Coast Guard Admiral: Initial Polar Security Cutter Assignment ‘TBD’
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Senior Editor
WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard has not yet determined whether the first polar security cutter (PSC) being procured will replace the old Polar Star icebreaker on Antarctic runs or take on the ice in the Arctic, the Coast Guard vice commandant said.
“TBD,” said Vice Adm. Daniel B. Abel, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations, when Seapower asked to which polar region would the first PSC deploy.
Abel spoke March 25 on securing maritime commerce at a seminar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
Deployments to Antarctica currently are handled by the 41-year-old USCGC Polar Star, the Coast Guard’s (and the nation’s) only heavy icebreaker capable of cutting through thick sea ice to the U.S. base at McMurdo, Antarctica.
Because of this annual commitment, no heavy icebreakers are available for U.S. operations in the Arctic. The newer USCGC Healy is a medium icebreaker used mostly on scientific expeditions in the Arctic but is not capable of cutting through heavy ice.
The service has struggled to keep the Polar Star in service, using parts from its sister ship, USCGC Polar Sea, to help keep it running. The Polar Star recently returned to Seattle from its annual voyage to Antarctica. During the voyage it suffered three significant casualties: failure of one of its three main gas turbines; flooding of an engine room because of a failed shaft seal; and a fire in a garbage incinerator.
In the 2019 Coast Guard budget, Congress funded $655 million for the first PSC and $20 million in advance procurement funds for the second PSC. The service has stated a requirement for three heavy PSCs and three medium icebreakers.
Abel said the six planned icebreakers will give the Coast Guard the ability to service both polar regions.