The Drive/The Warzone reports that the delivery of the first Polar Security Cutter (PSC) has been pushed back to 2025. As recently as October, delivery was expected in 2024. This raises questions about why this is happening, and will Polar Star be able to continue to meet at least our minimum icebreaker requirements? In fact, the plan was to retain Polar Star until the second PSC was completed.
The article points to the decision to use the proposed Polarstern II as a basis for the design, when that ship was in fact never completed and the maturity of its design remains unclear.
More to the point, for whatever reason, the Coast Guard once more, waited too long to start a complex replacement program, and as a result, has risked creation of a capability gap.
The OPC program, poster child for this tendency, was repeatedly delayed. From the CRS report on cutter procurement,
“The posting for the RFP for the Stage 2 industry studies included an attached notional timeline for building the 25 OPCs. Under the timeline, OPCs 1 through 7 (i.e., OPCs 1-4, to be built by ESG, plus OPCs 5-7, which are the first three OPCs to be built by the winner of the Stage 2 competition) are to be built at a rate of one per year, with OPC-1 completing construction in FY2022 and OPC-7 completing construction in FY2028. The remaining 18 OPCs (i.e., OPCs 8 through 25) are to be built at a rate of two per year, with OPC-8 completing construction in FY2029 and OPC-25 completing construction in FY2038.
“Using these dates—which are generally 10 months to about two years later than they would have been under the Coast Guard’s previous (i.e., pre-October 11, 2019) timeline for the OPC program—the Coast Guard’s 14 Reliance-class 210-foot medium-endurance cutters would be replaced when they would be (if still in service) about 54 to 67 years old, and the Coast Guard’s 13 Famous-class 270-foot medium-endurance cutters would be replaced when they would be (if still in service) about 42 to 52 years old.
We know, from recent experience, that our ships may be able to continue functioning effectively, if perhaps not economically or reliably, when over 40 years old, but to base plans on an assumption that replacement can be delayed until they well passed 40 years old is irresponsible–and we are still doing it, by not advocating acceleration of the OPC build rate.
To Lee and Walter who pestered me about this after I initially failed to recognize the significance of the post, Thanks.