Committees on Appropriations, 2008 – Congressional Committees of the 110th Congress (Executive Summary, “Report to Congress: U.S. Coast Guard Polar Operations” http://www.uscg.mil/history/missions/ice/docs/FY08_OMNIBUS_Polar_Ops.pdf)
With all of the Coast Guard’s assets in Alaska based below the Arctic Circle, operations above the Circle are constrained by the amount of time required for surface vessels, and even aircraft, to cover the vast distances needed to reach the Arctic Circle. Once on scene, surface and air assets are limited by fuel capacity and the distance to fuel sources with the closest fueling point to Barrow on the North Slope nearly 1,000 nautical miles away in Dutch Harbor in the middle of the Aleutian Chain and the closest air station 818 nautical miles away in Kodiak. Given transit times, the result is cutters (other than polar icebreakers) and aircraft are only able to operate for a few days or a few hours on scene before they have to return for fuel. Even under ideal weather and open water conditions, with only two operational polar icebreakers the USCG does not have the surface or air capacity to support sustained presence in the Polar Regions. The Coast Guard is also aggressively studying the NorthSlopeand the emerging trends throughout the Arctic in an effort to gauge the current requirements for Forward Operating Bases (FOB) or Forward Operating Locations (FOL) in Northern Alaska to support extended operations. These efforts include the exploratory deployment of ships, aircraft, small boats, boating safety teams, and pollution response experts to perform missions and inform ongoing analysis. In late July and early August 2008 the USCG began to gather information which will be critical to determining future operational demands in the Arctic. The level of human activity observed in the region was slightly above anticipated levels but is less than encountered in areas in which the Coast Guard operates in the continental United States. During this period, there were six instances of ice-strengthened industry vessels becoming beset in the ice west of Barrow. The USCGC HEALY was diverted from its science support mission to provide assistance, however the vessels were able to free themselves from the ice with the aid of the winds and currents before USCGC HEALY traversed the 400 nautical miles required to arrive on scene. Also of note, villages in the area each had six to ten small personally owned vessels, less than 30-feet in length, used for subsistence hunting at distances up to 90 nautical miles offshore. A number of re-supply vessels routinely provide goods and services to regional villages in western Alaska and the western Canadian Arctic. The current technology is not capable of tracking and notifying mariners of ice floes, the size of automobiles and smaller, which could catastrophically damage most of the vessels observed in the areas, including potentially USCG vessels. The types of activities and the environmental conditions observed demonstrate the potential for significant SAR and Marine Environmental Protection mission activity in the future.The USCG encountered a variety of challenges with operating the 25-ft Defender Class Boat and the MH-65 helicopter from the temporary FOL. The challenges include a lack of communications networks which limited the range of operations to 60 miles. The unpredictability of sea ice and the prevailing sea state in the U. S. Arctic render the Coast Guard's current portfolio of small boats ineffective for safe operations. Moreover, the remoteness of the region necessitates a minimum of 18-24 hours lead-time to acquire and transport parts, equipment, and material to the FOL. This is critical since the severe operating conditions dictate a need for the USCG to have self-rescue capability. The vast distances, predominant icing conditions and scarcity of aviation fuel render the Coast Guard's MH-65 helicopter ineffective for operations on the North Slope. Other issues, including the lack of living facilities, boat ramps and work space, must be factored into the cost of establishing a permanent, even if seasonal, operating location. USCG also understands through decades of experience that to be effective in establishing an FOL, it is necessary to engage the indigenous peoples who provide the local knowledge, support and assistance vital to planning and operating in the region.