“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, Updated August 30, 2022

USCG Polar Security Cutter [Image courtesy Halter Marine / Technology Associates, Inc.]

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 Dec. 7, 2021 revision.

The one-page summary is reproduced below, but first I will point out what appears to have changed since the Dec. 7, 2021 edition.

On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a $552.7 million fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine Inc. for the second PSC. (Summary and p.9)

On February 24, 2022, the Coast Guard announced that the first PSC will be named Polar Sentinel, and that the Coast Guard has candidate names in mind for the second and third…PSCs. (p.5)

The new icebreaker was supposed to have been based on a proven “parent” design. The nominal parent for the chosen design was the Polarstern II, but in fact it was a design that had never been tested. There is a footnote (p.8) that explains that this design, on which the Polar Security Cutter was supposedly based, may be built after all. This may mean that the Polar Security Cutter will become the parent design for its own parent design.

On February 14, 2020, the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, announced that “the [German] Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) today cancelled the Europe-wide call for tenders for the procurement of a new polar research vessel, Polarstern II, for legal reasons.” (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, “Call for Fender Procedure for the Construction of a Successor to the Icebreaker Polarstern Has Been Cancelled.,” February 14, 2020.) On June 3, 2022, however, AWI stated that “Now that the federal budget for 2022 was approved by the German Bundestag on 3 June 2022, the construction procurement procedure for Polarstern II can begin. The AWI plans to promptly launch the Europe-wide procurement procedure so that the competitive bidding can start promptly as the first step. The handover of the completed ship is slated for 2027.” (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, “Polarstern II: German Bundestag Greenlights the Construction of New Icebreaker,” June 3, 2022. See also Eurasia Review, “Polarstern II: German Bundestag Green-  Lights Construction Of New Icebreaker,” Eurasia Review, June 4, 2022.; Michael Wenger, “Germany’s ‘Pola[r]stern II’ Becomes Reality,” Polar Journal, June 6, 2022.)

It was noted that the PSC will recieve the 30mm Mk38 Mod4. (p.9)

Icebreaking Anchor Handling Vessel Aiviq

Purchase of an existing Icebreaker

“On May 3, 2022, the Coast Guard released a Request for Information (RFI) regarding commercially available polar icebreakers, with responses due by June 10, 2022.” (p.13)

“An April 28, 2022, press report states that the commercial ship that would be “the most likely” candidate to be purchased under the Coast Guard’s proposal is the Aiviq…” (p.14)

“At a May 12, 2022, hearing on the Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget, Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz testified that We can get a commercially available breaker fairly quick, bridge that [polar icebreaking] gap from a capacity standpoint. We had—the conversation [about how to bridge the gap] started as a lease conversation [i.e., a conversation about leasing an existing ship]. I—we—we shaped it [i.e., the conversation] to say, well, if we’re going to lease something, we could actually do this much cheaper, onboard it [i.e., purchase the ship rather than lease it], turning it into a Coast Guard ship. So, 125 [million dollars] to procure the vessel, hopefully, that’s what we’re thinking, [and] 25 million [addition dollars] for—for crewing. There’s probably a bill—125, 250 million [additional million dollars] to really outfit it over some outyear budget cycles [i.e., further modify and/or equip the ship over a period of some additional years]. That would be [i.e., doing that would produce] a medium icebreaker [that would be] in the Coast Guard inventory. There’s one domestically available ship that’s only 10 years old with very little use on it. We could—we could use that ship to shape our thinking about what the Arctic security requirements could look like.” (p.14/15)

Delayed Delivery (Original Expected Delivery was March 2024):

Another potential issue for Congress concerns the delay in the delivery date of the first PSC. The Coast Guard had earlier said the ship would be delivered in the first half of 2024. As noted earlier, the Coast Guard now expects it to be delivered in the spring of 2025.

Status of FY2023 Budget: 

This is the current state of the FY2023 budget according to the CRS report:

  • Polar Security Cutter (PSC)            Request $167.2M; HAC 257.2; SAC 257.2
  • Commercially Available Icebreaker Request $125.0M; HAC 125.0; SAC 125.0
  • Great Lakes Icebreaker                  Request 0;              HAC 0;        SAC 0

HAC=House Appropriations Committee/SAC=Senate Appropriations Committee

The “increase of $90,000,000 above the request for the remaining cost of long lead
time materials and the start of construction of a third PSC.” (Support from both HAC and SAC)

(Note, there was $350M included in the FY2022 budget for a Great Lakes Icebreaker.)

Regarding the procurement of a commercially available icebreaker, the House Appropriations committee wants the Coast Guard to also consider icebreakers that were not made in the US. (Note this has not yet made it into law.)

“The Committee notes that both 14 U.S.C. 1151 and 10 U.S.C. 8679 include waiver provisions for vessels not constructed in the United States. In order to conduct a full and open competition, the Coast Guard shall expand its source selection criteria to include commercially available polar icebreaking vessels that may require such a waiver. The Coast Guard is directed to brief the Committee not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act on an updated procurement plan.


Summary

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 the spring of 2025.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $167.2 million in continued procurement funding for the PSC program, which would be used for, among other things, program management and production activities associated with the PSC program’s Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) contract, long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third PSC, and government-furnished equipment (GFE), logistics, and cyber-security planning costs.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget also requests $125.0 million in procurement funding for the purchase of an existing commercially available polar icebreaker that would be used to augment the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking capacity until the new PSCs enter service. Under the Coast Guard’s proposal, the Coast Guard would conduct a full and open competition for the purchase, the commercially available icebreaker that the Coast Guard selects for acquisition would be modified for Coast Guard operations following its acquisition, and the ship would enter service 18 to 24 months after being acquired.

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). 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 Halter Marine Inc. (formerly VT  Halter Marine) of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard owned by Singapore Technologies (ST)  Engineering. Halter Marine was the leader of one of three industry teams that competed for the DD&C contract. On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a $552.7 million fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine Inc. for the second PSC.

The DD&C contract includes options for building the second and third PSCs. If both of 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 portion of the PSCs’ total procurement cost; they do not include the cost of government-furnished equipment (or GFE, meaning 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.

5 thoughts on ““Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, Updated August 30, 2022

  1. I’m more concerned with the fact that Caterpillar will stop making medium-speed diesel gensets after the 3rd PSC, though they will continue to support them. So it appears that should there be a PSC 4-6 or even a series of ASCs, they will use a different genset (I guess MAN, Fairbanks-Morse, Cummins, or MTU).

    • Not to mention Wärtsilä, which is by far the most common engine manufacturer for icebreaking ships built worldwide and whose engines can ingest cold ambient air without preheating.

  2. While the RFI for a commercial icebreaker strongly implied that the only qualified candidate would be Aiviq, as of today Edison Chouest’s icebreaking AHTS is still moored in Tasmania following last winter’s Antarctic shipping season. Now that Australia’s new Antarctic research and supply ship, RSV Nuyina, is sidelined due to propulsion issues and is currently docked in Singapore, Aiviq may have to remain in the southern hemisphere for the upcoming winter as well.

    At the same time, another icebreaker has just transited the Panama Canal and is currently sailing across the Caribbean towards New York. Formerly in service in the Sakhalin oil fields, CG Rieber’s 2006-built icebreaker Polar Pevek (now named Polar Circle) is currently available for charter following the company’s exit from the Russian market due to the war. It’s a bit smaller than Aiviq but as a modern Azipod-equipped vessel it could be a good platform for training future PSC crews…

    https://www.gcrieber-shipping.com/our-business/our-fleet/ice-support-fleet/polar-pevek/

    Interestingly, the Canadian shipbuilder Davie Shipbuilding known for converting a commercial container ship to an interim support ship for the RCN and three Norwegian icebreakers for the CCG recently offered a “reconfiguration of an existing, ultra-modern PC4 icebreaker” as an interim science vessel for Canada. While they did not identify Polar Pevek in their tweet that was later deleted, I recognized the hull form from the side profile.

    https://www.shmexpert.com/post/most-complicated-hull-form-i-ever-made

    Let’s keep an eye on the little Norwegian-built vessel that is, to my knowledge, the only icebreaker in the world available for charter.

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