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US Coast Guard details acquisitions, force augmentation to meet national Arctic needs

Healy is one of only two US icebreakers working in polar regions. (Janes/Michael Fabey)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) released its Arctic Strategic Outlook Implementation Plan on 26 October to make the necessary acquisitions and force improvements to accommodate national requirements detailed in the 2022 National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NSAR).

The plan includes new USCG icebreakers, aviation assets, communication upgrades, and other platforms, systems, or programmes meant to improve the force's operations in the Arctic.

The USCG intends to increase aircraft and cutter patrols to collect and disseminate intelligence and to explore the feasibility of using unmanned systems, including space-based systems, to monitor weather and environmental conditions as well as detect and monitor maritime activity.

The USCG currently relies heavily on its 110 ft (33.5 m) Island-class boats and relatively new 154 ft (46.9 m) Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) for higher-latitude operations. The USCG is also eagerly awaiting its Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), which are tied up in an acquisition protest, although these ships do not have icebreaking capability.

“Currently, US Coast Guard cutters Polar Star (heavy polar icebreaker) and Healy (medium polar icebreaker) are the nation's only operational polar icebreakers,” according to the plan..

The USCG is building a fleet of Polar Security Cutters (PSCs) to augment icebreaking capability, but the report said, “While acquisition efforts are currently under way to acquire new assets, an icebreaking capacity gap will remain and have to be mitigated until a sufficient number of new icebreakers are delivered.”

The USCG said it needs to develop a fleet mix and requirements documents for Arctic-capable assets to provide the optimal mix of surface assets to enable year-round assured Arctic access.

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