TABLE 9.1 Assessment of U.S. Polar Icebreaker Fleet to Meet Icebreaking Needs in the Arctic

Arctic Need

HEALY

POLAR SEA (short-term)

Assured access independent of ice conditions

Limited icebreaking

Limited remaining service life and reliability

Deep Arctic science

Limited icebreaking

Limited science facilities

Onboard scientific research

Adequate

Limited science facilities

Continental shelf mapping—UNCLOS

Adequate

Inadequate

Sovereignty and presence

Adequate

Adequate

Escort and assistance (e.g., Thule, Northwest Passage)

Limited

Adequate

Treaty enforcement

Capablea

Capablea

Search and rescue

Adequate

Adequate

Maritime law enforcement (e.g., fisheries)

Capablea

Capablea

Environmental protection

Capablea

Capablea

National defense and homeland security

Capablea

Capablea

Facilitation of commerce

Capablea

Capablea

aThe ship is capable of supporting these missions, but may require specialized crew training and/or personnel augmentation, provided that assured access is available.

typical of the central Arctic because of her limited icebreaking capabilities. Although nominally available for Arctic operations, POLAR SEA will likely be committed to the McMurdo break-in for much of her available operational time, to save costs and to ration her current capability. There is scant capability to meet the need for assured access independent of ice conditions and for support of central Arctic Basin science. Canadian icebreakers cut the channel into Thule. With current assets the United States has little icebreaker capability to “repay” Canada in kind.

Although the HEALY has at least a limited capability to address the full range of needs, the ship is fully committed to the increasing demands for science and is often deployed far from U.S. Arctic waters. If the POLAR SEA is dedicated to the McMurdo break-in and HEALY is dedicated to science support, other Arctic needs such as sovereignty and presence, escort and assistance, and search and rescue will be supported only by HEALY and in areas where the ship is directed by research agencies.

A single icebreaker may be able to address individual mission needs sequentially, but cannot fulfill all these needs simultaneously. One ship cannot be in two places at the same time.

The U.S. Antarctic needs are listed in Table 9.2; they overlap but differ from those in the Arctic. Reliable, long-term icebreaker support to perform the McMurdo break-in is the most challenging Antarctic need. The POLAR SEA can address most Antarctic needs adequately in the short term, although until ice conditions improve in McMurdo Sound, it is risky to depend on one ship, even a Polar class ship. A chartered foreign icebreaker, KRASIN, has been employed as the assisting (2005) and as the primary (2006) icebreaker for the McMurdo break-in. Presumably, it was the most attractive of the ships available for charter. This ship was commissioned about the same time as the U.S. polar ships. The committee had no access to its maintenance records, but noted that the broken propeller blade was not fixed by the Navy dive team that was sent to repair it. This demonstrates that a charter guarantees neither lower costs nor more operational assurance than use of U.S. vessels. In any case, the

TABLE 9.2 Assessment of U.S. Polar Icebreaker Fleet to Meet Icebreaking Needs in the Antarctic

Antarctic Need

POLAR SEA (short term)

Foreign Charter

PALMER

Assured access independent of ice conditions

Limited remaining service life and reliability

Not appropriate

Limited icebreaking

McMurdo resupply

Limited remaining service life and reliability

KRASIN

Not capable

Onboard scientific research

Limited facilities

None

Adequate

Sovereignty and presence

Adequate

Not appropriate

Limited

Treaty monitoring

Adequate

Not appropriate

Capablea

Environmental protection

Capablea

Not appropriate

Limited

aThe ship is capable of supporting these missions, but may require specialized crew training and/or personnel augmentation, provided that assured access is available.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement