Coast Guard to Build Digital Twin for Polar Star

Coast Guard cutter USCGC Polar Star

Coast Guard photo

The Coast Guard will make a digital copy of its only — and rapidly aging — heavy icebreaker as part of an effort to extend its service life.

Canada-based manufacturer Gastops will collect data on the USCGC Polar Star — a ship built in the 1970s — to create a computer model that can undergo risk assessments at a relatively low cost, said Shaun Horning, president and CEO of the company.

“The value is that if we find an issue … it can be fixed and resolved, and the cost is probably two orders of magnitude less than if you found it when you had equipment on the ship and then you had to go and make physical changes,” he said during an interview.

Engineers will be able to test the icebreaker’s performance during various maneuvers such as turning and navigating in icy environments. Based on the trials, engineers can suggest improvements to the platform’s design, he said.

Icebreakers are a priority for the service. President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget request included $15 million to support the Polar Star’s life extension effort.

The Coast Guard is working to build a new fleet of heavy icebreakers known as Polar Security Cutters. In 2019, VT Halter Marine was awarded a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction of the first Polar Security Cutter, which is scheduled to start construction this year in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and be delivered in 2024.

Meanwhile, replacing the Polar Star’s 30-year-old analog control system with a digital control system will be one aspect of the refurbishment that will need to be tested extensively, Horning noted.

“The control system is a particular challenge because you have this machinery built and designed in the 1970s,” he said. “There are all sorts of intricacies in the existing control strategies that we’re going to be able to test and exercise with the computer model, and identify gaps that they have in their current design with that digital system and give them the opportunity to fix those.”

Because of the ship’s age, it will be challenging to find all of the data necessary to build a digital replica of the vessel and some of it will have to be estimated, Horning said.

Gastops will finish the creation of the digital twin this fall, giving the Coast Guard about a year to assess the ship’s new capabilities before the project’s expected completion.

Topics: Maritime Security, Shipbuilding

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