Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress [April 21, 2011]   [open pdf - 628KB]

"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, and neither is currently in operational condition. The Polar Star was placed in caretaker status on 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 December 2012. On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty and consequently would likely be unavailable for operation until at least January 2011. The Coast Guard's third polar icebreaker--Healy--entered service in 2000. Compared to Polar Star and Polar Sea, Healy has less icebreaking capability (it is considered a medium polar icebreaker), but more capability for supporting scientific research. The ship is used primarily for supporting scientific research in the Arctic. The Coast Guard's FY2012 budget proposes decommissioning Polar Sea in FY2011 and transitioning its crew to the reactivated Polar Star. The resulting U.S. polar icebreaking fleet would consist of Polar Star and Healy. A 2007 report from the National Research Council (NRC) on the U.S. polar icebreaking fleet stated 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 has stated since 2008 that it is studying how many polar icebreakers, with what capabilities, it will need in the future."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL34391
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