Photo of a model of Halter Marine’s Polar Security Cutter seen at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition have surfaced. Photo credit Chris Cavas.
The Congressional Research Service has once again updated their look at the Polar Security Cutter (heavy icebreaker) program. (See the latest version here.) My last look at this evolving document was in regard to the July 1,2021 revision.
Changes are few. There is continued concern caused by the late start in construction of the first Polar Security Cutter. There is affirmation of House Appropriations Committee support for the Administrations proposal to fund $170,000,000 for a portion of the long lead time materials for a third PSC. While there was no change to the Administration proposal, there were some interesting comments.
(From p.13/14) “In a letter dated August 16, 2021, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the management of the PSC acquisition program and the Coast Guard’s efforts to address icebreaking capability gaps until the PSCs are fully operational. The letter stated:
“The PSC’s shipbuilder, VT Halter, [has] begun designing the [Polar Security] cutters but challenges, including impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, have delayed these efforts as well as the start of lead ship construction. To mitigate the effect of these delays, DHS and the Coast Guard may authorize the start of construction before the design is stabilized—a practice that has resulted in poor outcomes, including cost growth, for other shipbuilding programs. Further, with the delivery of the first cutter delayed, the Coast Guard must continue to rely on the aging Polar Star—the U.S.’s only operational heavy icebreaker—and explore other options to address the capability gaps, which could be costly.
“Given the schedule delays and potential for cost growth, continued oversight of the PSC program is critical. As such, the Committee requests that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review the management of the PSC acquisition program and the Coast Guard’s efforts to address icebreaking capability gaps until the PSCs are fully operational, including but not limited to:
The status of the PSC acquisition program and Coast Guard’s efforts to manage schedule delays and cost growth;
The status of efforts to maintain and extend the life of the Polar Star; and
The status of the Coast Guard’s efforts to explore other icebreaking alternatives.
As for the comments, first there was the perennial attempt to get more icebreaking assets for the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes Icebreaker Program.—The Coast Guard is tasked by Executive Order to carry out icebreaking efforts in support of commerce. The Committee is concerned that in recent years, performance metrics for icebreaking on the Great Lakes has been redefined by the availability of assets, rather than mission requirements, often with severe economic impacts. As the Coast Guard begins to define its requirements for the recapitalization of ice breaking assets in the Great Lakes, the Committee directs the Coast Guard to incorporate historical measures of performance. Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Coast Guard is directed to brief the Committee on such performance measures and other considerations for planning the recapitalization of assets in the Great Lakes. (p. 28)
Then there was a comment addressed to the Navy,
The Committee understands that the Coast Guard is expanding its fleet of polar icebreakers but is disappointed that the Navy has not also considered purchasing either new or used icebreakers. The Committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act which details the Navy’s plan to address this capability requirement in fiscal year 2022 and the future years defense program.
In a perfect world I’m sure the USCG leadership would be more than happy to replace one or more of the Great Lakes base WLBs with more Mackinaw-class breakers. Someone just needs to find the money.
Hell, then you could transfer those replaced WLBs to the pacific to serve in something of a FRC operations support vessel.
On the Navy side?
Good freaking luck. I don’t see Congressional prodding convincing them to field ‘haze gray’ icebreakers anytime soon. Their ship building plans/funding is pretty much settled for the next couple decades.
Maybe they might see their way to purchasing some more credible weapons for the CG breakers along with manning those weapons operations crew positions. That could also make up for the CG’s lack of trained personnel and training pipeline funding for said weapons.
I think there are a lot of opportunities for Navy Reserve to augment Coast Guard crews upon mobilization.
What was the original history/rationale for the Navy transferring the icebreakers to the Coast Guard back in the 60’s? They didn’t want the mission or was it viewed as an efficiency measure?
This happened 1965/66. I don’t really know why, but at the time both Navy and Coast Guard operated Wind class icebreakers. I suspect the Navy just figured icebreaking had nothing to do with war fighting, at least the wars they expected to fight. Maintaining the capabilities in both services was probably less efficient.
The Wind Class icebreakers were developed by the Coast Guard and the only other US polar icebreaker, Glacier was just an enlarged Wind class.
Icebreaking was probably seen as a peacetime mission, and so more closely aligned with Coast Guard missions.
There is historical documents online that discuss the transfer and why it was done.
What is most interesting in reading these documents, is that during congressional hearing in the 1960’s – there was discussion of Nuclear Ice Breakers and if that was an option – the Navy themselves at least thought about a Nuclear powered Ice Breaker as far back as the 1950’s.
I don’t know where I found it (either on the internet or internally within the CG’s Intranet – but there is a scanned copy of the 1965 Memorandum of Agreement between Department of the Navy and Department of the Treasury on the Operation of Icebreakers. online somewhere. What is MOST interesting about that document is a hand-written note in the margins by the Navy Admiral who signed it…and if I recall correctly, it basically said something to the effect of Icebreakers are the CG’s now and don’t come to us for future funding of replacements – The CG is now on the hook for future funding of the Icebreaker program. I really wish I could find that and post a link – I think those comments in the margins are the reason it took so long to fund the current replacements.
Anyways, here’s some historical links to those hearings and some other documents. If someone can find a copy of that 1965 Memorandum of Agreement between Department of the Navy and Department of the Treasury on the Operation of Icebreakers – please post it!
Click to access ICEBREAKERS_D.%20CANNEY_1999.PDF
Click to access Doc_4-15_United_States_Antarctic_Policy_And_Program.pdf
Interesting comments in this Foreign Policy article about homeporting a Polar Security Cutter in Australia as well as WPCs in American Samoa. WLBs in Guam and Samoa would be possible with additional WLBBs on the Great Lakes.
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