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Report to Congress on Coast Guard Icebreaker Program

The following is the April 18, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the Report:

The Coast Guard polar icebreaker program is a program to acquire three new heavy polar icebreakers, to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new medium polar icebreakers. The Coast Guard wants to begin construction of the first new heavy polar icebreaker in FY2019 and have it enter service in 2023. The polar icebreaker program has received about $359.6 million in acquisition funding through FY2018, including $300 million provided through the Navy’s shipbuilding account and $59.6 million provided through the Coast Guard’s acquisition account. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $750 million in Coast Guard acquisition funding for the program.

The acquisition cost of a new heavy polar icebreaker had earlier been estimated informally at roughly $1 billion, but the Coast Guard and Navy now believe that three heavy polar icebreakers could be acquired for a total cost of about $2.1 billion, or an average of about $700 million per ship. The first ship will cost more than the other two because it will incorporate design costs for the class and be at the start of the production learning curve for the class. An April 13, 2018, Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the polar icebreaker program states that the Coast Guard has reduced its estimated cost for the first heavy polar icebreaker to less than $900 million, which would imply an average cost of something more than $600 million each for the second and third icebreakers. When combined with the program’s $359.6 million in prior-year funding, the $750 million requested for FY2019 would fully fund the procurement of the first new heavy polar icebreaker and partially fund the procurement of the second.

The operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Star, and one medium polar icebreaker, Healy. In addition to Polar Star, the Coast Guard has a second heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Sea. Polar Sea, however, suffered an engine casualty in June 2010 and has been nonoperational since then. Polar Star and Polar Sea entered service in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and are now well beyond their originally intended 30-year service lives.

The Coast Guard has used Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Mission Need Statement (MNS) approved in June 2013 states that “current requirements and future projections … indicate the Coast Guard will need to expand its icebreaking capacity, potentially requiring a fleet of up to six icebreakers (3 heavy and 3 medium) to adequately meet mission demands in the high latitudes….”

The current condition of the U.S. polar icebreaker fleet, the DHS MNS, and concerns among some observers about whether the United States is adequately investing in capabilities to carry out its responsibilities and defend its interests in the Arctic, have focused policymaker attention on the question of whether and when to acquire one or more new heavy polar icebreakers as replacements for Polar Star and Polar Sea.

On March 2, 2018, the U.S. Navy, in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard under the polar icebreaker integrated program office, released a request for proposal (RFP) for the advance procurement and detail design for the Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker, with options for detail design and construction for up to three heavy polar icebreakers.

Issues for Congress for FY2019 for the polar icebreaker program include, inter alia, whether to approve, reject, or modify the Coast Guard’s FY2019 acquisition funding request; whether to use a contract with options or a block buy contract to acquire the ships; whether to continue providing at least some of the acquisition funding for the polar icebreaker program through the Navy’s shipbuilding account; and whether to procure heavy and medium polar icebreakers to a common basic design.

via fas.org

  • D. Jones

    Get quotes from other countries on off the shelf icebreakers.

    Cheaper and faster. Plus eliminates pork which invariably drives costs through the roof.

    • cutterman75

      Must other countries don’t have heavy icebreakers just sitting on their shelf, get real! And if you say Finland , they mostly design and build Baltic icebreakers. Not heavies.

    • Bob Pante

      Domestically built also creates American jobs. President Trump A Business man is very good at trimming the Pork.

      • PolicyWonk

        Good at trimming the pork?

        Do you know that he signed the $1.3T spending bill without even reading the summary breakdown of where the money is going? Lots of money added to pork-infested corporate welfare programs, and not so much as one thin dime added to the budget to buy the land necessary to build the wall…

        If you look further back, its even worse: If he took the $229M he inherited from his father, and invested it in index funds (and not lifting a finger), he’d be worth ~$12B now (instead of the paltry $3B he claimed on the campaign trail). So, his business expertise didn’t even keep up with a decent fraction of what the market did – while Warren Buffett, and others like him, beat the market regularly.

        But, it is true: if you build ’em here, the jobs are here.

        • Bob Pante

          Liberal BS

          • PolicyWonk

            Poor little snowflake!

            Are the facts too much for you?

            Yes – you elected a nitwit.

          • Bob Pante

            The President had to rebuild the Military Obama decimated. Chucky Schmucky Schumer loaded it with Pork

          • PolicyWonk

            You really need to stop spreading BRAVO SIERRA – but apparently you can’t help yourself.

            Obama took office in January 2009. By that time, the US had suffered (after 8 years of GOP incompetence):
            – The worst string of national security and foreign policies in history
            – A staggering defeat to Al Qaida in the GWOT, and
            – The worst economic disaster since the Great Depression (the list could go a lot longer – but I’m pointing out what makes you either profoundly ignorant, or a liar), with 6M+ jobs lost in the previous 6 months, and losing 800k jobs/month when he was sworn in.

            The Spring 2009 JCS Report on Force Readiness to the POTUS reported that the US armed forces were at their lowest state of readiness since Vietnam.

            Hence – the military was already decimated by the GOP’s incompetence and gross mismanagement of two yet-to-be-completed wars – Obama didn’t have to do anything. And given a massive recession – rebuilding the military was going to be very tough – not matter who was in office.

            Go and spread your BRAVO SIERRA on Brietbart or InfoWars. The inbreeds who buy that garbage can’t tell the difference.

            Happy Sunday!

          • Bob Pante

            Trump has to undo the damage done by the RINO’s and the Democrats. That’s why he was elected by a margin large enough to overcome cheating and voter fraud.

          • PolicyWonk

            On what alternative universe did you drop in from? Clearly, you need to go and revisit your recent history. The “damage done”?

            If you’re going to openly lie and expect to get away with it, you need to be more creative. Since you lack those skills, maybe you’re better off contemplating your navel, polishing trash cans, or digging latrines.

            Donald Trump lost the popular election by more than 3M votes. Thats not being elected by a wide margin – if it were – he wouldn’t feel like he had to lie about it, or the numbers of people attending the inauguration, etc.

            Here’s a simple comparison you might be able to comprehend (this is, however, doubtful): State of the union inherited by George W Bush, versus State of the Union inherited by Barack Obama.

            Then, you can take it one step closer, and compare the State of the Union inherited by Barack Obama, and compare that to the State of the Union inherited by Donald Trump.

            Hence – the nation has done vastly better under democrats over the past generation than it has under republicans. This is the fact – go and look it up!

            Are you going to pretend that Obama blew $2T for no reason whatsoever next?


          • Secundius

            Exactly How? By “Executive Order”? Or by “Executive Memorandum”! Neither of Which Introduces a Bill or gets a Bill Passes. Minimum votes required in the US Hse.of Rep. is 218 Votes! There are 236 Republicans in the US Hse.of Rep., and can’t even muster enough votes to pass by a Simple Majority without help from the Democrats. Example, the S.H.A.R.E. (Sportsman’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement) Act was introduced by Republican Representatives Jeff Duncan of South Carolina in 1 September 2017. In 18 September 2017 it was “KILLED” by a 115 to 314 vote. There were 236 Republicans in the House, and they couldn’t muster enough interest to pass the Bill even with a Simple Majority vote. Of the 314 that Voted against the Bill, 121 were Republicans. PS. The “Hearing Protection Act” was also Attached to the “SHARE Act” Bill, Killing Two Birds with One Stone…

        • Secundius

          Most likely reason is, in order to get HIM to read it. The WH Staff would have to present it to him in “Coloring Book” form…

  • PolicyWonk

    So they want 3 heavies, and 3 mediums – Personally, I’d prefer they double that as a starting point, to account for both polar regions.

  • Curtis Conway

    Six heavies would be cheaper, faster, easier to maintain and logistically support, and train the crews. One would never have the dilemma of which class to send. They would all be the same. Since they will all be communications platforms with a command center, it would make it easier to interface them wherever they go.

    • John McHugh

      I agree with the fundamentals of your argument. The theory of a hot production line has proven data supporting it. In addition, it seems more than reasonable that, over the next 30 years, the USCG will be able to justify a fleet of 6 heavy icebreakers. Two always on station, North and South. Two in support or in transit, North and South. Two in training and/or maintenance. With the opening of sea ice, this is a very reasonable deployment. Unfortunately, cost such as headcount, fuel, maintenance all seem like deal killers with this proposal.

      I believe that the Medium duty vessels should still be produced, in addition to the heavies, for utility, replenishment & support, research, and SAR. Once again, with increased usage of the region, having a support structure would make sense.

      Realistically, I can’t imagine that Congress would pony up for this. 3 & 3 is a nice start but that’s expensive as it is. 6 & …. ? Doubtful but maybe getting the USN buy-in would push this through. A whole new highly strategic region for SUW would seem to require USN $$$.

      I know that Marinette has produced quality Inland Medium duty icebreakers but the Fincantieri Marine Group teamed with Philly Shipyard would seem to offer the best opportunity for a proven design.

      On a different note, is anyone aware of any research that may support permanently mooring ships in the arctic regions. One would think that basing one or both of the Polar class ships on station would be very beneficial.

      Instead of building a support base from scratch, overhaul these ships for 25-50% of the costs. If the power systems could be modified or replaced with a simpler “BTU generator” to supply power and heat, then these ships suddenly become a valuable regional asset. Remove all propulsion and power generation equipment, turbines, shaft, etc. Replace with a LNG based system fueling a series of medium-speed diesel generators.

      A base of operations for support, research, avaiation maintenance, medical, R&R for a much lower production cost. A “high-latitude Tender”. Just a wild-assed idea.

      • Lucas Shaver

        They have actually reduced the scientific requirements, so that there would be more capability for sensors and weapons. I suspect they will end up getting more icebreakers later on.

  • Secundius

    The US Congress is seriously considering Leasing Ice/Tugs with a Displacement of ~4,000-tons and a Full Load Displacement of ~12,000-tons…