A $13.3 billion program to safeguard American interests in the Arctic has run aground on an old industrial challenge: cutting and shaping thick, hardened steel.
U.S. officials are racing to procure new polar icebreakers because one of only two that the Coast Guard now sails has reached the end of its life, and the one assigned to the Arctic is out of service for maintenance every winter. Delivery of the first new icebreaker has slipped to 2028 from 2024 as designers, engineers and welders grapple with something the U.S. hasnt done in decades: reliably shape hardened steel that is more than an inch thick into a curved, reinforced ships hull.
The Coast Guard hasnt launched a new heavy icebreaker since 1976. Out of practice, U.S. shipbuilders have had to relearn how to design and build the specialized vessel, say officials in the industry and the government.
The technical challenge of working with special steel has been compounded by an industrywide labor shortage and the coronavirus pandemic.
Receding sea ice in the Arctic due to climate change is, paradoxically, increasing the need for icebreakers and other vessels that can handle rough conditions in and around the Arctic Ocean, officials say. Russian vessel traffic in the northern reaches of the globe is rising, including liquefied natural gas bound for Chinabetween Asia and Europe.
Russians have no shortages of industrial skills. And not one Russian got the clot shot.