The heavy icebreaker Polar Star (WAGB-10, commissioned in 1976) is tasked with Antarctic breakout and resupply operations, and the medium icebreaker Healy (WAGB-20, commissioned in 2000) carries out Arctic scientific research for the National Science Foundation, leaving her available for only intermittent presence year-round in the northern latitudes.
After some two decades of various Coast Guard visions, strategies, and plans outlining a need for as many as three heavy icebreakers and three medium breakers, the Coast Guard finally has launched the Polar Security Cutter (PSC) project. (In a June surprise, the White House called for yet another review of requirements for the icebreaking fleet to ensure persistent U.S. presence in the Arctic and Antarctic.)
“The United States is an Arctic nation, and the Coast Guard’s responsibilities are increasing at both poles as a result of environmental and economic trends, as well as competition from other countries,” the first commanding officer of the PSC Integrated Program Office, Captain Tim Newton, said in September 2019. He added, “The [United States] must be present to compete, and the polar security cutter is that presence.”
The program will eventually comprise six icebreakers. The three heavy PSCs will break through ice 6½ feet thick at 3 knots and can take on pressure ridges 21 feet thick. The medium cutters will break ice 4½ feet thick at 3 knots.
VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was awarded a contract in April 2019 to design and build the first of the heavy icebreakers. The initial $745.9 million award includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs. If all options are exercised, the total contract value will be $1.9 billion. Construction on the first is planned to begin in 2021, with delivery planned for 2024.
The PSCs will be homeported in Seattle.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union annexed Königsberg, a former East Prussian territory of Germany, changing the territory’s name to Kaliningrad in 1946. During the Cold War, a sizable combat group centered around the Soviet 11th Guards Army was based there. This large formation was disbanded in the 1990s during the post–Cold War demobilization, and the large mass-mobilization force Russia inherited from the Soviet Union was consolidated. Although often a fixation in Western media reporting, Kaliningrad today is less a Russian fortress or bastion and more an outpost, whose forces have historically suffered from low readiness and lackluster morale, and traditionally was one of the last regions to obtain modernized equipment.
The Baltic Fleet, part of Russia’s Western Military District, is the runt of the litter among the Russian Navy’s four main fleets, split between its headquarters in Baltiysk, Kaliningrad, and units at Kronshtadt, near St. Petersburg. It fields several heavy corvettes, a pair of legacy Soviet frigates, missile boats, smaller antisubmarine warfare ships, minesweepers, and patrol craft, along with several tank landing ships and a diesel-electric submarine. The naval and coastal defense contingent comprises the 336th Naval Infantry brigade, PDSS (naval Spetsnaz) units, and a coastal defense missile regiment armed with Kh-35 BAL & Bastion-P antiship missiles, supported by over-the-horizon radar, reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters, electronic warfare, communications, and maintenance battalions. Despite its “runt” status, it is a capable force compared with other Baltic navies.
Ground units in Kaliningrad have received significant upgrades in recent years, and the force structure is slowly expanding. It is currently organized under the 11th Army Corps, an operational grouping consisting of the 7th Motorized Rifle Regiment, 79th Motor Rifle Brigade, 244th Artillery Brigade, 152nd Missile Brigade, 22nd Surface-to-Air Regiment, and a reconnaissance battalion. The single tank battalion now supporting this force is being expanded into a full regiment, which will likely form the basis of a motorized rifle division composed of the existing maneuver units. Kaliningrad recently received BM-30 Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems for its artillery brigade, and the missile brigade has converted from SS-21 Tochka to SS-26 Iskander-M missiles.
These units are supported by a naval aviation regiment and an air force fighter regiment, fielding Su-24MP, Su-30SM, and Su-27SM3 aircraft, also being upgraded to the latest variants. Notably, the Russian Aerospace Forces’ 44th Air Defense Division has almost completed its modernization to S-400 and S-300V4 long-range antiair systems. Beyond the general purpose forces listed, Kaliningrad also hosts a strategic early warning radar and a nuclear munitions depot, which implies that this force has operationally assigned nonstrategic—that is, low-yield “tactical”—nuclear weapons.
— Michael Kofman