Home » Budget Industry » GAO: Coast Guard Needs to Present More Details on Icebreaker, Offshore Patrol Cutter Acquisition

GAO: Coast Guard Needs to Present More Details on Icebreaker, Offshore Patrol Cutter Acquisition

The Coast Guard needs to present a 20-year fleet modernization plan that identifies what it intends to buy and what they project the costs to be, particularly in light of current plans to buy heavy icebreakers and offshore patrol cutters at about the same time, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

While not issuing new recommendations on how to proceed, GAO repeated findings of a 2014 study calling for the same approach. Then, the study was looking at projected costs for command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for fleet modernization of vessels and aircraft. The Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard accepted the recommendations.

This study, while not offering new recommendations, deals specifically with the potential risk of going ahead with the replacement for Polar Star and buying, building and launching of the Offshore Patrol Cutter, a program projected to cost $12.1 billion through 2032.

A Coast Guard spokesperson referred USNI News to its response in the GAO report when contacted.

In its latest study, GAO acknowledged the Coast Guard has been submitting a five-year Capital Investment Plan annually to Congress, but these submissions “do not match budget realities in that tradeoffs are not included.” It added that in the 20-year plan “all acquisitions needed to maintain current service levels and the fiscal resources to build the identified assets as well as tradeoffs in light of funding restraints” need to be identified.

On replacing USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) , the service’s only heavy icebreaker, GAO reported the Coast Guard has not completed an official cost estimate of a limited service life extension program to keep it operational until a replacement is in the fleet.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant, has ruled out trying to bring back Polar Sea to duty. In an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank in May, he said the Coast Guard’s long-range thinking calls for six icebreakers — three heavy and three medium.

“Consequently, the Coast Guard expedited its acquisition of new heavy icebreakers with delivery of the first polar icebreaker scheduled in 2023.”

GAO identified the risk as potentially coming from the accelerated schedules need to have the required acquisition documents ready to award the contract for the heavy icebreaker in 2019 and fully funded in that year. The preliminary cost estimate is $1.15 billion.

“The Coast Guard has not articulated how it will prioritize its acquisition needs given its Offshore Patrol Cutter is expected to absorb half to two-thirds of its annual acquisition funding requests — based on recent funding history — starting in 2018,” GAO said in its study.

  • DaSaint

    Coast Guard really needs to be part of DID. This stepchild treatment needs to end.

    • Curtis Conway

      The US Coast Guard is unique in the scope and breadth of items, missions, and elements required to perform the tasking. From ‘Aids to Navigation’ to ‘Icebreakers’, and an auxiliary to the military while being a Cop On the Ocean Beat, the job is not easy, and their equipment is now JUST coming up to speed. The USCG is still suffering from a governing mechanism that requires they perform their fisheries policing mission in coastal regions, and on the high seas, while enforcing anti-drug operations, as their High Endurance Cutters are cut from twelve to ten maybe. The force was originally planned to be cut from 12 to 8, then the OBVIOUS error began to rear its ugly head and Congress has authorized the 9th and perhaps 10th National Security Cutter to replace the 12 aging Hamilton WHECs. This is in an oceanographic environment where traffic on the high seas, particularly in the Arctic/Antarctic are on the increase, and anti-drug trafficking operations are at an all-time high. Need for USCG WHEC Cutters in other locations around the planet are at an all-time high, yet the net numbers of WHEC are shrinking, in fact the two that have been stationed in the Arctic are scheduled to go to one, instead of double to four based upon tasking levels.

      The US Coast Guard High Endurance Cutter force should grow to fourteen minimum. This stretches out that production line and enable a National Patrol Frigate option based upon the same hull to become a reality.

      The Icebreaker analysis is similar only worse. We only have one functioning reasonably heavy Icebreaker in the US Coast Guard, and it is long in the tooth.

      • Stephen

        Only tooth & it’s in bad shape. The USCG has gotten the short-end for far too long. This is the service with one boot in Law Enforcement & a flipper in High Seas Operations. We have a mechanism to join DOD in conflict; we need a method for cooperation at all times. That needs to include funding! USN should determine how many LCSs it wants to keep & paint the rest white for transfer to USCG. USN/USCG need to prepare for Arctic operations, now! Not 20 years from now; that will be too late. Sitting on a stump & watching the events in the South China Sea puts an entire region in turmoil. There is a good reason for putting a torpedo in the tube, at the ready. If you’ve been there, you know.

        • Curtis Conway

          Most definitely on the ‘war-shots in the tubes’. However, the USCG looked at the operational costs of the LCS and it was too expensive. If anyone knows how to ‘squeeze blood out of a turnip’ it’s the US Coast Guard. Acquisition of LCS may be currently less than the NSC, but long term operational/maintenance cost is much greater, and that is where the majority of the budget will be spent over the next 20 years and beyond. The US Coast Guard needs one-for-one replacement for EVERY Hamilton Class WHEC withdrawn from service, and current tasking would demand a few more. That is why it would make a great platform for the development of the new USN Small Surface Combatant FFG-X, particularly if the hull is ice-hardened for Arctic/Antarctic operations.

          • Stephen

            Expensive to build & even more expensive to operate. When will they ever learn? We purchase a vessel & immediately overload the hull with stuff that doesn’t make sense. We ask ships to stay in service far too long & in the case of USCG; they have dealt with the impossible. Politics of acquisition seems insurmountable. If we term-limit this problem, it will simply shift to Wall Street or some Lobby-House.

  • Horn

    I remember reading about our needs for new icebreakers in the late 90s. 16 years of Republican & Democratic presidencies and Congressional meetings, and we still can’t get this right.

  • Ed L

    I have always believed that our Coast Guard should be the 5th Service Branch of the DOD. not in department of Transportation and now HLS.

    • ChrisLongski

      Being DOT had its advantages. I liked it.

  • ChrisLongski

    That new cutter shown is a thing of beauty. WHEC I reckon…