conditions, such as on a central Artic mission or in McMurdo Sound. The NSF may have to supplement the POLAR SEA with a commercial or internationally chartered ship when the McMurdo break-in is particularly difficult as is expected in the coming year. For example, an arrangement with Sweden might make the ODEN available. This strategy is not ideal and it carries significant risk, but due to the long lead time for new ships there are no alternatives.

Execution of this transition strategy has already commenced. The POLAR SEA completed sea and ice trials in August 2006 after undergoing repair work at a cost of approximately $30 million. The POLAR SEA should be capable for the 2007 McMurdo break-in but will likely need the assistance of a second ship due to severe ice conditions. These repairs however are not sufficient to sustain the ship long term; they will keep the POLAR SEA in operating condition only for several years.

Keeping the POLAR SEA mission capable to roughly 2015 or so will require another significant round of maintenance and repair of aging shipboard systems. The U.S. Coast Guard should determine the best way to do this work. One strategy is for the POLAR SEA to be taken out of service for a year of shipyard work around 2012, at a cost of roughly $40 million. An alternative maintenance strategy that avoids having the POLAR SEA out of service for a year is to perform the work in year-by-year increments when the ship is in port. Careful planning would be required for the U.S. Coast Guard to determine which upgrade strategy is better. (These issues are discussed in more detail in Chapter 10.) Possibly by 2012, it would be prepared to skip McMurdo resupply for one year, or the NSF might arrange for an alternative icebreaker to perform the break-in during a year that the POLAR SEA is in the shipyard.

If risk reduction is paramount to national needs, maintenance work to return the POLAR STAR to operating condition could be accomplished over the same time period. The committee has developed a time line showing transition alternatives from the current fleet of U.S. Coast Guard and NSF icebreakers to the “new” fleet, from the present through 2020.

Recommendation 5: To provide continuity of U.S. icebreaking capabilities, the POLAR SEA should remain mission capable and the POLAR STAR should remain available for reactivation until the new polar icebreakers enter service.


Both icebreaker operations and maintenance of the polar icebreaker fleet have been underfunded for many years. Deferring long-term maintenance and failing to execute a plan for replacement or refurbishment of the nation’s icebreaking ships have placed national needs in the Arctic and Antarctic at risk. The recent transfer of budget authority for the polar icebreaking program by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from the U.S. Coast Guard to NSF did not address the basic problem of underfunding routine maintenance or providing funds for U.S. Coast Guard nonscience icebreaker missions. The transfer has increased management difficulties by spreading management decisions related to the polar icebreakers across two agencies.

The NSF now has fiscal control over all direct costs associated with the polar icebreaking program, including personnel, training, operation, and maintenance costs. Under a Memorandum of Agreement negotiated between the U.S. Coast Guard and NSF, the U.S. Coast Guard must submit a yearly plan for approval by the NSF. The NSF is now fiscally responsible, and making decisions, 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 budget and management control.

The committee believes that the total set of U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking missions transcends the mission of support to science, despite the fact that the majority of icebreaker usage at the current time is to support research. The U.S. Coast Guard should have the funds and authority to perform the full range of mission responsibilities in ice-covered waters of the Arctic. There is strong evidence that national need for polar icebreaking in the Arctic will increase over the next several decades. Orders for commercial ice-strengthened tankers will double the worldwide fleet of these vessels. Most are slated to operate in the western Arctic along the Northern Sea Route, but expansion of hydrocarbon development activities to the Alaskan North Slope and Canadian Beaufort Sea is proceeding. With this added human presence, a robust U.S. Coast Guard polar icebreaker fleet will be needed for regular patrols of our coastal waters to increase U.S. presence in international Arctic waters. This will require resumption of regular patrols of coastal waters and an increased U.S. presence in international Arctic waters by the nation’s multimission icebreaker fleet. It is not sufficient to provide funds to only maintain the fleet; it is necessary to provide funds to operate it effectively. The committee strongly believes that management responsibility should be aligned with management accountability.

When NSF, NOAA, or another “user” agency employs a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker to support some directed activity, the user agency should pay only incremental costs associated with direct mission tasking. This arrangement has worked well for decades, although it would be useful for the financial arrangement to be clarified and reasserted by the administration. If the U.S. Coast Guard is funded to operate a vessel, then direct tasking reimbursement would typically include the cost of fuel for extended transit beyond patrol, and on-ship engineering and habitation costs that derive from research activities. The committee distinguishes between direct mission tasking of a science voyage and science of opportunity where scientists or educators are aboard at the

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