Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress [January 21, 2011] [open pdf - 536KB]
"Coast Guard polar icebreakers perform a variety of missions supporting U.S. interests in polar regions. The Coast Guard's two heavy polar icebreakers--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. Congress in FY2009 and FY2010 provided funding to repair Polar Star and return it to service for 7 to 10 years; the Coast Guard expects the reactivation project to be completed in 2013. On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty and consequently will likely be unavailable for operation until at least January 2011. The United States, which has various interests in the polar regions, currently has no operational heavy polar icebreakers. […] Potential policy issues for Congress regarding Coast Guard polar icebreaker modernization include the potential impact on U.S. polar missions of the United States currently having no operational heavy polar icebreakers; the length of time that the Coast Guard has been studying requirements for polar icebreakers; 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 Star and/or Polar Sea; whether to accelerate the Coast Guard's current schedule for acquiring replacement ships; whether new ships should be nuclear powered; and 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 (DOD) budget, the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, or both."
CRS Report for Congress, RL34391