Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Program: Background and Issues for Congress–23 May, 2018

USCGC Polar Sea

The latest edition of the Congressional Research Service report on Coast Guard Polar Icebreakers, by Ronald O’Rourke, was published on 23 May, 2018. You can see it here. 

I have reproduced the summary immediately below.  

The Coast Guard polar icebreaker program is a program to acquire three new heavy polar icebreakers, to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new medium polar icebreakers. The Coast Guard wants to begin construction of the first new heavy polar icebreaker in FY2019 and have it enter service in 2023. The polar icebreaker program has received about $359.6 million in acquisition funding through FY2018, including $300 million provided through the Navy’s shipbuilding account and $59.6 million provided through the Coast Guard’s acquisition account. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $750 million in Coast Guard acquisition funding for the program.

The acquisition cost of a new heavy polar icebreaker had earlier been estimated informally at roughly $1 billion, but the Coast Guard and Navy now believe that three heavy polar icebreakers could be acquired for a total cost of about $2.1 billion, or an average of about $700 million per ship. The first ship will cost more than the other two because it will incorporate design costs for the class and be at the start of the production learning curve for the class. An April 13, 2018, Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the polar icebreaker program states that the Coast Guard has reduced its estimated cost for the first heavy polar icebreaker to less than $900 million, which would imply an average cost of something more than $600 million each for the second and third icebreakers. When combined with the program’s $359.6 million in prior-year funding, the $750 million requested for FY2019 would fully fund the procurement of the first new heavy polar icebreaker and partially fund the procurement of the second.

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 has used Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Mission Need Statement (MNS) approved in June 2013 states that “current requirements and future projections … indicate the Coast Guard will need to expand its icebreaking capacity, potentially requiring a fleet of up to six icebreakers (3 heavy and 3 medium) to adequately meet mission demands in the high latitudes….”

The current condition of the U.S. polar icebreaker fleet, the DHS MNS, and concerns among some observers about whether the United States is adequately investing in capabilities to carry out its responsibilities and defend its interests in the Arctic, have focused policymaker attention on the question of whether and when to acquire one or more new heavy polar icebreakers as replacements for Polar Star and Polar Sea.

On March 2, 2018, the U.S. Navy, in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard under the polar icebreaker integrated program office, released a request for proposal (RFP) for the advance procurement and detail design for the Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker, with options for detail design and construction for up to three heavy polar icebreakers.

Issues for Congress for FY2019 for the polar icebreaker program include, inter alia, whether to approve, reject, or modify the Coast Guard’s FY2019 acquisition funding request; whether to use a contract with options or a block buy contract to acquire the ships; whether to continue providing at least some of the acquisition funding for the polar icebreaker program through the Navy’s shipbuilding account; and whether to procure heavy and medium polar icebreakers to a common basic design.

Coast Guard to Recieve Two Satellites, Launch Expected This Year

Cube shaped satellite, 100mm (3.9″) on a side. This photo shows the Norwegian student satellite NCUBE2 ready for shipment to the Netherlands for integration with the ESA student satellite SSETI-Express, photographer, Bjørn Pedersen, NTNU.

National Defense is reporting that the Air Force is building two “Polar Scout” SAR satellites for the Coast Guard, expected to be launched this year.

An earlier post referenced a Acquisitions Directorate report on this R&D Center project.

These satellites, or “cubesats,” are capable of detecting transmissions from emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), which are carried on board vessels to broadcast their position if in distress. The Coast Guard will deploy the cubesats in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s Polar Scout program, the Air Force Operationally Responsive Space Office, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These two satellites will only provide intermittent coverage of EPIRB signals from the polar regions so more satellites may follow.

This appears to be first fruit of a growing cooperation between the Coast Guard’s R&D Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory which has been formalized by a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the heads of the two organization on April 12, 2018.

 

RFP for Heavy Polar Icebreaker Issued

USCGC Polar Sea

The Request for Proposal for detailed design and construction of new Heavy Polar Icebreaker(s) (HPIB) has been issued. You can see it here.  I have only taken a quick look at the first few pages of the 197 page document, but it does include, not just a request for costs to construct one icebreaker, but also prices for numbers two and three as well.

This paragraph is worth noting.

To enable ongoing program planning and responses to Congressional inquiries, the Coast Guard and Navy HPIB IPO desire input from prime offerors related to the benefits of Congressional authorization of Block Buy and/or Economic Order Quantity.  Submission of this information is voluntary and will not be used to evaluate any proposal submitted by the offeror in response to this RFP.  Email submissions providing dollarized estimated savings per ship for authorization provided for 1) all three cutters and 2) only the second and third cutters should be emailed to the Bidders Question contacts identified below with the email title “HPIB Block Buy/EOQ Input – Contractor Name.”  Submissions within 60 days of RFP release are preferred.

Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention. 

Request for Proposal for Up to Three Icebreakers

USCGC Polar Star will be 47 years old by the time we see a replacement. USCGC photo.

The Navy has issued a Request for Proposal with options for up to three heavy polar icebreakers. Its not a block buy, but it is a bit of a surprise. I have copied and pasted the brief summary below. (Thanks to Tups for bringing this to my attention.)

Solicitation Number:
N00024-18-R-2210
Notice Type:
Presolicitation
Synopsis:
Added: Feb 14, 2018 2:17 pm

The Naval Sea Systems Command plans to issue an unrestricted solicitation for the procurement of the Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) of up to three (3) Heavy Polar Icebreakers (HPIB) under a Fixed Price Incentive Firm (FPIF) Contract. This contract will award Advance Procurement and Detail Design, and include option line items to procure three (3) Heavy Polar Icebreakers. The contract will also include options for Provisioned Items orders to outfit the ships and purchase spares, repair parts, and other special equipment; Engineering and Industrial Services in support of Government systems installation and post-delivery activities; Special Studies for Government-directed engineering tasks; and Crew Familiarization. The HPIB will be procured utilizing full and open competition in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 15, Contracting by Negotiation. Award is anticipated to be made to a single Offeror who offers the Best Value to the Government as determined by the tradeoff process as defined in Sections L and M of the Solicitation. The solicitation is anticipated to be posted within 30 days, this synopsis is provided as an advance notice.

This synopsis and any updates and/or changes for this planned procurement, the posting of the RFP, and any future Amendments to the RFP, will appear at the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website located at http://www.fbo.gov. Inquires/questions concerning this announcement may be e-mailed to the Naval Sea Systems Command, Shipbuilding Contracts Division representatives listed below.

The points of contact for this posting are Ms. Melissa Donnelly, Contract Specialist, e-mail Melissa.Donnelly@navy.mil AND Mr. James Platner, Contracting Officer, e mail, James.Platner@navy.mil. Please send inquiries via e-mail to both points of contact. No telephone inquiries will be accepted and requests for solicitation packages will not be honored, as a solicitation is not prepared at this time. This notice does not constitute an Invitation for Bid or Request for Proposal and is not to be construed as a commitment by the Government.

The contracting agency is: Naval Sea Systems Command, 1333 Isaac Hull Ave SE, Washington Navy Yard, DC. 20379-2020

Contracting Office Address:
SEA 02
1333 Isaac Hull Avenue SE
Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia 20376
United States
Primary Point of Contact.:
James E. Platner,
Contracting Officer
Secondary Point of Contact:
Melissa Donnelly,
Contract Specialist

Despite flooding, engine failure, U.S. icebreaker completes Antarctica operation–News Release

The following is a news release quoted in full. Frankly I think it is a good thing that we are reporting the problems rather than just happy news. The public and our law makers in particular need to understand that we are putting people, and the mission, in danger because we are making do with overage systems that should have been replaced long ago. Incidentally, USAP is apparently U.S. Antarctic Program.

This additional note was attached to the release, “Editor’s Note: All dates and times are in New Zealand Daylight Time, which is 21 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time and 24 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Video of the Cutter Polar Star’s operations are available by clicking the thumbnails above or clicking here and here. Photos from the cutter’s operations by clicking the thumbnails above or clicking here.

MCMURDO STATION, Antarctica – The crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star completed their mission Tuesday in support of National Science Foundation (NSF) after cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the continent. 

The Polar Star sailed from Seattle to assist in the annual delivery of operating supplies and fuel for NSF research stations in Antarctica during Operation Deep Freeze by carving a navigable path through seasonal and multi-year ice sometimes as much as 10-feet thick. Operation Deep Freeze is the logistical support provided by the U.S. Armed Forces to the U.S. Antarctic Program.  

“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects it makes the hard work worth it.”

 On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.  

Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programing issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine. 

“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.” 

The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.

The Polar Star departed their homeport in Seattle Nov. 30, 2017, and are expected to return to the U.S. in March 2018. The 399-foot Polar Star is the only operational heavy icebreaker in the U.S. fleet. The cutter, which was built more than 40 years ago, has a crew of nearly 150 people. It weighs (displaces–Chuck) 13,500 tons and uses 75,000 horsepower to break ice up to 21 feet thick. 

The U.S. military is uniquely equipped to assist the National Science Foundation in accomplishing its USAP mission. This includes the coordination of strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical intra-theater airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, search and rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling, and transportation requirements supporting the NSF, the lead agency for the USAP.

Horrors, Its the Icebreaker Gap (cringe)

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika in the Kara Sea. RIA Novosti archive, image #186141

We have had the “Bomber Gap”, the “Missile Gap”, and the “Cruiser Gap.” None of which were ever real, but they were effective in putting more money into a program.

Now we have the “Icebreaker Gap” which is real, but largely irrelevant. Hopefully it will get money for the Coast Guard.

It is certainly true that the Russians have far more Icebreakers than the US, but shouldn’t it enough that we really need these ships, regardless of what the Russians may be doing?

I hate to see fear replacing logic, but perhaps the ends justify the means. Is there a military dimension to the Russia/US icebreaker fleet comparison? Certainly neither country is going to invade the other over the poles. We are not likely to see fleets of icebreakers shooting at each other, the Russians already have plenty of missile carrying aircraft and submarines in the Arctic. But we may need to place sensors, bases, or other assets in high latitudes even when others don’t like it. That may be impossible without icebreakers. The US has fewer icebreakers than any other type of critically important vessel. We have far more carriers, SSBNs, destroyers, amphibious warfare ships, underway replenishment ships. The loss of any one of them would not mean the end of a capability. The loss of even one of our icebreakers could.

That means we need more icebreakers, and they need to have the ability to defend themselves if necessary.