Coast Guard Arctic Craft Project looks to older technologies to tackle new challenges in Arctic
Posted by Shawn Eggert, Friday, August 22, 2014
ALASKA – As defenders of U.S. marine resources and protectors of lives on the water, the Coast Guard must be always ready for action wherever the nation’s soil meets the sea.
That includes the frigid water along the shores of Alaska’s North Slope and part of the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy is to broaden the Coast Guard’s understanding of Arctic waters and how best to prepare for the challenges the region presents. Though crew members and research teams aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy are using their time above the Arctic Circle this year to test technologies that might give the Coast Guard an edge in responding to emergencies in the north, not all of those technologies are on the leading edge.
Researchers at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London, Conn., began the Arctic Craft Project in 2012, first by evaluating small watercraft capable of operating in Arctic waters and then in 2013 by measuring the effects of brash ice (ice fragments less than six-and-a-half feet in diameter) on boat propulsion. This year, RDC personnel and staff from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., will test the capabilities of readily available equipment to determine what might be of the most use to boat crews working near Alaska’s north shore.
“The objective of our project this year is to evaluate each piece of equipment individually to assess its effectiveness in severe cold weather,” said Jason Story, Surface Branch research lead for the RDC. “We’ll measure such attributes as heat output and power consumption, gathering information on possible improvements to Coast Guard boat operations in the Arctic. This will enable us to make recommendations for Arctic boat capabilities and configurations.”
Story and his colleagues will outfit the Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s Arctic Survey Boat with equipment designed to enhance the performance of the vessel and increase the effectiveness of its crew. A variety of defoggers will be installed to keep cabin windows clear and multiple coolant, fluid and battery heaters will be added to test for improved engine performance and readiness. The ASB will also be equipped with multiple imaging systems including a 3D underwater imager, forward looking sonar, an underwater camera, infrared camera and streaming video equipment.
“Rough weather, cold and ice can greatly reduce the length of a crew’s ability to respond to a mission,” said Lt. Brent Fike, Surface Branch naval engineer for the RDC. “Our goal is to figure out what systems and technologies we can recommend to keep our boats and crews operating in the Arctic longer.”
Alaskan communities in the Arctic may not yet have the sort of maritime infrastructure the Coast Guard is used to working with further south, but that doesn’t mean they’re being ignored by vessels transiting the Arctic Circle. The number of commercial and recreational mariners visiting Alaska’s northern waters is growing yearly. Special equipment and technologies for responding to potential maritime emergencies could take years to develop, but the men and women of the Coast Guard know they don’t always have to have the shiniest toys to do their job.
“Our need to reliably operate in the Arctic is rapidly increasing, but the equipment we’re testing for the Arctic Craft Project has been around for a few years,” said Story. “By looking at available technologies we can present options which can be acquired quickly, and that means our vessels and our crews can be made ready to respond that much faster.”