The Coast Guard requires at least two new heavy icebreakers to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country's economic, commercial, maritime and national security needs.
The operational polar icebreaking fleet currently includes one 399-foot heavy icebreaker (Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, commissioned in 1976) and one 420-foot medium icebreaker (Coast Guard Cutter Healy, commissioned in 2000). These cutters are designed for open-water icebreaking and feature reinforced hulls and specially angled bows.
Polar Star underwent a three-year reactivation and returned to operations in late 2013. Since then, Polar Star has completed three Operation Deep Freeze deployments to resupply McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The Coast Guard expects Polar Star to remain in service through approximately 2020 to 2023.
The Coast Guard also has a second heavy icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, which was placed in commissioned, inactive status by the service in 2011. The Coast Guard is evaluating options to reactivate the ship, parts from which were used to reactivate Polar Star.
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.
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 Coast Guard is in the Analyze/Select phase of acquiring a new polar icebreaker, which involves evaluating acquisition approaches and assessing the merits of each approach. The service’s polar icebreaker acquisition program settled operational requirements informed by 11 interagency stakeholders in January 2016, published the requirements in an industry data package, and in March 2016 held an industry day attended by more than 90 organizations. Future industry engagement, including solicitation of commentary on a draft request for proposal, is projected as specifications develop and the program progresses. The service intends to begin production activities in 2020 under an accelerated acquisition timeline.