“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, December 7, 2021


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 October 19, 2021 revision.

The one-page summary, which has not changed, is reproduced below, but first I will point out what appears to have changed since the October 19 edition.

From page 13 re program delays (This is based on the report discussed here)

An October 19, 2021, press report stated

Delivery of the first new Coast Guard heavy polar icebreaker has slipped a year to 2025 due to the fact that it’s been 45 years since the last heavy icebreaker was built in the U.S. and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, Adm. Karl Schultz, the service’s commandant, said on Tuesday [October 19].

The first Polar Security Cutter (PSC) is expected to be delivered in the third quarter of fiscal year 2025, Schultz told a Senate Commerce Committee panel that oversees the Coast Guard. The PSC was originally expected to be delivered in March of 2024, which is in the second quarter of FY ’24. That timeline was later revised to May 2024, which is the third quarter….

Schultz said that COVID “complications” have hampered “international collaboration” on PSC ship construction, noting that the program is ambitious and “on a compressed timeline.”

A Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily in an email reply to questions that infection rates and travel restrictions due to COVID “significantly affected Halter Marine’s ship design efforts and subcontractor integration, resulting in unavoidable delays. COVID-19 was particularly impactful to HMI’s efforts to hire and maintain staffing levels across multiple occupation categories (labor, management, and engineering) and hindered collaboration with its ship design subcontractors, many of whom are based internationally and were significantly affected by early COVID-19 restrictions.”

The spokesman added that “The Coast Guard and Navy Integrated Program Office recently negotiated a consolidated contract action that definitizes COVID-19 delays and rebaselines the delivery schedule by 12 months.” Still, the program remains on track to begin operations in 2027 with Operation Deep Freeze, he said.

From pages 29 and 30, re a Great Lakes Icebreaker and a Forth PSC

Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376)
Section 110023 of H.R. 5376 as passed by the House on November 19, 2021, states

In addition to amounts otherwise available, there is appropriated for fiscal year 2022, out of funds in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, $350,000,000, to remain available until September, 30, 2031, to the Coast Guard, for acquisition, design, and construction of a Great Lakes heavy icebreaker, as authorized under section 8107 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (P.L. 116-283).50 The Coast Guard shall return to the Treasury any funds appropriated under this section that have not been expended by September 30, 2031.

Section 10024 of H.R. 5376 as passed by the House states

In addition to amounts otherwise available, there is appropriated for fiscal year 2022, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, $788,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2031, to the Coast Guard, for the acquisition of the fourth heavy Polar Security Cutter, including scientific laboratory and berthing facilities, to expand access for scientists to the polar regions, to improve climate and weather research, for other polar missions, and for other purposes, as authorized under section 561 of title 14, United States Code.

Summary (Note no change from previous edition-Chuck)

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 PSC program has received a total of $1,754.6 million (i.e., about $1.8 billion) in procurement funding through FY2021, including $300 million that was provided through the Navy’s shipbuilding account in FY2017 and FY2018. With the funding the program has received through FY2021, the first two PSCs are now fully funded.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $170.0 million in procurement funding for the PSC program, which would be used for, among other things, procuring long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third PSC.

The Navy and Coast Guard in 2020 estimated the total procurement costs of the 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). Within those figures, the shipbuilder’s portion of the total procurement cost is $746 million for the first ship, $544 million for the second ship, and $535 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated shipbuilder’s cost of $1,825 million (i.e., about $1.8 billion).

On April 23, 2019, the Coast Guard-Navy Integrated Program Office for the PSC program awarded a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction (DD&C) of the first PSC to VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard owned by Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. VT Halter was the leader of one of three industry teams that competed for the DD&C contract. The first PSC is scheduled to begin construction in 2021 and be delivered in 2024, though the DD&C contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery.

The DD&C contract includes options for building the second and third PSCs. If these options are exercised, the total value of the contract would increase to $1,942.8 million (i.e., about $1.9 billion). The figures of $745.9 million and $1,942.8 million cover only the shipbuilder’s costs; they do not include the cost of government-furnished equipment (GFE), which is equipment for the ships that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ship, post-delivery costs, costs for Navy-specific equipment, or government program-management costs.

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

8 thoughts on ““Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, December 7, 2021

  1. Russia has nearly 50 of the most modern fleet on the world. China I’m sure has a plethora that we don’t know about. The Liberty ships were built every 42 days. Over 2,000 of them. I understand there is a huge difference in a Ice Breaker and a Liberty, but again the CG seems to be a poor man’s service.

    • Much of the Russian fleet is well past its prime and some large icebreakers previously deployed in the Arctic have been demoted to the Baltic Sea due to reduced operational capability. Few weeks ago, a number of merchant ships had to wait for assistance for weeks on the Northern Sea Route because only one nuclear-powered icebreaker could be deployed to the eastern sector.

      Of course on the other side of the spectrum the new nuclear-powered flagship Arktika has just returned to service after propulsion motor overhaul and its sister ship Sibir is on final pre-commissioning sea trials in the Gulf of Finland. However, these ships and their three sister ships under construction are well behind schedule. I’m also not sure if the latest large non-nuclear icebreaker, Viktor Chernomyrdin, can be called a success either: despite being a polar icebreaker by design, the vessel has been deployed to the Gulf of Finland where the ice conditions are somewhat different with heavy ridging and brash ice. The rebuilding of the medium icebreaker fleet continues but there have been challenges in finding shipyards to build the ships at the maximum price set by the Russian operators.

      As for China, I seriously doubt there are any “hidden” icebreakers. PLAN has a few medium-sized ice-capable ships we know very little about beyond a some photographs and principal dimensions, and PRIC (Polar Research Institute of China) has two research vessels of which only Xue Long 2 can be referred to as an icebreaker (although it is not officially classified as one). The nuclear-powered icebreaker project has been ongoing for some years now and it will be interesting to see what comes out of it. As China does not have domestic need for such vessels, it will have a significant geopolitical impact.

      Building modern icebreakers takes time. I’ve sometimes toyed with an idea of an accelerated icebreaker design and construction schedule based on the experience from the Polar Class 3 module carriers that were designed (in Finland) and built (in China) within 20 months. However, I also know the prerequisites for such project and I don’t think it could be achievable for a government service in peacetime.

  2. VT Halter is behind on shipyard construction necessary to build the darn things. Also, they’re reliant on design input from their Indian design shop, which is proving difficult. While I once had hope for up to 6 of the PSC, I think that getting started on the Arctic Security Cutter (ASC) designed by Vard Canada or Fincantieri and built at another yard (Philly? NASSCO? Marinette?) may make more sense considering the delays thus far.

    • I wonder if they’ll do a similar pre-design round with multiple bidders for the ASC as with the PSC to fine-tune the requirements…

  3. Pingback: “Lack of Coast Guard Icebreakers Disrupts Shipping on Great Lakes, Says Task Force” –gCaptain | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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