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Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress

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Congressional rept.

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Of the Coast Guards three polar icebreakers, two -- Polar Star and Polar Sea -- have exceeded their intended 30-year service lives. The Polar Star is not operational and has been in caretaker status since July 1, 2006. A 2007 report from the National Research Council NRC on the U.S. polar icebreaking fleet states that U.S. polar icebreaking capability is now at risk of being unable to support national interests in the north and the south. The Coast Guard is studying how many polar icebreakers, with what capabilities, should be procured as replacements for Polar Star and Polar Sea. Under the Coast Guards current schedule, the first replacement polar icebreaker might enter service in 8 to 10 years, by which time Polar Star and Polar Sea could be about 40 years old. The Coast Guard estimated in February 2008 that new replacement ships might cost 800 million to 925 million each in 2008 dollars, and that the alternative of extending the service lives of Polar Sea and Polar Star for 25 years might cost about 400 million per ship. Potential policy issues for Congress regarding Coast Guard polar icebreaker modernization include the numbers and capabilities of polar icebreakers the Coast Guard will need in the future whether to provide these icebreakers through construction of new ships or service life extensions of Polar Start andor Polar Sea whether to accelerate the Coast Guards current schedule for acquiring replacement ships whether new ships should be nuclear powered whether new ships should be funded entirely in the Coast Guard budget, or partly or entirely in some other part of the federal budget, such as the Department of Defense budget, the National Science Foundation budget, or both and whether, as an interim measure, the Polar Star should be repaired and placed back into service.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Marine Engineering
  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies

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