Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress [December 5, 2011] [open pdf - 775KB]
"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. [...] In July 2011, the Coast Guard provided to Congress a study on the Coast Guard's missions and capabilities for operations in high-latitude (i.e., polar) areas. The study, commonly known as the High Latitude Study and dated July 2010 on its cover, concluded the following: 'The Coast Guard requires three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions. The Coast Guard requires six heavy and four medium icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions and maintain the continuous presence requirements of the  Naval Operations Concept. Applying non-material alternatives for crewing and homeporting reduces the overall requirement to four heavy and two medium icebreakers.' [...] 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 absence of an announced firm acquisition plan for replacing 'Polar Star' upon completion of its 7- to 10-year post-reactivation service life; the numbers and capabilities of polar icebreakers the Coast Guard will need in the future; whether to approve the Coast Guard's FY2012 proposal to decommission Polar Sea, or take some other action, such as directing the Coast Guard to repair the ship and return it to service; the disposition of 'Polar Sea' (if decommissioned); whether to provide future icebreaking capability through construction of new ships or service life extensions of existing polar icebreakers; whether future polar icebreakers should be acquired through a traditional acquisition or a leasing arrangement; 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