The Coast Guard is recapitalizing its polar icebreaker fleet to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country's economic, commercial, maritime and national security needs.
The operational polar 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 six Operation Deep Freeze deployments to resupply McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The Polar Star has also completed one rare winter journey to the Arctic. The Polar Star entered into a service life extension project (SLEP) in 2021 to extend the cutter’s service life by four years.
Why this program?
The United States has vital national interests in the polar regions. Polar security cutters (PSCs) 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.
How is the Coast Guard addressing the need for more polar icebreaking capability?
The Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, through an integrated program office, on April 23, 2019, awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a fixed price incentive (firm) contract for the detail, design and construction of the lead PSC. Construction on the first PSC is planned to begin in 2021 with contract delivery planned for 2024. The contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery.