Collaborating under an Integrated Program Office (IPO), the US Navy and Coast Guard released a draft request for proposal (RFP) for the detail design and construction of a Heavy Polar Icebreaker (HPIB).
Released on October 19, the draft RFP is for one HPIB, with options for two additional HPIBs.
The USCG requires new heavy icebreakers to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime and national security needs.
The draft RFP is for comments, questions, and planning purposes and is provided as an advance notice to ease proposal lead time and assist teaming arrangements, if applicable.
Responses to the draft RFP are due Dec. 11 and will support release of the final RFP early next year.
The Coast Guard plans to award a single contract for design and construction of the lead heavy polar icebreaker in fiscal year 2019.
Release of the draft RFP represents the IPO’s latest effort to refine requirements and reduce acquisition costs for the HPIB procurement. Earlier this year the USCG awarded five firm-fixed price contracts for early design studies and analysis and conducted model testing with the National Research Council of Canada and the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division.
The contracting agency is the Naval Sea Systems Command.
Experts said the latest voyage could pave the way for commercial development in the resource-rich northernmost region of the world.
“Polar regions, together with the oceans, the internet and space exploration, have become new but strategic areas where China is seeking to develop in the future,” Wang Chuanxing, a polar researcher at Tongji University in Shanghai, said.
“This voyage is just one of [China’s] practical moves in the Arctic though it remains at a very early stage in terms of commercial development.
”The State Oceanic Administration, which oversees China’s polar programmes, said the expedition helped it “acquire navigation techniques and experience in the complicated and frozen environment of the Arctic … and obtain first-hand information on its shipping routes”.
It was China’s eighth scientific expedition to the Arctic and came after President Xi Jinping reiterated in Moscow in July that China wanted to work with Russia to develop an “Ice Silk Road” along the Northern Sea Route to be a “new growth driver” of cooperation between the countries.
China has stepped up its engagement in the mineral-rich Arctic in recent years, becoming one of only six nations with observer status on the Arctic Council in 2013 – which gives Beijing input on governance of the region.
The Arctic Circle is also part of Beijing’s ambitious belt and road trade and infrastructure initiative spanning Asia, Africa and Europe.
Meanwhile, in its first white paper on Antarctica, released in May, it pledged to further expand its presence in the largely uninhabited continent, including building its fifth research station there.
It vowed to “elevate Antarctic infrastructure and comprehensive support capabilities” and boost “scientific investigation and research capability”.
But it has yet to release a clear policy on its plans for the Arctic region, which has some nations worried.
“China is now seeking resources from all around the world – and Chinese investment is almost everywhere – but we are still waiting to see a detailed policy from China … then we [will] be more clear about what China wants to do in the Arctic,” a diplomat from an Arctic nation told the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity.
Speculation about China’s ambitions in the Arctic region is mounting. The world’s second largest economy has been on the hunt to secure enough energy resources to meet its growing demand – and the Arctic has 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 per cent of its undiscovered oil reserves.
And as rising temperatures result in sea ice melting across the Arctic, there are also new opportunities for ships to travel through previously inaccessible, resource-rich areas.
An Arctic trade route would also be more convenient for China. The shortest and most common shipping route from Asia to Europe goes through the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal and takes 35 days, while a route through the Arctic would take just 22 days.
Russia remains China’s biggest partner in the Arctic. China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund and China National Petroleum both hold stakes in Arctic gas project Yamal LNG – in partnership with Russia’s Novatek and France’s Total – while a proposed deep-water port near Arkhangelsk, on Russia’s White Sea, has been on Beijing and Moscow’s agenda.
“China is very aware that Russia holds the keys to much of Beijing’s Arctic interests, including in regards to current and future shipping, so there is great interest between the two governments in cooperating further in Arctic economic development,” said Marc Lanteigne, an expert in China, East Asia and polar regions at Massey University in New Zealand.
“China is interested in helping the Putin government develop various projects, including port and transport infrastructure, in both Siberia and the Russian Far East.”
Cheng Baozhi, an associate researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the Arctic was an area of untapped potential for China.
“Russia is the largest Arctic nation in the world and there’s no way to bypass it in any Arctic-related activity,” Cheng said. “The two nations realise there is huge potential for them to cooperate, so why not exploit that potential?”
But China’s path through the Arctic will not be easy – aside from the technical and environmental challenges, it will also face political uncertainties and potential cultural conflicts in its commercial development plans.
“Chinese companies need to carefully study the possible risks before they set foot in the Arctic – otherwise they could end up involved in disputes,” Wang from Tongji University said.
There was the possibility of conflict with cultural and environmental agencies, local governments and even the region’s aboriginal peoples, he said.
In the meantime, China has started building its second icebreaker, the Xue Long II, which is expected to set sail in 2019. Also, state-owned cargo shipping giant Cosco is planning to send six vessels along the Northern Sea Route to transport items including equipment, steel and pulp, Xinhua reported.
ALAMEDA, Calif. — U.S. Coast Guardsmen and U.S. Navy Sailors conducted shipboard dive operations from a Coast Guard cutter in the Arctic July 29 for the first time since two Coast Guard divers perished in a subsurface accident almost 11 years ago, the Coast Guard said in a Aug. 10 release.
Shipboard Arctic dive operations increase the Coast Guard’s ability to assure year-round access for national security, sovereign presence and increased maritime domain awareness in the region. The shipboard dive operations also highlighted the interoperability between joint Coast Guard and Navy dive teams.
The Coast Guard conducted a comprehensive dive program review following a incident on Aug. 17, 2006, that killed Lt. Jessica Hill and Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Duque during an ice dive in the Arctic Ocean aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy. In the years following the accident, the Coast Guard improved diving proficiency and retention by making diving a primary duty and created the first three regional dive lockers to centralize control, training and operations.
The joint dive operation from Healy July 29 marked the culmination of this increased oversight, training and proficiency. The crew of Healy and joint dive team held a memorial to honor the fallen divers during the cutter’s current Arctic patrol.
“There is no prospect more sobering than the death of a crew member,” said Capt. Greg Tlapa, commanding officer of Healy. “We honor the memory of our shipmates, Lt. Hill and Petty Officer 2nd Class Duque, and will never forget their sacrifices. It gives our crew great pride to re-establish dive capabilities to Healy and meet the subsurface needs and challenges our service will face in the coming years in the Arctic.”
The joint dive team included personnel from Coast Guard Regional Dive Lockers San Diego and Honolulu and U.S. Navy Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Wash. Navy divers supported cold water and ice dives by providing an independent duty corpsman/dive medical technician and by conducting joint training using the Navy’s recompression chamber currently deployed aboard Healy.
“I’m humbled to be a part of such a historic operation, honoring our shipmates by reintroducing Coast Guard shipboard dive operations to the Arctic,” said Chief Petty Officer Chuck Ashmore from Coast Guard’s Joint Regional Dive Locker West in San Diego.
Divers are the Coast Guard’s primary resource for the service’s subsurface capabilities and perform a full spectrum of Coast Guard missions, including maintenance and repair to aids to navigation, underwater inspections and maintenance on icebreakers and other cutters, surveying critically endangered species habitats, assistance to marine casualty investigations and supporting search and rescue operations.
Healy, homeported in Seattle, is a 420-foot long medium icebreaker with extensive scientific capabilities and is the nation’s premier high-latitude research vessel. Healy’s missions include scientific support, search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection and the enforcement of laws and treaties in the Polar regions.