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RFP For New Coast Guard Heavy Icebreaker Expected This Month

USCGC Healy underway in the Chukchi Sea during an annual Arctic deployment on July 28, 2017. Coast Guard Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The request for proposals to build the nation’s next generation heavy icebreaker is expected to be released by the end of the month, the U.S. Coast Guard commandant said on Thursday.

Speaking at the annual WEST 2018 conference, Adm. Paul Zukunft wouldn’t comment on how much money the fiscal year 2019 budget dedicates to the icebreaker, but did say, “It does provide funding for an icebreaker, at least in the draft, so that provides the confidence level that industry needs.”

Previous estimates put the cost for the first heavy icebreaker cost at about $1 billion.

Five vendors are expected to submit proposals for the first-in-class ship. Zukunft said ultimately the Coast Guard wants to buy six icebreakers – three heavy and three medium icebreakers. Zukunft has previously stated the new heave icebreaker is scheduled to launch in 2023.

“We haven’t built one in 40 years,” Zukunft said.
“It’s an investment in our shipbuilding industry here in the United States.”

The Coast Guard’s lone workable heavy icebreaker — USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) — spends about 300 days on missions or in a maintenance yard. A second heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11), is used as a [parts donor to keep Polar Star seaworthy.

But, Zukunft acknowledged there’s been some debate about whether the Coast Guard is better off only buying one type of icebreaker, the heavies, and buying fewer of them – four instead of six.

Vice Adm. Paul Zukunft

“We know if you have a hot production line the unit costs come down, then you build a new product, that new product is more expensive than what you’re already building,” Zukunft said. “We’re still looking at six as the right number.”

The Coast Guard has been working with the Navy through an integrated program office to develop requirements and drive down costs. One example, Zukunft said, is how the Coast Guard is tackling the possibility of eventually needing to arm its heavy icebreaker.

When the request for proposals is released, Zukunft said there will not be a requirement for offensive armaments. But, the Coast Guard wants the option to add weapons in the future if needed. Plans will be asked to include the capacity — in space, weight and power — for what Zukunft described as a modular weapons system that can be added later if needed.

“We’re not doing that up front, but if we have to do that in the backend at some time, we want to make sure we have that capability,” Zukunft said.

While building a new icebreaker is the Coast Guard’s big-ticket project, Zukunft said several other modernization efforts are taking place. The entire fleet is being modernized, including the aging fleet of ships used to maintain local waterways.

Perhaps the second most pressing need, though, is improving the Coast Guard’s ability to communicate from very austere locations. Zukunft said the Coast Guard has a bandwidth problem, involving both transmitting data and keeping its network protected from attack.

“We operate much north of 65 degrees north,” Zukunft said.
In this region, “you’re operating in a dial-up mode.”

  • DaSaint

    The Coast Guard should cannibalize some systems from some retiring ships. Maybe overhaul and install a 76mm forward, 1 Phalanx CIWS, and 2-25mm RWS (P/S). But they could also be configured with 2 LCS’s modules (P/S), for either VL Hellfire or a 30mm gun. And I guess NSM if longer-range ASMs were required.

    • Luke Shaver

      Other than 4 .50 caliber machine guns and small arms, they will be unarmed when delivered. They will have SWAP reservations for offensive and defensive weapons, the exact weapons has not been specified, but they will need to be modular and require little or no major deck pentration, (must be attached to the deck, not under it) and be installed quickly with little or no modification. Cruise missiles will apparently be apart of the future weapons capability. A lot of this was said in recent past interviews.

      • DaSaint

        Yes, there have been reports of the ability to accommodate ASMs. I’m interested in the base systems, but you may be right that it be just 4 .50 cals. Would be a shame though.

        • Lucas Shaver

          In the newest documents publicly accessible the only armament when delivered is the four .50’s. There was talk at one point about possibly adding Mk 38’s to them when delivered but I never heard anymore about that. Since it’s confirmed for SWAP reservations for offensive/defensive weapons, I actually think that’s pretty smart, the likely hood of them using such weapons during peacetime is slim to none, at least for missiles, gun’s they could still use. And it would drive up the costs, so I think the reservations were smart because they might be needed in the future, but not now.

        • Curtis Conway

          Deckspace, power and displacement requirements is one thing. The ability of the system onboard the ship to accomodate the new systems and integrate them rapidly is something else. I hope they have a Land Based Test Facility and have already tested these items out before they bold them on the ship.

          • DaSaint

            If they’re smart (holding breath) they’ll just use the same C4 systems as in the NSC and OPC. That commonality should allow identical weapons systems to be used in the future.

          • Curtis Conway

            Growth items will be the issue. I do hope the flight deck and hangar space is robust, not just sufficient.

    • jack anderson

      Whatever for? The Polar zones are weapons free by treaty, it would be evil of us to think of taking Tomahawks to the party!

      • DaSaint

        It has been reported that the newest class of ‘Icebreaking Corvettes’ by the Russian Navy are fully armed. The Coast Guard is already discussing SWAP options for weapons systems.

      • El Kabong

        What treaty?

        • jack anderson


      • muzzleloader

        Since when did Ivan start honoring treaties?

        • jack anderson

          when looking at a whole bunch of artillery tubes

  • Michael Travis

    Seems like a waste of money; Al Gore says there won’t be any polar ice by the time these ships are commissioned…

  • brianreilly

    Icebreakers. Coast Guard. I realize that Raytheon and GD need to make some money but hw can anyone say with a straight face that the USCG icebreakers need to have modular weapons station capability?

    Want to know why they are so damned expensive? There you go. The cheap thing would probably be to build nuclear powered heavy icebreakers, contract propulsion engineering out to the USN, and run the damned things wherever there is ice to break for merchant ships. They are icebreakers, for Pete’s sake, not assault or asw platforms.

    • Luke Shaver

      They have already brought down the price from what it was, and they will not be equipped with any weapons with the exception of 4 .50 caliber machine guns, just like the current heavy icebreaker, when delivered, they are only leaving SWAP reservations for additional weapons, which leaving SWAP reservations vs actually equipping them is much cheaper. Past USCG and Navy icebreakers were armed during war and some saw combat, the USCG only wants these reservations because in the event of war these ships could be called into combat. Plenty of other nations have armed icebreakers in service within their Coast Guard or Navy. These icebreakers have more than 1 mission.

  • John B. Morgen

    Large ice breakers should large enough to conduct limited SEAL/Marine raids, and any flight decks should be able to handle a few aircraft, such as F-35Bs, CH-53s and V-22s. The Ice breakers must have at least 4 CIWS mounts for coverage of 360 degrees around the ship; plus, 5 or 6 inch guns and SAMs. The Ice breaker should also be armed with ASW systems, including retractable sonar. The ice breaker should be 600 or 700 feet overhaul in length, excluding, any overhang flight deck.

  • David Flandry

    Did I misread? A billion dollars for an icebreaker? Surely that was for 4 or 6. Why does an icebreaker need modules for weapons? A few GPMG, a medium caliber gun(57 or 76), perhaps a small sextuple launcher for SRSAMs. This is insane.

    • Lucas Shaver

      They will not carry weapons except .50 caliber machine guns. They are only reserving space, weight, and power for modular weapon systems, so they can be easily and quickly installed with little modification in the event of war.

  • Bob Pante

    As a retired enlisted Coast Guard engineer I think six identical Heavies would be the way to go for many reasons. Production (get the bugs out of the first one), Training, Manning (you can move people around and they would already know the ship), Spare parts (less number of spare parts to procure and maintain, yet more parts on hand that would fit the individual ship) , Ship yard repaid specifications would be the same. There would be jobs the lightweights can’t do.