applied to the Coast Guard. They can be moved to the DOD without any legal issues. You people don’t care about the Coast Guard, while they get screwed over in civilian agencies.

          • Kevin

            I am Coast Guard, served 10 years, so reign that crap in buddy. Been there, done that, got the T shirt. Stood port and starboard duty as a LORAN Tech for a year and part of that year port and report because there weren’t enough of us to go around while Vietnam was going on.

            I am no lawyer, but as I understand it while only the Army and Air Force are specifically named in the act, it has always been assumed that it also would apply to the Navy, and that would make it a grey area at best if the CG came under DOD. At least that’s what we were told when I was in, and why we were told the Navy embarked CG detachments when they were actively participating in interdiction in the early 80’s.

          • Ken J. Bower

            Wouldn’t it be better to end the sequester, that limits the Navy and from operating big deployments; making it harder to get new ships, planes, and men and supplies etc.

          • Kevin

            Yep .. all we need is for congress to actually pass a budget for once.

        • vetww2

          Agree, with some small changes and additions.
          1. Move USCG to Navy.
          2, Chnge NOAA back to “The weather Bureau.
          3. (ADDED) Change title of General ACCOUNTABILITY office back to General ACCOUNTING Office and get them to do account assessment as they once did, but no longer do such plebian work.

          • Kevin

            Moving the USCG to the Navy would be a big mistake. Their missions and organizational structure are totally different. Military Preparedness is just one of 11 statutory missions assigned to the CG. The USCG is small and rather elite. with only about 40,000 men and women, much smaller unit sizes, (the average is probably between 20 and 30), and a very public image, they have to be.

          • vetww2

            OK, based on your comments, I chhange mine to,

          • Kevin

            Oh dear Lord no! LOL

            I have many Navy friends, we of course do a lot of ribbing, usually with them ganging up on their “token Coastie”. Sooner or later someone will say something along the line of, “Whatever possessed you to join the CG?” My standard reply is, “I scored high enough to get in.”

          • A Peter Algover

            So I’m sure you are aware of the adage that you “you have to be over 6 foot tall to join the Coast Guard, ….. so you can wade to shore if you Cutter/boat sinks”. So I tell them they make exceptions if you can walk on water! (Yes, I’m an ex-Coastie.)

      • tom dolan

        Treasury? I believe they were Transportation Department weren’t they?

        • Kevin

          They were Treasury from the time they were the Revenue Marine until the late 60’s early 70’s, then they were moved to DOT. After 9-11, the USCG was moved to Homeland Security.

  • NavySubNuke

    Well I guess if we can call a 14,000 ton ship a “destroyer” we can go ahead and call a 13000 ton ice breaker a “cutter” but it does seem a bit ridiculous given what a “cutter” used to be in naval terms.

    • vetww2

      The “Old gray ship, she ain’t what she used to be.”

    • bob

      It’s a matter of tradition.

      The Revenue Cutter Service, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1790, was established to do just that; collect fees and tariffs from vessels coming into US waters, enforce treaties and maritime regulations, as well as interdict smuggling. As the Navy was significantly reduced following the Revolutionary War, it became the de facto U.S. maritime force. They’ve always been armed, showing up in weird places. This continued after they RCS merged with the U.S. Life Saving Service and the Lighthouse Service and became the Coast Guard. Any USCG Vessel over 65′ is called a Cutter, under 65′ is a small boat.

      I suspect it’s the same reason you bubbleheads still call that boomer a “boat”.

      • NavySubNuke

        Good to know – thank you! Though I am curious why the Polar Star wasn’t referred to as a cutter given that tradition.

        • bob

          She is officially known as USCGC Polar Star WAGB 10. All Coast Guard Cutters “wear” the W designating it a Coast Guard vessel, the AGB stands for Arctic Glacier Breaker, followed by the number.

          Not sure where this tradition came from, but all Cutters have the “W”; WHEC was the High Endurance Cutter, WMEC Medium Endurance Cutter and so on. The new class of 418′ Cutters is the WMSL. or Maritime Security Cutter.

          They probably have a room in the basement of CG Headquarters, filled with people who wait for a sunlight delivery just to think these things up.

          • Kevin

            It’s my understanding that when they decided to designate Cutter types with letters, the W was a letter that was not already in use elsewhere.

          • bob

            Thank you ET. I just remember in boot, somewhere along the line they gave the “W” to the Coast Guard. I still remember some of the WWII Cutter pictures with the W and number. Also the pre-racing stripe pictures from the 60s

  • Duane

    The whole notion of icebreakers somehow getting into running gunfights while breaking ice is absurd. They will be sitting ducks for any determined enemy with antiship missiles and aircraft.

    This is hype, not thoughtful management of limited Coast Guard resources.

    • Luke Shaver

      All the Coast Guard wants to do is reserve space, weight, and power for weapons on the icebreakers, in the event they are ever to be needed. Just like in pretty much every other cutter.

      • vetww2


  • I don’t care anymore,

    The Coast Guard is right up there with Cub Scouts. Typical govt agency.

  • tom dolan

    I suppose it sounds better then Ice Negotiator. Lol

  • ed137

    If the politicians delay much longer, there will not be any ice left to break.