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Report to Congress on Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter Program

The following is the Oct. 26, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program, previously known as the polar icebreaker (PIB) 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 PSC 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. 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 PSC program through the Navy’s shipbuilding account; and whether to procure heavy and medium polar icebreakers to a common basic design.

  • Curtis Conway

    The assumption that six Heavy Polar Security Cutters will cost less than three heavy and three medium should be a foregone conclusion. Larger hangars, increased aviation support, and room for other support yet to be determined should be a given. They will all be Command Ship capable anyway, so there better be space for the MARDET.

    • Rocco

      MARDET on a cutter?? I would think the CG would train their own for this.

      • Curtis Conway

        And they may. However, the new Polar Security Cutters (Icebreakers) will be floating Command Centers (according to the US Navy) with all that brings to the table. In addition everywhere they go in the Arctic they will typically be the only vessel (except for the escorted) present. THAT is why the aviation support (big tall spacious hangars and large flight deck) should be significant. If a moon pool is included then an additional element of ship’s defense plan is added to protect against a diver threat.

  • Ed L

    We are going need more than 6 icebreakers. Especially with the interglacial period ending soon and ice age to come