Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress [August 5, 2011] [open pdf - 585KB]
"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; the ship has been unavailable for operation since then. 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 one heavy polar icebreaker ('Polar Star') and one medium polar icebreaker ('Healy'). [...] Potential 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 existing polar icebreakers; 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