Report to Congress on Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

April 7, 2023 8:24 AM

The following is the March 30, 2023, 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 is a program to acquire three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new Arctic Security Cutters (ASCs) (i.e., medium polar icebreakers). The procurement of the first two PSCs is fully funded; the Coast Guard says the first PSC is to be delivered to the Coast Guard in 2026 or 2027. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2024 budget requests $170.0 million in continued procurement funding for the PSC program, which would be used for procurement of long leadtime materials (LLTM) and government-furnished equipment (GFE) for the PSCs, and for other program expenses. (GFE is equipment for the ships that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ships.)

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2024 budget also requests $125.0 million in procurement funding for the purchase of an existing commercially available polar icebreaker that would modified to become a Coast Guard polar icebreaker, so as to help augment the Coast Guard’s current polar icebreaking capacity (see final paragraph) until the new PSCs enter service, and to continue augmenting the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking capacity after the PSCs enter service. The Coast Guard requested this $125.0 million as part of its FY2023 budget request; Congress, in acting on the Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget, denied the request. The total cost to purchase the ship and then modify it to meet Coast Guard mission needs is uncertain.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2024 budget also proposes to initiate a new procurement program for procuring a new Great Lakes icebreaker that would have capabilities similar to those of Mackinaw, the Coast Guard’s existing heavy Great Lakes icebreaker. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2024 budget requests $55.0 million in initial procurement funding for the ship, whose total acquisition cost might be roughly $350 million.

The Navy and Coast Guard in 2020 estimated the total procurement costs of the three PSCs in then-year dollars as $1,038 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) for the first ship, $794 million for the second ship, and $841 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated cost of $2,673 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion). On April 23, 2019, the Coast Guard-Navy Integrated Program Office for the PSC program awarded a fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction (DD&C) of the first PSC to Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard that was owned by Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine for the second PSC. In November 2022, ST Engineering sold Halter Marine to Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards. The former Halter Marine is now called Bollinger Mississippi Shipbuilding.

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 plans to extend the service life of Polar Star until the delivery of at least the second PSC. The Coast Guard is using Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

Download the document here.

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