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In recent years, the US polar icebreaker program has primarily supported Arctic scientific research with some limited Antarctic heavy ice breaking for the National Science Foundation. However, the maritime requirements for the Polar Regions are growing due to increased ship activities and human presence. The USCG FY 2013/14 Budget requests recognized the criticality of the Arctic as a strategic national priority because of the increased interest by other nations, the potential for vast oil and national gas reserves in the region and growing maritime commercial and recreational activities. Specifically, the Budget request included funds to initiate acquisition of a new Heavy Icebreaker. In June of 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved a Mission Needs Statement (referencing the High Latitude Mission Analysis Report) that discussed the need for as many as six icebreakers (3 heavy, 3 medium) to meet current and projected requirements.
Existing US Heavy Icebreakers are beyond their design service life and had become increasingly unreliable - a circumstance that caused the National Science Foundation (NSF) to charter foreign Icebreakers for logistic resupply in McMurdo Station from 2005 through 2013. In December of 2012, the POLAR STAR was repaired and reactivated, however this investment is expected to only provide 7 to 10 years of service. During 2014 and 2015, the POLAR STAR conducted a McMurdo breakout mission for the first time in many years. The nation’s other heavy icebreaker, the POLAR SEA is inactive and would require a significant investment to bring it back into limited service. The Coast Guard has estimated that acquisition of a replacement heavy Icebreaker with ice-breaking capability equivalent to the Polar Class, and science facilities/accommodations equivalent to the HEALY, will cost $852M for the first ship, and require 8 to 10 years for design and construction.
President Obama in his first visit to the Arctic in 2015 recognized the need for the Coast Guard to increase its presence and proposed that DHS accelerate the Polar Breaker Program by two years from 2022 to 2020. This action could potentially accelerate the need to execute a program sooner than previously planned. Constructing a Polar Class vessel in the US will be a first for any type of Coast Guard Icebreaker since 1995 when the medium capacity HEALY was built. Furthermore, not since 1970 has the Coast Guard undertaken the acquisition of a heavy PC 1 Icebreaker.
One of the most dynamic environments around the globe requiring non-traditional naval engineering is the Arctic. This area requires the most unique engineers to design, build and test ships that operate in regions of great climatic change and harsh environments surrounded by ice. Arctic Day 2016 sold out. ASNE is thus thrilled to announce the 2nd Arctic Day: a day to discuss naval engineering challenges, operating challenges, and advancements in technology and innovation allowing mighty ships to traverse the world.
Learn more about Arctic Day 2017 at: www.arcticday.org