In 5 Questions: Learn More About the New U.S. Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

July 1, 2019

The United States Coast Guard is getting its first icebreaker in more than 40 years. The new class of ships will be called Polar Security Cutters and will be based in Seattle, Washington.

Currently, the U.S. Coast Guard has only one heavy icebreaker in service; commissioned in 1976, it is 13 years past its intended service life.

The new cutter will be built in Pascagoula, Mississippi, by VT Halter Marine and is scheduled to be delivered in three to four years.

Polar Star Coast Guard Cutter, commissioned in 1976. Photo Credit: United States Coast Guard

To learn more about the technology of the new Polar Security Cutters, we asked someone who has spent a lot of time on Coast Guard Cutters in the Arctic, Captain Kenneth J. Boda, Deputy Chief, Office of Cutter Forces.

What do you consider the biggest challenges of a marine technological nature in designing this icebreaker?

Integrating independent systems is always a huge challenge in designing ships.  Ensuring the various ship’s sensors all work both independently and together, and do not have interference between the systems, will be critical in establishing the advanced capabilities of the Polar Security Cutter.

What are the major engineering advances that will make this icebreaker different from the Healy?

Icebreaker hull design has come a long way in the twenty years since HEALY was built.  Modern icebreaking hulls can break thicker ice while using less horsepower.  Another major advance is podded propulsor technology.  Today’s azimuthing propulsors are used on many vessels, such as tugboats and cruise ships, as well as many modern icebreakers (including USCGC MACKINAW, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Great Lakes icebreaker).  The Polar Security Cutter will have two azimuthing propulsors, making the ship more maneuverable and fuel efficient.

How much capacity will this icebreaker have to support research activities?

The Polar Security Cutter was designed to support all of the United States’ maritime interests at both poles. To support oceanographic research efforts, the Polar Security Cutter will have a suite of instruments to collect environmental data, multibeam sonar and associated instruments for hydrographic survey, CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density) casting equipment, reconfigurable interior workspace, topside space for portable UNOLS standard science labs (twenty-foot equivalent unit containers), UNOLS standard deck sockets for portable equipment on working decks, and berthing for scientific personnel.

How much autonomy will be incorporated into the design of this vessel?

The Coast Guard specifies American Bureau of Shipping ACCU and NIBS notations for the Polar Security Cutter.  ACCU notation is for an unmanned engine room, that provides condition-based monitoring and remote control valves (limiting the need to have personnel walking through the engine rooms).  NIBS is the Navigational Integrated Bridge System notation which includes 1-2 man bridge watches and other automation and control, and the ability to control some engine room functions from the bridge.  The two notations are used to provide state-of-the-market capability, safety, and condition based monitoring to improve lifecycle costs.

Can you describe the challenges for cyber-security that are paramount for the design of the icebreaker?

The Polar Security Cutter will be built with military systems that will have the latest cybersecurity protections available.  The icebreaker’s electronics will undergo rigorous testing to ensure resiliency and reliability.  Communications continue to challenge maritime operations in Polar Regions, and maintaining good data connectivity will be critical for proper cyber protection.

Author: Lisa Stryker, Marine Technology Society


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