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US Coast Guard Turns Down Arctic Exercise Because 40-year-old Icebreaker Might Break Down And Would Require Russian Help

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US Coast Guard Turns Down Arctic Exercise Because 40-year-old Icebreaker Might Break Down And Would Require Russian Help

Polar Star

The US Coast Guard passed on Arctic Exercise because of fears that the Polar Star icebreaker would break down and would require Russian help, former Coast Guard commandant Admiral Paul F. Zukunft said on December 4th.

It seems that the US is threatened of falling behind in the standoff for the Arctic because of the lack of ice breakers. Especially compared to Russia, which has the world’s largest Arctic coastline, dozens of icebreakers, many of which are heavy polar duty models, others suited to operate in the Baltics.

The US has two, only one of which is a heavy icebreaker and can theoretically operate in the Arctic and Antarctica. That heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is more than 40 years old and clinging to service life, Zukunft said.

“When I was the commandant, the National Security Council approached me and said, ‘Hey, we ought to send the Polar Star through the Northern Sea Route and do a freedom of navigation exercise,’” the retired Admiral said.

“I said, ‘Au contraire, it’s a 40-year-old ship. We’re cannibalizing parts off its sister ship just to keep this thing running, and I can’t guarantee you that it won’t have an catastrophic engineering casualty as it’s doing a freedom of navigation exercise, and now I’ve got to call on Russia to pull me out of harm’s way. So this is not the time to do it,’” he continued.

The Polar Star is a 42-year-old ship, commissioned in 1976 and refurbished in 2012 and brought back into service. It’s the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, and it can chop through ice up to 21 feet thick. (The Healy, the service’s other icebreaker, is a medium icebreaker that is newer and bigger but has less ice-breaking capability.)

The US Coast Guard had another icebreaker, the Polar Sea, it was also commissioned in 1976, but left service in 2010 due to repeated engine failures.

The service has been stripping the Polar Sea for parts, in order to keep its sister ship, the Polar Star running, because many of the necessary parts are no longer in production.

“When they can’t get it from the Polar Sea, crew members have ordered second-hand parts from eBay.”

The only remaining heavy icebreaker makes annual trips to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. In January 2018 the ship faced less ice and, still, there were mechanical issues. A gas-turbine failed, which reduced power to the propellers and a shaft seal also failed, allowing seawater into the ship, until it was sealed back.

The Polar star goes into drydock every year. Furthermore, it sails with a year’s worth of food in case it gets stuck. When he was commandant, Zukunft said that the icebreaker was “literally on life support.”

The Coast Guard has been looking to start building new icebreakers for some time. In 2016, Zukunft said that the service was looking to build three heavy and three medium icebreakers. It released a joint draft request for proposal with the Navy in October 2017.

“The Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Coast Guard, requested $750 million in fiscal year 2019, which began October 1, to design and build a new heavy polar icebreaker. (That request included $15 million for a service-life extension project for the Polar Star.)”

Thus, the Coast Guard not only received no budget to construct ships, but it also did not receive any funds to extend the life of the Polar Star.

In earlier December, the current Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz said that he was “guardedly optimistic” about funding for a new polar icebreaker.

Even if push comes to shove, Russia has actually helped the US before. In 2012, the Alaskan city of Nome was iced in and a few weeks away from running out of fuel. “At that point in time we were able to call upon Russia to provide an ice-capable tanker escorted by the Coast Guard cutter Healy to resupply Nome.”

Thus, according to the former commandant, the necessity right now of a new icebreaker is not so much about military operations, but rather commercial ones.

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  • Garga

    Yeah, being American, they named their future icebreaker program “Polar Security Cutter”.
    The only shipyard in the US which is qualified to build an icebreaker is the one in Philadelphia, which builds commercial and container ships. It’s “qualified” due to partnership with an Italian company.
    Based on their laws, the US Coast Guard can’t acquire vessels from foreign countries, otherwise there are some options like Canadian, Norwegian, Finnish and best of all, Russian shipyards.

    Being very cynical and paranoid about anything US government, I think I know the reason why they are in such a mess, simply put:
    1- Building icebreakers is not profitable compared to building contraptions like LCS, Zumwalt and USS Gerald Ford.
    2- Any icebreaker they build has to actually work, free of problems because in reality lives depend on it. So, it’s a no go for their contractors which are not used to it.

    • Tudor Miron

      How come this mix of “exceptionals” and “chosen” can’t get into outer space or Arctic (anywhere where it requires actual effort) without help of those always drunk Russians? Go wonder…

    • BMWA1

      You are forgetting however the USS Gerald Ford’s unparalleled trans-gender lavatorial capabilities. There is nothing in theRussian Navy quite like it, thank God.

  • KennyB

    Typical of the US military. They don’t spend money on an actually useful thing like an icebreaker ship for the Coast Guard, but they spend billions on aircraft that don’t have any real purpose (F-22) or don’t work very well (F-35). I suppose that there’s not enough profit to be made from building icebreaker ships.

    • FlorianGeyer

      The US navy spends billions on ships that to not work and are now going to use them as training ships.

      I am personally very happy with the US wasting billions on shit ships and crap aircraft etc :)

    • Jens Holm

      Things rapidly are changed in Arktisk. Danish Maersk wessel could with no iceprobems go from Murmans to Vladivostok this summer and more – see link

      https://scm.dk/m%C3%A6rsk-tester-ny-rute-gennem-arktis

      Its crap building icebreakers for hardly no use.

  • Snowglobe

    South Front. There is no reason for you to cancel my comments. Please post.

    • Jens Holm

      Well, Europe also rent the one or two very big icebreakers. as well as many things.

      Fx we also fight ISIS with them, polluting the sea with oil and now and then also with China defeating pirates in the Indian Ocean as well as in the Malacca strait/phillipines/Indonesia.

      We are in the space all together as well because Russia have the most reliable rockets. Much equipment is russian too.

  • Barba_Papa

    >>Thus, the Coast Guard not only received no budget to construct ships, but it also did not receive any funds to extend the life of the Polar Star.<<

    Boeing and Lockheed-Martin are obviously not interested in a one off ship, or keeping an old one afloat. The real money is in building a whole new class of ships for the US navy and then fleecing the US government for every additional penny that its worth with cost overruns. As such no real lobby exists to push Congress to for more money for ice breakers.

    Ain't capitalism great?

    • Jesus

      They can build a class of icebreakers, instead they build useless littoral combat ships or zumwalt class destroyers.
      Where there is no strategic vision there are many dead ends.

      • Jens Holm

        Not much to defend up there and ice is scrimping.

    • Jens Holm

      The Coastguard are a civile supporter and Boing and Locheed Martin are private companies.

      The USA navy is the Govermnent.

      I certainly hope You dont cook like this and and knew USA better commenting on facts.

      Like Erdogan think Our Goverment is commander of our free press.

  • Jens Holm

    Everybbody else is like USA in this. We dont build new ones and store old ones unused for years, because of the global warming as well as other ships has more powerfull engines.

    Denmark more south has stored several, because we have replaced ferries with bridges and tunnels.

    USA might not have any use of more icebreaking. Very much ca be replaced by drones and sattelites as well.

    • Tudor Miron

      Yes, yes, Jensy – no need for icebrakers. all is fine, sleep well.

      • Jens Holm

        You probatly eat and eat too, even You are totally fat :)