WEB EXCLUSIVE: Budget Proposal Funds Second Coast Guard Icebreaker
Photo: Coast Guard
The Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 keeps the Coast Guard’s overall funding relatively flat, but does fund a second polar icebreaker, one of the service’s top priorities.
The service received nearly $12.18 billion in the 2020 budget. The proposed budget released Feb. 10 shows a $77 million increase at $12.26 billion.
The proposal offers $555 million for the Polar Security Cutter program, including full funding to build the second ship in the new class. In addition, there is $15 million for a service life extension of the Polar Star, the legacy ship the new cutters will eventually replace.
The Coast Guard intends to acquire three new heavy ice breakers with up to $1.9 billion allocated to the program. Last year, the Coast Guard awarded VT Halter Marine the contract to build the first Polar Security Cutter, with options to construct a second and third ship at its Pascagoula, Mississippi, shipyard.
Coast Guard Adm. Karl Shultz in a recent interview with National Defense, said the service is considering acquiring up to six heavy icebreakers and possibly some smaller ones. He expected design work to continue for the remainder of 2020.
“You have got to finish design and you don't want to cheat the design work because we're going to build multiple polar security cutters. You want to get the design work right and then you want to build a good quality ship. And then you hope there's ... opportunities to build more,” he said in an interview prior to the budget release.
VT Halter won’t be starting construction on the first icebreaker until 2021, he said. However, the contract has incentives for the company to deliver a ship earlier, he added. Polar Star, the last heavy icebreaker in the Coast Guard inventory, is nearly 45 years old.
Meanwhile, the Arctic region, with increased ice melt, is seen as a potential region for great power conflict as Russia and China seek to exploit the region’s natural resources. China in particular, is a concern to Shultz. It has declared itself a “near-Arctic” nation — a term Schultz said the Chinese invented — and it is moving ahead with its own icebreaker programs.
“The fact that China ... will outpace us in terms of icebreaking capacity by 2025 here and they are a non-Arctic nation — that's a little troubling to me,” Schultz said.
The other major program funded in the 2021 proposal includes a third Offshore Patrol Cutter and a long-lead time material purchase of a fourth vessel, totaling $546 million.
The budget request also includes money to fund aviation upgrades, namely $78 million to retrofits and new sensors for the fixed-wing HC-27J medium range surveillance aircraft and $65 million to modernize and sustain the MH-65 and MH-60T helicopters until the mid-2030s when the service intends to take advantage of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift to acquire a new generation of rotary-wind aircraft, the budget documents said.
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