5
Findings and Recommendations

This Committee was asked to conduct its work in two phases, and this interim report provides information to highlight the most time dependent issues related to the roles and future needs of the icebreakers. Based on the first phase of its work, the Committee provides the following findings and recommendations. These findings and recommendations are based on the Committee’s analysis of written materials provided to it, testimony from a variety of sources, and, in total, its judgment.

ICEBREAKING NEEDS IN THE ANTARCTIC

Findings

A succession of policy analyses and Presidential Decision Directives assert that the United States has strategic interests in the Antarctic related to foreign policy and security, environmental protection, and scientific research. The United States asserts strategic interests in Antarctica primarily through the year-round residence of American researchers at three permanent scientific stations. The presence of the South Pole Station, in particular, helps protect the U.S. position on sovereignty in Antarctica, providing for a unique research platform at a location that assures U.S. participation in the Antarctic Treaty system.

Despite some missions of opportunity, the primary use of U.S. heavy icebreakers, at present, is to break a channel into McMurdo Station to aid the re-supply that is critical to the continued functioning of both the McMurdo and the South Pole Stations. Ice conditions in McMurdo Sound, especially the severe conditions which have developed in recent years, require heavy icebreaking capability for the foreseeable future.

In the U.S. Antarctic Program’s current mode of operation, annual break-in supported by a heavy icebreaker is mandatory for annual re-supply. To partially ameliorate the single point of failure this represents, the National Science Foundation has begun to explore logistics alternatives for Antarctic support including conservation, redirection, and expanded storage of fuel at McMurdo Station, as well as alternative ground and air fuel and cargo delivery to the McMurdo and South Pole Stations. By using an altered logistics strategy it may be possible to maintain operations at the McMurdo and South Pole Stations despite an occasional missed annual channel break-in and the ship-borne portion of the McMurdo re-supply resulting from a year with



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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment 5 Findings and Recommendations This Committee was asked to conduct its work in two phases, and this interim report provides information to highlight the most time dependent issues related to the roles and future needs of the icebreakers. Based on the first phase of its work, the Committee provides the following findings and recommendations. These findings and recommendations are based on the Committee’s analysis of written materials provided to it, testimony from a variety of sources, and, in total, its judgment. ICEBREAKING NEEDS IN THE ANTARCTIC Findings A succession of policy analyses and Presidential Decision Directives assert that the United States has strategic interests in the Antarctic related to foreign policy and security, environmental protection, and scientific research. The United States asserts strategic interests in Antarctica primarily through the year-round residence of American researchers at three permanent scientific stations. The presence of the South Pole Station, in particular, helps protect the U.S. position on sovereignty in Antarctica, providing for a unique research platform at a location that assures U.S. participation in the Antarctic Treaty system. Despite some missions of opportunity, the primary use of U.S. heavy icebreakers, at present, is to break a channel into McMurdo Station to aid the re-supply that is critical to the continued functioning of both the McMurdo and the South Pole Stations. Ice conditions in McMurdo Sound, especially the severe conditions which have developed in recent years, require heavy icebreaking capability for the foreseeable future. In the U.S. Antarctic Program’s current mode of operation, annual break-in supported by a heavy icebreaker is mandatory for annual re-supply. To partially ameliorate the single point of failure this represents, the National Science Foundation has begun to explore logistics alternatives for Antarctic support including conservation, redirection, and expanded storage of fuel at McMurdo Station, as well as alternative ground and air fuel and cargo delivery to the McMurdo and South Pole Stations. By using an altered logistics strategy it may be possible to maintain operations at the McMurdo and South Pole Stations despite an occasional missed annual channel break-in and the ship-borne portion of the McMurdo re-supply resulting from a year with

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment extraordinarily heavy ice conditions. Icebreaker support of the break-in to McMurdo Station, however, would be required for successful re-supply for the foreseeable future. Recommendation Recommendation #1: The United States should reliably control (by ownership or other means) at least one heavy icebreaker that is available and capable of breaking a channel into McMurdo Station. The Committee will investigate in the next several months how the icebreaker assets should be controlled to meet the nation’s icebreaking needs and recommendations will be provided in the final report. ICEBREAKING NEEDS IN THE ARCTIC Findings Because of the geographic location of Alaska, the United States is an Arctic nation with significant geo-political, security, economic, and scientific interests in the Arctic, and U.S. interests must be protected in this region. It is the U.S. Coast Guard that has the overarching missions of maritime safety, maritime security, national defense, and protection of natural resources. Although the HEALY is primarily devoted to oceanographic research, this ship is available to support the overarching U.S. Coast Guard missions in the Arctic. If this ship is tasked to the Antarctic, as in 2002-2003, the main federal presence in Arctic waters is substantially reduced. The winter Arctic sea ice extends southward through the Bering Strait and into the northern Bering Sea so that the entire Alaskan northern coast and a substantial portion of the Alaskan western coast is ice-covered in winter. In the summer months, the Arctic sea ice margin retreats northward, which creates open waters around the entire Alaskan coastline for several weeks to several months. Arctic sea ice extent over the next several decades in the shoulder seasons is expected to be reduced, creating more broken ice along the Alaskan coastline. Greater spatial and temporal variability in sea ice extent and thickness throughout the Arctic is expected, which may influence the capability needed to break ice of differing thicknesses in certain regions of the Arctic. As a result of a number of factors, including the dramatic ice margin retreat over recent years, economic activity appears to be moving northward. This includes fishing fleets, native Alaskan hunting and fishing expeditions, cruise ships, and increased interests in more northerly natural resource exploitation. Any increase in more northerly economic activity will result in a greater human presence. The changing sea ice regime has also affected Native Alaskans’ subsistence hunting activities, with increased risk due to unstable ice and more expansive open water. Possible ratification of Article 76 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea will require extensive mapping of the U.S. continental shelf off the coast of Alaska, if the United States wishes to use the treaty to extend its economic zones and counter claims by other Arctic nations. Currently, the only U.S. polar icebreaker capable of acquiring this data is the HEALY.

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment This increase in human activity in more northerly latitudes will most likely increase the demand on the U.S. Coast Guard to have a greater presence in and around the ice margin to perform its many safety, security, and law enforcement missions. Assuming that the U.S. Coast Guard is to continue to support scientific research in the Arctic as well, icebreaking capability is required, including, occasional heavy icebreaking. Recommendation Recommendation #2: The United States should maintain dedicated, year-round icebreaker capability for the Arctic to support national security interests as well as science. CURRENT STATUS OF U.S. POLAR CLASS ICEBREAKERS Findings Ships with icebreaking capabilities are required for multiple missions in the Arctic and the Antarctic, certainly today and likely in the future. The two existing heavy icebreakers, POLAR STAR and POLAR SEA, have operated in both polar regions for 29 and 28 years, respectively and are near the ends of their operational design service lives. Both ships are inefficient to operate because they now require substantial and increasing maintenance efforts to keep vital ship systems operating, and their technological systems are becoming increasingly obsolescent. These conditions are increasing the risk of operational failure and are placing national programs and missions at risk. Currently, only one U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker, the POLAR STAR, is capable of supporting the re-supply operation in Antarctica. The NSF and the U.S. Coast Guard have identified funds for restoring POLAR SEA to interim operational capability by the fall of 2006, however this is not a long-term solution because the age, condition and expense of maintaining the heavy icebreakers on an yearly basis puts the annual Antarctic re-supply at significant risk of failure. Providing an icebreaker capable of handling the rigorous ice conditions in McMurdo Sound is a critical problem for the next 4 to 8 years, which is the minimum amount of time required to either build a new ship(s) or extend the service life(ves) of the current ship(s). While the HEALY is capable of supporting the McMurdo break-in, it is primarily tasked to support Arctic science. If this ship is used in the Antarctic, then Arctic science missions are directly impacted as was the case in 2002-2003. A reliable and fully operational HEALY is essential to successful executions of many science missions in the Arctic. Since 2005, the NSF has twice negotiated a contract with FESCO to hire the KRASIN to break a channel to McMurdo Station. Testimony given to the Committee suggests that this may not be possible in the future as this ship may have a long-term contract to work in the Arctic. Contracting ships of other nations on a year-by-year basis is not a dependable long-term solution because only a few icebreakers are currently capable of supporting this mission in a timely manner and many of these ships have been contracted for the next several years. A long-term contract for icebreaking operations with an operator other than the U.S. Coast Guard is a viable option that must be considered, although this arrangement may have long-term implications for U.S. control of icebreaking capabilities and the availability of icebreakers to the United States in the Arctic. A short-term solution must be devised that provides a bridge from the current situation to a long-term solution. Additionally, this long-term solution must ensure the integrity and

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment operation of the icebreaking assets necessary to meet U.S. needs in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Regardless of the ultimate long-term solution, full implementation will require at least 4 to 8 years. Recommendation Recommendation #3: In the short term, the required maintenance should be performed to make at least one Polar Class ship mission capable over the next 4 to 8 years. MANAGING THE NATION’S ICEBREAKING ASSETS Findings Significant, long-term maintenance of the heavy icebreakers has been deferred over the past several years. This, coupled with the lack of a plan for replacement or refurbishment of the nation’s icebreaking ships, has put meeting national needs in the north and south (as outlined above) at risk. Recently, OMB assigned budget authority for the U.S. Coast Guard polar icebreaking program to the NSF, and Congress sustained this action. Now the NSF has fiscal control over all direct costs associated with polar icebreaking program, including personnel, training, operation and maintenance costs. Under a MOA negotiated between the USCG and the NSF, the USCG must submit a yearly plan for the NSF approval. Although the MOA identifies funds for traditional U.S. Coast Guard missions, (e.g., search and rescue, law and treaty enforcement), the cost of training for these USCG missions must be included in the plan and is therefore subject to approval by the NSF. The immediate problem is that given the current mode of operation, activity is underfunded. Moving budget authority for the icebreaking program to the NSF does not address the base funding problem, and increases the difficulty of management because management decisions related to the polar icebreakers are now spread across two agencies. Currently, the polar icebreakers are dual purpose ships, meeting both the NSF and the USCG mission responsibilities. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that over 90 percent of the ship deployment time is in support of science primarily utilized by the NSF, although NOAA has recently used roughly 30 percent of available time on the HEALY. These ships, however, are necessary to support other U.S. Coast Guard traditional missions (e.g., national and homeland security, maritime safety, search and rescue) and these missions will increase in the future if human presence in the Arctic increases due to climate changes and emerging economic opportunities. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that limited budgets keep these ships in port unless another agency provides deployment funds. Having been given budget authority over the icebreaking program, the NSF is now fiscally responsible for missions outside its core mission and expertise. Without budget authority, the U.S. Coast Guard has been put in a situation in which it has the role of operating a ship for which it does not have full management control. Issues such as how to fund or choose among crew training alternatives for non-science missions are not fully under their control. The Committee believes that the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking mission transcends the support of science despite the fact that the majority of icebreaker usage at the current time is to support science. There remains a need for USCG operations to support its other missions and this

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment need may increase in the future in the Arctic. The Committee strongly believes that management responsibility should be aligned with management accountability and therefore recommends: Recommendations Recommendation #4: In the short-term, the management of the U.S. polar icebreakers should reside with the U.S. Coast Guard, and it should have the appropriate operational and maintenance budget to fulfill U.S. Coast Guard missions that require icebreaking. Recommendation #5: In the short-term, the NSF should revert to being a user and should continue to negotiate financial agreements to pay for icebreaker services when U.S. Coast Guard ships are employed. GOALS FOR THE COMMITTEE’S FINAL REPORT In the Statement of Task, the Committee was charged to assess the roles of U. S. icebreakers in supporting United States operations in the Antarctic and the Arctic and provide an analysis of the overall demand for icebreaking services. Having identified the both basic uses and needs for polar icebreakers and described how the roles and missions of these ships may change in response to changing environmental conditions in the Arctic (Tasks 1a and 3), over the next several months, the Committee will investigate the mix of icebreaking capabilities and numbers of icebreaking ships that are required to meet these needs over the long-term (Tasks 1b and 1c). The Committee will consider this mix in light of the multiple, divergent missions of the polar icebreakers, how the operational mode of the U.S. Antarctic Program might be modified to reduce dependence on icebreaking assets and the potential for increasing icebreaker needs in the Arctic. Specifically, the Committee will investigate whether multipurpose or single purpose assets are required to efficiently meet the nation’s long-term icebreaking needs and identify a range of options to efficiently manage and operate these ships over the next several decades. Although the Statement of Task charged the Committee to outline feasible scenarios for continuing icebreaking operations and identify those that seem most promising, the Committee determined that it was not feasible to conduct this analysis in the three months the Committee had to deliver this interim report. The Committee will investigate the options for acquiring these capabilities (Task 2) including, but not limited to a full service life extension program for one or both existing heavy icebreaking ships, construction of one or more new ship(s), and alternate methods of meeting identified needs including use of ice-strengthened vessels, hiring foreign vessels, and other options that do not use U.S. Coast Guard services. The Committee will specifically investigate the future needs for polar icebreaking to support national security issues, especially in the light of the potential environmental changes in the Arctic. The Committee will also review existing laws governing U.S. Coast Guard polar icebreaking operations and present recommended changes in these laws based upon potential missions and new operating regimes that seem most promising to meet the nation’s long-term icebreaking needs (Task 4). In addition, the Committee wishes to emphasize that the issue before us is the viability and need for icebreaking capabilities to support U.S. needs in the polar regions. Although our statement of task emphasizes the U.S. Coast Guard role, and this role has been crucial in the past, it is uncertain whether the future will hold the same type of nearly exclusive emphasis on the U.S. Coast Guard to meet the nation’s full polar icebreaking needs. Looking at how other nations meet their needs for icebreaking services, many rely on non-military operators as viable alternatives, with gains in efficiency of operation and improved continuity of staffing for this specialized

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment activity, and we will directly address this central issue in our final report. These findings and recommendations will be focused on providing direction for meeting the nation’s long-term icebreaking needs for the next several decades.