JUST IN: No Room to Accelerate Icebreaker Program, Coast Guard Chief Says
Technology Associates, Inc. illustration
The commandant of the Coast Guard dashed hopes Jan. 12 that a much needed new icebreaker will be delivered any sooner than 2025.
The Coast Guard is undergoing an ambitious shipbuilding plan to acquire three new Polar Security Cutters to bolster its presence in the Arctic. It currently has only one heavy-duty icebreaker, the USCG Polar Star, and one medium-duty icebreaker, the USCG Healy, which is primarily used for research purposes, in its inventory. It is also seeking the acquisition of three medium-duty icebreakers that will be known as Arctic Security Cutters.
In the fall, the Coast Guard announced that the delivery date of the first Polar Security Cutter had slipped by about a year to May 2025, said Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Karl Schultz.
When asked at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference if there is a way to accelerate development and move the program’s schedule to the left, Schultz said, “we're past that conversation.”
It “is a complex bit of design work,” he said. “We lost a little bit of time with COVID, with all the international partnerships. It's complex steel work that shipyards don't necessarily do every day.”
The Coast Guard is working with the Navy through an integrated program office for the effort. In 2019, the office awarded VT Halter Marine a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction of the first PSC. The Polar Security Cutter is the first heavy icebreaker the United States has built as a nation in four decades, Schultz said.
“The goal right now would be to continue to work with the Navy integrated project office, continue to work with the shipbuilder, finish up the complex detail design [work] and start cutting steel here in ’22,” Schultz said. “If we stay on that track line … I am guardedly optimistic we will take delivery of that ship in ‘25 and be off to the races.”
Schultz, who is set to retire in June, noted that the program is funded through the first two hulls, with strong signals that a third polar security cutter may follow.
“I've tried to champion the conversation throughout my tenure that we arguably need six icebreakers as a nation as a minimum, so hopefully we'll press forward with that conversation in the not-too-distant weeks and months ahead,” he said. “These Polar Security Cutters … will keenly advance our national interest in the high latitudes.”
The program has received about $1.8 billion in procurement funding through fiscal year 2021, including $300 million that was provided through the Navy’s shipbuilding account in fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018, which fully funded the first two vessels, according to a Congressional Research Service report titled “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.”
The service’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget requests $170 million in procurement funding for the program, which includes resources for long-lead time materials for the third hull, the report added.
This past year the Coast Guard deployed its current fleet of icebreakers for key operations, Schultz said. For example, this week the Polar Star broke into McMurdo Station in Antarctica to replenish supplies as the research center undergoes its largest recapitalization effort in decades, he said.
Additionally, last year the Healy embarked on a major deployment where it sailed into the Alaska Arctic region and conducted scientific work with allied partners. It then sailed counterclockwise through the Northwest Passage, Schultz said. The Healy was able to map tens of thousands of square feet of ocean floor, he added.
Topics: Maritime Security