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  February 24th, 2017 | Written by

US, Canada Governments Partner On Heavy Polar Icebreaker Acquisition

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  • US-Canada partnership will support the US Coast Guard heavy icebreaker acquisition.
  • Icebreaker model and test activities in Newfoundland are scheduled to begin in April.
  • The Coast Guard currently has one heavy icebreaker and one medium icebreaker.

The US and Canadian governments have established a partnership that will enable the US Coast Guard heavy polar icebreaker acquisition program to test and validate potential heavy polar icebreaker design models at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) in St John’s, Newfoundland.

The testing, which includes analyses of maneuverability in ice and icebreaking resistance and powering, will be used to inform the baseline requirements for new heavy polar icebreakers, expand current icebreaker design and operational knowledge, and support the urgent need to recapitalize US heavy icebreaking capability. The partnership is being facilitated by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and was developed under the Agreement Between the US and Canada for Cooperation in Science and Technology for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Border Security, enacted in 2004. Model and test activities at the NRC are scheduled to formally begin in April 2017.

The NRC is home to one of the world’s largest ice tank facilities, which is used to measure the performance and evaluate the safety of ice-going ships and structures in controlled model-scale conditions. The NRC ice tank is capable of modeling a wide range of marine ice conditions, including first-year and multiyear ice, pack ice, ridged ice and glacial ice.

In addition to the modeling work that will be conducted at the NRC, the Coast Guard and Navy will conduct additional model test work to evaluate the performance of the icebreaker in open water at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in Bethesda, Maryland.

Icebreaking capabilities are increasingly being recognized as necessary to support national security efforts in the polar regions as well as the potential increase in shipping in the Arctic.

The Coast Guard says it requires at least two new heavy icebreakers to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support US 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.