On a solo mission, the one-of-a-kind medium icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB 20) reached the North Pole last week after traversing the frozen Arctic Ocean, marking only the second time a U.S. ship has reached the location unaccompanied, the first being Healy in 2015.
Healy departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 4 September for a months-long, multi-mission deployment with the intention to reach latitude 90 degrees North in support of oceanographic research in collaboration with National Science Foundation-funded scientists throughout their transit to the North Pole and recently helped keep tabs on a Sino-Russian surface action group that was poking around the Aleutians– the latter a sort of empty gesture as the icebreaker is unarmed.
More details from USCG HQ:
“The crew of Healy is proud to reach the North Pole,” said Capt. Kenneth Boda, commanding officer of the Healy. “This rare opportunity is a highlight of our Coast Guard careers. We are honored to demonstrate Arctic operational capability and facilitate the study of this strategically important and rapidly changing region.”
Healy, which departed its Seattle homeport on July 11, currently has thirty-four scientists and technicians from multiple universities and institutions aboard, and nearly 100 active duty crew members.
During the cutter’s first Arctic leg of the patrol throughout July and August, Healy traveled into the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, going as far north as 78 degrees. As a part of the Office of Naval Research’s Arctic Mobile Observing System program, Healy deployed underwater sensors, sea gliders and acoustic buoys to study Arctic hydrodynamics in the marginal and pack ice zones.
In addition to enabling Arctic science, Healy also supported U.S. national security objectives for the Arctic region by projecting a persistent ice-capable U.S. presence in U.S. Arctic waters, and patrolling our maritime border with Russia.
On their second Arctic mission of the summer, while transiting to the North Pole, Healy embarked a team of researchers as a part of the Synoptic Arctic Survey (SAS). SAS is an international collaborative research program focused on using specially equipped research vessels from around the world to gather data throughout the Arctic across multiple scientific disciplines. Dr. Carin Ashjian, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, is currently serving alongside Dr. Jackie Grebmeier as co-chief Scientists onboard Healy with support from the National Science Foundation.
“We are excited to reach the Pole!” said Ashjian speaking on behalf of the embarked science party. “We have little information from the ocean and seafloor at the top of the world so what we collect here is very valuable. It also fills in data from a region, the western Central Arctic, which was not sampled by other ships in the SAS. Our joint efforts with the Healy crew are producing important science results.”
After deploying a series of scientific equipment to collect valuable data at the North Pole, crew members and the science team were granted ice liberty. During this time, they enjoyed taking pictures and posing with a “North Pole” that had been erected on the ice. Healy also used the unique setting to advance two crewmembers and conduct a cutterman ceremony for three crewmembers who each recently achieved the career milestone of five years of sea service.
We’ve talked about the 25-ship Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program of record several times in the past few years and it is one of the most exciting shipbuilding initiatives for the American maritime service. Intended to complement the capabilities of the service’s 418-foot frigate-sized National Security Cutters, growing flotillas of 154-foot Fast Response Cutters, and planned (armed) Polar Security Cutters “as an essential element of the Department of Homeland Security’s layered maritime security strategy.”
The OPCs will replace the 12 remaining 1960s-built 210-foot Reliance-class and 13 1980s-built 270-foot Bear-class cutters, on a hull-per-hull basis, with a larger and much more capable class of large OPVs or “surveillance frigates” that can likely still serve in lots of constabulary roles around the world, freeing up Navy destroyers for more combat-oriented tasks.
•Length: 360 feet
•Beam: 54 feet
•Draft: 17 feet
•Sustained Speed: 22 Plus knots
•Range: 8500 Plus nautical miles
•Endurance: 60 Days
The main armament is a Mk 110 57mm gun forward with a MK 38 Mod 3 25mm gun over the stern HH60-sized hangar, and four M2 .50 cal mounts.
I say replace the Mk38 with a C-RAM, shoehorn a towed sonar, ASW tubes, an 8-pack Mk41 VLS crammed with Sea Sparrows, and eight NSSMs aboard and call it a day. The Mexicans do the same loadout with the new Reformador-class frigates on a hull the same size, so why not us?
The first flight of 11 OPCs has been awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG) and they have a quartet– class leader USCGC Argus (WMSM 915), followed by USCGC Chase (WMSM 916), USCGC Ingham (WMSM 917) and USCGC Rush (WMSM 918)— in various stages of completion already at their Nelson Street facility in Panama City.
Well, the Coast Guard, in an effort to get all 25+ of these hulls completed ASAP, announced earlier this year that a second yard, Austal in Mobile, Alabama, would get to work on the second flight of 11 OPCs, a contract estimated at being worth $3 billion smackers (which is a deal these days for 11 American frigate-sized OPVs).
The latter just got a lot closer to getting real as ESG removed their protest over the award.
As noted by the Coast Guard on Wednesday:
The Coast Guard today issued a notice to Austal USA, the offshore patrol cutter (OPC) Stage 2 contractor, to proceed on detail design work to support future production of OPCs. The Coast Guard issued the notice following the withdrawal of an award protest filed in July with the Government Accountability Office by an unsuccessful Stage 2 offeror.
The Coast Guard on June 30, 2022, awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract through a full and open competition to Austal USA to produce up to 11 offshore patrol cutters. The initial award is valued at $208.26 million and supports detail design and long lead-time material for the fifth OPC, with options for production of up to 11 OPCs in total. The contract has a potential value of up to $3.33 billion if all options are exercised.
The Coast Guard’s requirements for OPC Stage 2 detail design and production were developed to maintain commonality with earlier OPCs in critical areas such as the hull and propulsion systems, but provide flexibility to propose and implement new design elements that benefit lifecycle cost, production and operational efficiency and performance.