Home » Budget Industry » Coast Guard Commandant Schultz Optimistic Congress Will Fund New Heavy Icebreaker Program


Coast Guard Commandant Schultz Optimistic Congress Will Fund New Heavy Icebreaker Program

USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) breaks ice in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. US Coast Guard Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fiscal Year 2019 money for a Coast Guard heavy polar icebreaker is frozen on Capitol Hill, but the service’s commandant is optimistic the project will ultimately be funded.

The Senate’s Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill includes $750 million for the heavy icebreaker but the House version zeroed-out the heavy icebreaker money for the year to make additional funds available for building a barrier along the U.S. southern border.

The department’s border wall budget request was for $1.6 billion, but House appropriators recommended spending $5 billion on border security infrastructure, according to the Homeland Security Funding bill approved last week by the House appropriations committee.

However, there is still time to make the case for restoring polar icebreaker funding, Adm. Karl Schultz, the new Coast Guard commandant, said on Wednesday at a Maritime Security dialogue hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The Senate marked up their version of the project and the $750 million (for a heavy icebreaker) was still in. That bill has to be conferenced,” Schultz said, referring to the process where members of both the Senate and House iron out differences in their appropriations bills before each chamber votes on the new unified version.

The process is long and because of some of the contentiousness surrounding funding for Department of Homeland Security programs, Schultz said there’s a strong chance a final bill will not be considered until after the fall midterm elections. Along with overseeing the Coast Guard, DHS is in charge of several agencies governing immigration, customs and border control.

Building a heavy polar icebreaker has strong support inside the Trump administration, Schultz said. His superiors – both the secretary of Homeland Security and President Trump – support the project. Trump even mentioned the project during his remarks at the June 1 change of command when Schultz took charge of the Coast Guard.

“I’m pleased to report that the Coast Guard is now on course to receive its first new heavy icebreaker in more than forty years, and plenty other ships, and boats, and equipment, and everything you need,” Trump said during the ceremony.

Adm. Karl Schultz. US Coast Guard Photo

Currently, the U.S. only has one heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), which was commissioned in 1976. The ship is approaching the end of its anticipated life expectancy, but a replacement, if funded now, would not be ready until 2023.

When Polar Star is not at sea, Schultz said the icebreaker is in the shipyard preparing to go back to go back. Plus, if Polar Star had a major system failure in the Arctic, the Coast Guard would not be able to rescue the vessel because it lacks the capability to perform such a mission.

Meanwhile, other countries are staking claims to the polar regions. While not considered an Arctic nation, China still regularly sends vessels to the region. Russia has a fleet of roughly 40 heavy icebreakers, and Schultz said the regional rival is developing nuclear-powered heavy icebreakers. In 2016, Russia launched Arktika, a 568 foot-long icebreaker powered by two nuclear reactors, according to press reports.

“We really need to be in that part of the world all the time,” Schultz said. “We need six icebreakers. Three of them need to be heavy icebreakers, and we really need one of them today.”

Considering the future heavy polar icebreakers will be called onto to perform a variety of missions, including being used to solidify U.S. claims to undersea mineral and fishing rights in the region, Schultz said he’s also considering changing the ship’s class description.

“You know right now it’s the heavy icebreaker; the polar icebreaker. I think the paradigm has shifted a little bit,” Schultz said. I’m having a conversation with my team about maybe that’s the polar security cutter. I mean that’s really what we’re talking about, we’re talking about national sovereign interests up there, we’re talking about competition… the Coast Guard is the face of that competition and we’ve really got to press into that.”

  • DaSaint

    Polar Security Cutter? And the designation would be…?

  • ed137

    By the time they build it, there will not be any ice up there to break.

  • proudrino

    ADM Schultz seems to be dabbling in the political debate behind Congressional funding. That’s far beyond stating the USCG position on requirements and policy. Not cool but typical of the new generation of political GO/FO “leaders.”

  • sferrin

    30,000 ton, nuclear-powered “heavy”? No? Okay, it ain’t “heavy”.

  • Curtis Conway

    An ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure. The armed services are growing to meet Geographic Combatant Commander ‘Presence’ and ‘Response’ requirements and we will get there with time. However, a part of ‘Proactive Presence’ is law enforcement activities. IMHO this is something we must do, particularly in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Icebreakers should have priority over military expenditures except for BMD missions. Defense and economic priorities coupled with changes in the Arctic necessitate the Icebreaker Priority taking the lead.

    • NavySubNuke

      ” Icebreakers should have priority over military expenditures except for BMD missions”
      Yikes. Strongly disagree there. I don’t believe Icebreakers should be our #2 priority and I definitely don’t believe BMD should be our #1.
      The fact our entire triad is aging out nearly simultaneously is just one example (well technically 4 examples — Columbia, B-21, LRSO, and GBSD) of programs I would rank higher than BMD and Icebreakers. There are also several others.

      • Curtis Conway

        As soon as you said TRIAD I knew where you were going. In my mind the nuclear TRIAD is not a defense issue. It is a necessity that transcends Defense, and therefore should be its own budget item, which I have proposed as far back as I can remember. Since we dropped the Bomb in 1945, it changed the geopolitical globe permanently. Nuclear deterrence has kept the Peace ever since. Until there is a mindset introduced that thinks it can defeat, win, and survive a nuclear holocaust, then this current deterrence will prevail. Only unstable mindsets that do not even value their own survival work against this theory.

        Go Nuclear Deterrence Fund, then lets move onto everything else.

  • Secundius

    Apparently the USCG’s “Left Hand” is unaware of what the US. Hse. of Rep.’s “Right Hand” is doing.

    ( https : // about . bgov . com / blog / trump – backed – coast – guard – icebreaker – runs – aground – house – bill / ) …

    • NavySubNuke

      Next time try to actually read the article:
      “The Senate’s Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill includes $750 million for the heavy icebreaker but the House version zeroed-out the heavy icebreaker money for the year”
      “The Senate marked up their version of the project and the $750 million (for a heavy icebreaker) was still in. That bill has to be conferenced,” Schultz said, referring to the process where members of both the Senate and House iron out differences in their appropriations bills before each chamber votes on the new unified version.”

      • EVA-04

        Anyone who watched “Schoolhouse Rock” would know how this works.

  • tim

    Let us agree that all these demands are valid and that a budget is always stressed. As long as we do not have illegal immigration controlled (physically, morally and legally), this must be our focus. We cannot focus on a threat theatre in the future when I ought to deal with one that is active as we speak! As an immigrant myself, having waited patiently in line, I sympathize with all those still in line, who are upset seeing illegals “skip” that line and playing the victim card! I have family waiting for over ten years now … also worried about their safety and their future … how dare these politicians defend this corrupt current system!

  • John B. Morgen

    By the time this heavy ice breaker is completed the Arctic Ocean would be Russian ice pond.

  • Matt

    So we are losing ice breaker capacity at the same time we are losing SSN capacity? The two need be looked at together. The SSNs are the ultimate backup in the the arctic aren’t they? We can’t do more with less here. Who are our allies that could help fill in gaps in the Arctic, immediately, as they do in the other AORs while we get our act together?

  • Robbie Roberts

    They should be buying only a heavy icebreaker class rather than a second medium class as well with its significant design costs that otherwise could go to pay for just as many heavier units. If there is a limited need for a smaller vessel due to draught depth or other considerations, the Coast Guard could follow the lead up in Canada and buy and convert commercial ships with light or medium ice breaking ability that are currently surplus following the crash of world oil prices a couple of years ago for fire sale prices and man them with reserve and/or training crews with a few experienced officers.

    • Secundius

      SEC. 153. AUTHORITY TO PROCURE ADDITIONAL POLAR-CLASS ICEBREAKERS. Section 122 of the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2018 (Public-Law 115-91) is amended—(1) in the section heading, by striking “ICE-BREAKING VESSEL” and inserting “AUTHORIZATION TO PROCURE UP TO SIX POLAR-CLASS ICEBREAKERS”; (2) by striking subsections (a) and (b); (3) by inserting before subsection (c) the following new subsection: “(a) AUTHORITY TO PROCURE ICEBREAKERS.—The Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating may, in consultation with the Secretary of the Navy, enter into a contract or contracts for the procurement of up to six polar-class icebreakers, including—“(1) polar-class heavy icebreakers; and “(2) polar-class medium icebreakers.”; (4) by redesignating subsections (c) and (d) as subsections (b) and (c), respectively; and (5) in paragraph (1) of subsection (b), as redesignated by paragraph (4) of this section, by striking “subsection (a)(1)” and inserting “subsection (a)”

      Please tell me where in that Section does it say that the United States Coast Guard is getting “ANY NEW” Icebreakers…

  • Hugh

    A strong presence in the Arctic is essential, in conjunction with the Canadians. This includes big icebreakers.