Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

The Coast Guard’s FY2013 budget initiated a new project for the design and construction of a new polar icebreaker. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2013 budget requested $8 million in FY2013 acquisition funding to initiate survey and design activities for the ship, and projected an additional $852 million in FY2013-FY2017 for acquiring the ship. The Coast Guard’s FY2013 budget anticipated awarding a construction contract for the ship “within the next five years” and taking delivery on the ship “within a decade.”

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2014 budget requests $2 million in acquisition funding to continue survey and design activities for the ship, or $118 million less than the $120 million that was projected for FY2014 under the FY2013 budget. The Coast Guard’s FY2014 budget submission projects an additional $228 million in FY2015-FY2018 for acquiring the ship, including $128 million in FY2015-FY2017, or $604 million less than the $732 million that was projected for FY2015-FY2017 under the Coast Guard’s FY2013 budget submission. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2014 budget anticipates awarding a construction contract for the ship “within the next four years.”

Coast Guard polar icebreakers perform a variety of missions supporting U.S. interests in polar regions. The Coast Guard’s two existing heavy polar icebreakers—Polar Star and Polar Sea— have exceeded their originally intended 30-year service lives. Polar Star was placed in caretaker status on July 1, 2006. Congress in FY2009 and FY2010 provided funding to repair it and return it to service for an additional 7 to 10 years of service; the repair work was completed and the ship was reactivated on December 14, 2012.

On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty; the ship was unavailable for operation after that. The Coast Guard placed Polar Sea in commissioned, inactive status on October 14, 2011. Section 222 of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 (H.R. 2838/P.L. 112-213 of December 20, 2012) prohibits the Coast Guard from removing any part of Polar Sea and from transferring, relinquishing ownership of, dismantling, or recycling the ship until it submits a business case analysis of the options for and costs of reactivating the ship and extending its service life to at least September 30, 2022, so as to maintain U.S. polar icebreaking capabilities and fulfill the Coast Guard’s high latitude mission needs, as identified in the Coast Guard’s July 2010 High Latitude Study.

The Coast Guard’s third polar icebreaker—Healy—entered service in 2000. Compared to Polar Star and Polar Sea, Healy has less icebreaking capability (it is considered a medium polar icebreaker), but more capability for supporting scientific research. The ship is used primarily for supporting scientific research in the Arctic.

With the reactivation of Polar Star, the operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet consists of one heavy polar icebreaker (Polar Star) and one medium polar icebreaker (Healy). The new polar icebreaker for which initial acquisition funding is requested in the FY2013 budget would replace Polar Star at about the time Polar Star’s 7- to 10-year reactivation period ends.

The Coast Guard’s strategy document for the Arctic region, released on May 21, 2013, states that “The United States must have adequate icebreaking capability to support research that advances fundamental understanding of the region and its evolution,” and that “The Nation must also make a strategic investment in icebreaking capability to enable access to the high latitudes over the long-term.”

Date of Report: June 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 66
Order Number: RL34391
Price: $29.95

To Order:

RL34391.pdf   to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.