MSC's Arctic Resupply Mission to Thule Air Base
By Bill Mesta, Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
Military Sealift Command’s Arctic summer resupply mission to Thule Air Base, ‘Pacer Goose 16’ came to a successful conclusion, Aug 5.
Each year, MSC delivers critical supplies and fuel to the base ensuring continued operations. The ships also transport waste supplies and equipment from the base for proper disposal.
“Without the annual re-supply mission Thule AB would not be able to continue operation,” said Rick Caldwell, a supervisory marine transportation specialist for Military Sealift Command and the on-site representative for the mission. “The base does have the ability to receive limited supplies by air but this form of support is very costly and more limiting in terms of the size of shipped cargo.”
The population of the remote air base included approximately 160 active duty service members and approximately 400 civilian contractors.
“We take on this resupply each year at this time because the region warms up enough to melt the ice and allow ships to pull in,” said Caldwell. “The only times to access Thule by sea is from the beginning of July through end of August. The rest of the year, the base is inaccessible by sea because it is ‘iced in’.”
The annual re-supply mission takes approximately 30 days each year to complete.
“Airlift in and out of Thule is severely limited,” said Senior Airman Kurt Lantz, 821st Air Base Group executive officer. “Our extreme remote location, aircraft availability, and the supply versus demand considerations are all factors. For this reason Thule relies on both the fuel tanker and cargo vessel because of the sheer volume of cargo and stores they are capable of transporting.”
The 440-foot ice-strengthened cargo ship MV SLNC Corsica delivered 3,025,024 pounds of bedding and supplies for Army and Air Force Exchange Service, and took away more than 534,000 pounds of damaged equipment no longer able to meet mission requirements.
“Corsica is a break-bulk heavy container lift capable of transporting up to 400 tons of supplies and equipment,” said Caldwell.
The 591-foot ice-class tanker MT Maersk Peary off-loaded 6,858,222 gallons of JP-8 jet fuel over the course of three days.
“All of Thule’s operating systems rely on this fuel, every degree of heat and every bit of electricity,” said Lantz. “Even the vehicles run on the JP-8 unloaded.”
The CCGS Pierre Radisson, a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking cutter, cleared a path through the ice covered harbor, allowing the supplies to be delivered.
“It is really good to have an icebreaker on these missions,” added Caldwell. “Even if the ice is already broken up before the ships arrive, the icebreaker is able to push icebergs out of the path of the other ships.”
“The mission to Thule includes a variety of supplies including batteries, bulldozers, snowplows, rock crushers,” said Caldwell. “We also supply containers of dry goods to re-stock the Base Exchange including chilled goods, frozen foods, and disposable items.”
“We also transported lots of contract supplies such as cement,” added Caldwell. “We delivered the cement as part of a rehabilitation project for the U.S. Air Force’s 12th Space Warning Squadron.”
The 12th SWS provides early warning detection of an enemy ballistic missile attack.
“The mariners and Canadian Coastguard who ran the re-supply mission performed great,” concluded Caldwell. “It was really good to have two American-flagged ships moving these supplies to Thule.”
Civilian contract mariners aboard ships like Corsica and Peary have provided key support in supplying this isolated location since 1952. Thule AB is located approximately 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle and approximately 750 miles from the North Pole.