Report to Congress on Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

July 12, 2023 9:52 AM

The following is the July 10, 2023, Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Required number of polar icebreakers. The Coast Guard testified in April and June 2023 that it had recently signed out a new fleet mix analysis that concluded that the Coast Guard will require a total of eight to nine polar icebreakers to perform its various polar (i.e., Arctic and Antarctic) missions in coming years. Prior to this new fleet mix analysis, Coast Guard officials had stated that the service in coming years would need at least six polar icebreakers, including three capable of breaking heavy polar ice.

Current operational polar icebreaker fleet. 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.

Polar Security Cutter (PSC). The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire at least three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the acquisition of additional new Arctic Security Cutters (ASCs) (i.e., medium polar icebreakers). The Navy and Coast Guard in 2020 estimated the combined total procurement cost of the first three PSCs in then-year dollars as $2,673 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion). The procurement of the first two PSCs is fully funded. 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 that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ships.)

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.

Commercially available polar icebreaker (CAPI). 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 (CAPI) that would modified to become a Coast Guard polar icebreaker, so as to help augment the Coast Guard’s current polar icebreaking capacity until the new PSCs enter service, and to continue augmenting the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking capacity after the PSCs enter service.

Great Lakes icebreaker (GLIB). The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2024 budget also proposes to initiate a new procurement program for procuring a new Great Lakes icebreaker (GLIB) 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, the Coast Guard estimates, might be roughly $350 million, depending in part on the exact design that is developed for the ship. The Coast Guard’s FY2024 Unfunded Priorities List (UPL) includes an unfunded priority for an additional $20.0 million for the ship that would be used for accelerating initial procurement of LLTM for the ship.

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