The US Navy and Coast Guard are looking to play catch-up in the Arctic

US Coast Guard cutter Polar Star in 2006. USA.Gov The Coast Guard and Navy have released a draft joint request for proposals to design and build a heavy icebreaker.

Melting ice has raised interest in shipping, mining, and other activities in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

The US has two operational icebreakers, far fewer than what other countries, including Russia, can field.

The US Navy and Coast Guard released a joint draft request for proposal for a heavy polar icebreaker on Thursday — another signal the US military is jockeying keep up with activity in increasingly busy Arctic and Antarctic waters.

The request is for the “Detail, Design and Construction” of one heavy polar icebreaker cutter with the option for two more. Responses are due by December 11.

According to the announcement, the eventual contract is likely to include a number of services relating to operations and maintenance, including materials and spare parts, engineering industrial services, special studies for government-directed engineering tasks, and crew familiarization.

The draft of the request is released to give advance notice for proposals and allow for more sophisticated designs to be submitted. The government said it expects to release the official request for proposal during the first quarter of 2019. Military dive-team members on Coast Guard cutter Polar Star launch a remote-operated vehicle to inspect disabled fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain, beset by ice near Cape Burks, Antarctica, February 14, 2015. Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener/US Coast Guard

Melting sea ice has opened Arctic and Antarctic waters to commercial traffic and mining operations, but ice there still poses a risk to vessels.

Coast Guard Command Adm. Paul Zufunft said in early 2016 that the US needed icebreakers in Antarctica to support national-security infrastructure there. In May, Zufunkt told a House committee that the Coast Guard needed to maintain a ” persistent presence ” in the Arctic and Antarctic.

He said the service was working to design three heavy and three medium polar icebreakers and could increase that order or add offensive weapons to the ships if conditions in their area of operations change. Coast Guard cutter Polar Star sits hove-to outside McMurdo Station, Antarctica, February 16, 2006. Wikimedia Commons

The proposed Coast Guard budget for fiscal year 2018 asked for $19 million to acquire a new polar icebreaker it wants to start building in fiscal year 2019.

The first heavy icebreaker is expected to be delivered in 2023, according to USNI News.

The US icebreaker fleet is relatively small. The Coast Guard has three ships — two of which are operational — and the National Science Foundation has another.Two of the Coast Guard’s ships, the Polar Star and Polar Sea, are some of the world’s most powerful nonnuclear icebreakers, capable of breaking through up to 6 feet of ice at a speed of three knots. But the Polar Sea, which entered service in 1978 with a 30-year service life, is not currently operational. The Polar Star, launched in 1976 with a 30-year service life, was refurbished in 2012 for […]