A partnership supporting the U.S. Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker acquisition program


An Innovative Partnership in Icebreaking Research

In February 2017, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T), finalized a partnership to support the U.S. Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker acquisition program. The partnership was developed under the Agreement between the U.S. and Canada for Cooperation in Science and Technology for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Border Security (CIPABS), enacted in 2004.

The U.S. is one of eight Arctic nations, and the U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access through its polar icebreaking program. With activity and interest in the Arctic on the rise, the United States is taking swift action to rebuild and enhance its Coast Guard polar icebreaking capability.

During this Polar Icebreaker Test and Evaluation (T&E) phase, the NRC will serve as a test and evaluation partner with DHS and the U.S. Coast Guard as they work to refine the requirements for new heavy polar icebreakers while continuing to improve Canadian expertise in this domain. The NRC is conducting environmental characterization of ice conditions, as well as extensive T&E activities using physical modelling from its facilities in St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

United States Coast Guard Partnering with the NRC

The U.S. Coast Guard is the principal federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways. As one of the five Armed Services of the United States, the Coast Guard is the only military branch within the Department of Homeland Security.

The model testing being conducted at the NRC for the U.S. Coast Guard's heavy polar icebreaker acquisition program includes analyses of maneuverability in ice and icebreaking resistance and powering. The results of this testing will be used to further inform the baseline requirements for new heavy polar icebreakers, expand current icebreaker design and operational knowledge, and support the urgent need to recapitalize U.S. heavy icebreaking capability.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker integrated program will use the results of the studies to refine and validate the draft heavy polar icebreaker system specifications. In addition to the testing and modelling work conducted at the NRC, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy will conduct additional model test work to evaluate the performance of the icebreaker in open water at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in Bethesda, Maryland.


The NRC’s Focus on Ice Breaking Research

The National Research Council of Canada’s laboratory in St. John’s is home to one of the world’s largest ice tank facilities used to measure the performance and evaluate the safety of ice-going ships and structures in controlled model-scale conditions. The ice tank models a wide range of marine ice conditions, including first-year and multiyear ice, pack ice, ridged ice and glacial ice. The NRC’s ice tank is the second longest ice tank in the world – measuring 90 metres long. If you laid it on its side, the U.S. Statue of Liberty or the Peace Tower on Canada’s Parliament Hill would run the same length.

The NRC has been preparing models and testing icebreakers and other vessels for more than 50 years and boasts more than 30 years of data, model testing expertise, and validation in Arctic conditions. The NRC also provides expertise and tools to identify, adapt, and integrate advanced solutions into systems that improve the performance and safety of ocean, coastal, and marine operations, meet the challenges of climate change, and protect infrastructure, property and people from severe weather events and other environmental risks.

The Critical Infrastructure Protection and Border Security Agreement

The polar ice breaker project was created through the Critical Infrastructure Protection and Border Security Agreement, which enables Canadian and U.S. federal departments and agencies to establish arrangements for collaborative projects. Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) manages the CIPABS agreement on behalf of the Government of Canada.

A beneficial collaboration for multiple Canadian government partners

Ice conditions in Canada’s Arctic have a significant impact on Northern transportation and offshore operations. Icebreaker testing is critical to help minimize the risks posed to Arctic ships by heavy ocean ice. Some of these risks include the health and safety of the crew, increased fuel cost and the cost due to voyage delay, adverse environmental effects, and potential consequences resulting from not delivering the cargo and supplies to the Northern communities.

This bilateral collaboration in ocean research and technology enhances both countries’ ability to maintain on-water capability in the Arctic.

DRDC CSS, an Agency of the Department of National Defence, has a broad mandate to enhance public safety and security capability. DRDC CSS will also act as a custodian for the knowledge generated by the NRC. Technical documents will be housed in a central library to maintain all recent knowledge on polar icebreakers, which can then be drawn upon, as needed, for both the U.S. and Canadian governments.

The Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy have a long history of working with the NRC on the modelling and testing of icebreaking vessels. These innovative research and development initiatives support the Canadian Coast Guard’s security activities on behalf of the Department of National Defence.



Media Relations Team
National Research Council of Canada
1-855-282-1637 (in Canada)
1-613-991-1431 (elsewhere in North America)
001-613-991-1431 (International)
Twitter: @nrc_cnrc



Media Relations, Science & Technology Directorate
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
202-254-2385 (office)
202-527-3625 (mobile)
Twitter @dhsscitech

Brian Olexy, Communication Manager
U.S. Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20593
202-475-3069 (office)
Twitter: @USCG



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