U.S. Coast Guard researchers are assessing a wide array of technologies capable of performing in the Arctic’s harsh conditions, including
unmanned vehicles, satellite
communications and search
and rescue systems. Those that
work well in this severe environment may reshape the future of
maritime operations in the region.
The U.S. National Strategy for the
Arctic Region, released in 2013, states
that the United States has “broad and
fundamental interests” in the Arctic
region and seeks to “meet our national
security needs, protect the environment,
responsibly manage resources, account
for indigenous communities, support
scientific research and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of
issues.” The nation’s interest in the area
deepens as the sea ice diminishes, leading to increased activity there.
To complement the U.S. strategy,
the Coast Guard is increasing its presence in the Arctic. It is largely up to the
maritime service’s research and development center to determine what systems
work best and how technologies might
be used most effectively to support the
Coast Guard’s diverse missions, which
include protecting ports and waterways,
performing search and rescue missions
and even coping with drunken boaters.
The purpose of the research is simply
determining what types of capabilities
can be successfully employed in the area,
rather than assessing or acquiring spe-
cific systems, stresses Scot Tripp, chief
scientist for the Coast Guard’s Research
and Development Center. The lessons
learned from ongoing experiments, tests
and exercises will help deter-
mine the concept of operations
for Coast Guard forces deployed
in the Arctic. “We’re looking at
how the Coast Guard operates in the
lower 48 states and Hawaii, and that
may not necessarily apply to the Arctic
because of the environment,” Tripp says.
Conditions are so extreme in the
Arctic that two of the Coast Guard’s
11 missions—countering drug traffickers and illegal aliens—simply do
not apply in any significant way, Tripp
says. Lawbreakers, it seems, prefer a
certain amount of comfort.
Winter temperatures can drop to
about minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit,
causing significant icing that interferes with some technological systems.
Furthermore, the vast and barren
terrain offers little infrastructure to
support technology or Coast Guard
operations. High winds also can take a
toll. Coast Guard researchers in recent
years have experienced winds steadily
blowing at up to 35 knots ( 40 mph) for
weeks at a time.
As a result, researchers are assessing a plethora of systems almost as
varied as the Coast Guard mission set.
Some technologies that work well elsewhere are challenged in the Arctic.
The solar- and wave-powered Wave
In the Arctic
Technologies that function under
extreme conditions could influence
future Coast Guard tactics.
BY GEORGE I.
Glider unmanned surface vehicle, for
example, has proved itself around the
world, but Arctic conditions are not
favorable. “We’re looking at replacing
tsunami buoys with [Wave Gliders],
but when we got them up to the Arctic
close to the ice fields, there’s very little
wave action, so they didn’t have any
power, and because of the weather—it’s
overcast for days and weeks at a time—
the solar cells couldn’t charge the batteries,” Tripp reports.
Unmanned surface vessels could
potentially be located around oil rigs, for
example, and equipped with special sensors for detecting spills. As an alternative to solar- or wave-powered systems,
the research and development team is
assessing wind-powered vessels because