Polar icebreakers, serving in the Arctic and Antarctica, are specifically designed cutters for open-water icebreaking. The Coast Guard’s polar fleet, which includes one 399-foot polar icebreaker (Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star) and one 420-foot polar icebreaker (Coast Guard Cutter Healy), as well as some ice-capable tugs and tenders, represents a national capability.
With commerce and traffic on the Arctic Ocean increasing, including petrochemical exploration and fisheries, the United States has vital national interest in maintaining robust polar icebreaking capability to ensure year-round Coast Guard presence in these important waters.
Refurbishing Polar Star remains the Coast Guard’s near-term heavy icebreaker bridging strategy. When refurbished by 2014, Polar Star will be the service’s only operational heavy icebreaker. This important, but venerable platform will serve an additional 7 to 10 years but that is only the beginning of the story. The Coast Guard’s mission requirements, including marine environmental protection, dictate that the service maintain heavy icebreaking capability for the foreseeable future.
In order to fully fund subsequent phases of this program, the Coast Guard believes that a “whole-of-government” approach will be necessary. Obtaining a new, heavy polar icebreaker that meets Coast Guard requirements will depend upon supplementary financing from other agencies whose activities also rely upon the nation possessing a robust, Arctic-capable surface fleet.