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US heavy icebreaker Polar Star completes Antarctic deployment, starts life-extension recapitalisation work

US Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star is undergoing more recapitalisation work. (US Coast Guard)

Having completed a 138-day deployment to Antarctica on 31 March to support Operation ‘Deep Freeze 2024', US Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10), the only operational US heavy icebreaker, is about to start phase four of its five-year Service Life Extension Project (SLEP) in Vallejo, California, USCG officials confirmed on 4 April.

The SLEP work is being done by Mare Island Dry Dock to recapitalise key systems, including the propulsion, communication, and machinery control systems, and also to conduct significant maintenance to extend the cutter's service life, USCG officials said.

The USCG said it plans to “mitigate the risk of lost operational days due to unplanned maintenance or system failures by replacing obsolete, unsupportable, or maintenance-intensive equipment”.

Polar Star is 50 years old and needs SLEP work to keep it deployed for polar missions. The sole US medium icebreaker, USCG Cutter Healy (WAGB 20), was launched in 1997 and is also about to go through a five-year service life extension.

“The goal for both Polar Star and Healy is the same – to carry out high level of operations with heavy and medium icebreaking [during] construction of the PSCs [Polar Security Cutters],” Rear Admiral Chad Jacoby, USCG chief acquisition officer, said on 5 March during the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) Arctic & Antarctic Operations Symposium 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland.

For more information about progress on the PSC programme, please seeUS Coast Guard chief acquisition officer defends Polar Security Cutter programme progress.

Each SLEP phase is co-ordinated so that operational commitments such as Operation ‘Deep Freeze' missions in Antarctica will be met, USCG officials said.

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