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Coast Guard Commandant Hopeful FY 2019 DHS Budget Will Be Approved With Icebreaker Funding

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star participate in various activities on the ice about 13 miles from McMurdo Station, Antarctica on Jan. 26, 2018. US Coast Guard Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz is guardedly optimistic his service will get funding for a new Polar Security Cutter in time to start construction in 2019.

The Coast Guard – though considered one of the nation’s five armed services – falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Congress has not yet approved the Fiscal Year 2019 DHS spending plan.

“The real seminal question here is what happens in this Fiscal Year 2019 budget,” Schultz said during a Thursday speech. “The President’s budget request asks for $750 million for the Polar Security Cutter. There are House and Senate versions of the bill.”

As Schultz spoke Thursday at the National Press Club and unveiled the Coast Guard’s 2018-2022 strategic plan, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution that covers the parts of the government not already funded in an earlier appropriations bill. The Department of Defense is included in this previously approved legislation. If signed by President Donald Trump, the continuing resolution would continue to fund DHS at FY 2018 levels until a longer-term deal is approved.

Part of the problem, Schultz explained, is the House and Senate bills are different – one fully funds the Polar Security Cutter, one provides no money for the program. Any long-term delay in approving FY 2019 spending could drive up the icebreaker’s cost and endanger the Coast Guard’s ability to patrol the polar regions.

“I think our program, our acquisition program for getting the Polar Security Cutter is better served by getting a budget sooner than later,” Schultz told USNI News after his speech. “I’m not a tea leaf reader. I don’t know what the calculus on the White House and the Hill is about you know, do we get a budget done under the current Republican Congress or do you roll that forward. That’s above my pay grade.”

The Coast Guard proposes to build a fleet of six polar icebreakers: three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers. Currently, the Coast Guard only operates one of each.

“Both of our near-peer competitors, China and Russia, are expanding their icebreaker fleets, as well as their base of access and influence in the region,” Schultz said.

When built, Schultz said an interesting feature of the new icebreaker would be the propulsion system. The Coast Guard’s previous icebreakers used a standard straight shaft system. The new Polar Security Cutters will use what’s called an Azipod, which can rotate 360 degrees. Canadian and Finnish icebreakers use the technology, and Schultz said it’s the future of icebreaking.

The Azipod system is reportedly easier to steer when a ship is going astern, which is often part of the icebreaking process, according to Swiss-firm ABB which makes the Azipod.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz meets with Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in Nome and Port Clarence, Alaska to discuss the construction of deep draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018. This would allow the Coast Guard and Navy to have a strong presence in the U.S. Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

“It makes the ship incredibly more maneuverable,” Schultz said. “It’s been proven more effective in the ice.”

Earlier in the day, at Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said that having a presence in the Arctic is critical. Spencer was speaking at an event cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We need to focus on this,” Spencer said. “It’s resource management. We need to sell the business plan to our representatives. Everyone is up there but us.”

Ice in the Arctic is retreating, opening up new shipping lanes to deliver commerce, Schultz said. Technology is allowing for exploration and possible extraction of the region’s estimated oil, natural gas and mineral reserves deep below the ocean’s surface.

Long-term, Schultz said it’s possible the Coast Guard would look to create a permanent presence in the Arctic. Most likely, Schultz said, the Coast Guard would look for a sea base, possibly in the far northern Port Clarence area. One option, Schultz said, is for the Coast Guard to install moorings to provide a safe haven. Port Clarence, Alaska, had a population of 24, according to the 2010 Census.

“The Arctic isn’t emerging anymore; the Arctic is a reality,” Schultz said.

  • DaSaint

    Fingers crossed that they get their full $750M for the first one. But hope they just do one class, and build 6 of them.

  • NavySubNuke

    It is a pretty big hill to climb considering at least one party currently subscribes to a religion that likes to make prophecies on things like the arctic being ice free by 2013 and all the glaciers in the Himalayas will be gone by 2035.
    Hopefully the Coast Guard is able to get enough level headed people to get this necessary program properly funded.

    • NEC338x

      The uniparty. When there’s money to be doled out, both R’s & D’s line up. Wonderful article out there on Grist about the Climate Solutions Caucus. When there’s dollars in the billions being spread across districts, everyone wants a seat at the table. Concur on a need for more CG and Navy resources for arctic operations.

  • Duane

    What exactly will the Coast Guard be protecting from Port Clarence, Alaska, population 24?

    Boosters for Arctic spending gleefully ignore the non-economic justification for spending extremely valuable and scarce defense dollars in places where we have literally nothing at stake, thus taking away those very same valuable and scarce defense dollars from places where we actually have a great deal at stake.

    Everything looks easy and justified when you don’t have to compare costs to benefits with anything else we have to try and fund. Like enough SSNs, or enough CVNs, or enough fighter jets, or enough cruise missiles, air to air missiles, and precision guided bombs.

    • Ed L

      Ice breakers needed to Fossil fuel carriers and supply vessels in an out of artic waters. Plus all the research that ca be done off a icebreaker

      • Duane

        We don’t use ships to transport Alaskan north slope oil to the Pacific coast .. that’s why the Alaskan pipeline was built over 40 years ago.

        Icebreakers are needed to keep northern ports and waterways open, like the St. Lawrence Seaway, which is the transportation highway for a very large proportion of commerce to and from central North America to the rest of the world.

        But no icebreakers are needed to support Port Clarence, Alaska and all 24 of its residents, who support no commerce at all.

    • Rabbit

      Look on the map. Port Clarence AK is about 110 miles directly across the Bering Strait from Russia. A strategic choke point if ever there was one.

  • Ed L

    Not a fan of climate change. However I am a fan is that the earth is always going through cycles. I decided to go with that within the next thousand years the ice pack in the artic is going to expand into another ice age. Wonder if anyone in Vegas is taking long odds betting that will Allow me to pass on my winnings to my great X5 grandchildren to there Great X5 grandchildren. I think this is only 700 years.

  • noelle292011

    The USCG does NOT need to be part of the DHS!