After a 35 year hiatus, the U.S. Coast Guard is set to build a new heavy endurance icebreaker. The head of the sea service's acquisition office believes production on a new ship could start in five years—and will cost at least a billion dollars.
According to USNI News, acquisition chief Rear Admiral Mike Haycock said the Coast Guard has finalized plans to buy a ship to replace the Polar Star, the service's only heavy icebreaker.
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Built in 1976, Polar Star is 399 feet long and displaces 10,000 tons—more than a U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class cruiser. The Polar Star is capable of breaking ice up to 21 feet thick.
Polar Star's sister ship, Polar Sea, suffered a severe engine breakdown in 2010 and has been cannibalized for spare parts.
The Coast Guard isn't sure what a new generation of icebreakers will look like, but according to USNI News it plans to look at designs under development by Finland and Canada to get ideas.
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Whatever the final design, expect the ship to be big, heavy, and capable of long voyages. Icebreakers transiting to the Antarctic to visits scientific outposts on Antarctica have a 10,000 mile voyage ahead of them, and Polar Star's fuel tanks carry a staggering 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel.
Ultimately the Coast Guard would like six icebreakers, at least two of them heavies. But the Coast Guard's acquisition budget, which covers new ship and aircraft purchases, is approximately a billion dollars—meaning just one icebreaker would exhaust the service's budget for new things for an entire year. Without support from the office of the President and Congress, even the one planned icebreaker may not be built.
President Obama released a new U.S. strategy aimed at the Arctic in 2013. According to the strategy, diminishing sea ice will mean more opportunities for commercial use of the region, from the establishment of arctic sea lanes to resource exploitation. The U.S. Coast Guard would need icebreakers to support this new activity, from keeping sea lanes ice-free for any ship patrolling U.S. territory.
Via USNI News