“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, Updated August 31, 2021

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 August 17, 2021 revision.

It appears this new edition was prompted by an update to the projected cost for the program. The following is a note attached to Table 1 (page 6), which I have also reproduced below.

Source: U.S. Navy information paper on PSC program, August 18, 2021, received from Navy Office of Legislative Affairs, August 31, 2021, which states that costs shown are from the PSC program 2020 Life Cycle Cost Estimate.

Table 1. Estimated PSC Procurement Costs
(In millions of then-year dollars)

Cost element                             1st PSC       2nd PSC      3rd PSC      Total
Target contract price                    746               544              535          1,825
Program costs (including GFE)   218               175              228             621
Post-delivery costs                        46                 47                49             142
Costs for Navy-Type, Navy-          28                 28                29               85                          Owned (NTNO) equipment

TOTAL                                       1,038               794               841        2,673

There was also this additional note attached to Table 1.

Notes: Target contract price includes detail design, construction, and long lead-time materials (LLTM), and does not reflect potential costs rising to the contract ceiling price. GFE is government-furnished equipment— equipment that the government procures and then provides to the shipbuilder for installation on the ship. NTNO equipment is GFE that the Navy provides—such as combat weapons systems, sensors and communications equipment and supplies—for meeting Coast Guard/Navy naval operational capabilities wartime readiness requirements. (For additional discussion, see Coast Guard Commandant Instruction (COMDTINST) 7100.2G, May 16, 2013, accessed August 31, 2021, at https://media.defense.gov/2017/Mar/15/2001716816/-1/-1/0/ CI_7100_2G.PDF.)

Below is the one page 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 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.

On August 18, 2020, an electrical fire occurred in one of Healy’s main propulsion motors as the ship was 60 miles off Seward, AK, en route to the Arctic. As a result of the fire, the ship’s starboard propulsion motor and shaft became nonoperational. The ship canceled its deployment to the Arctic and returned to its homeport in Seattle for inspection and repairs.

“Arctic Security Cutters: Regionally Named, Globally Deployed” –US Naval Institute Proceedings

HMCS Harry DeWolf in ice (6-8 second exposure)

The August, 2021 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article, that is the first I have seen to discuss the roles that should be expected of the “Arctic Security Cutters,” the Coast Guard’s planned Medium Icebreakers.

The article is available on line. I am not sure if or for how long it will be accessible to non-members.

The thrust of the article is that these ships should not be limited to deployments in the Arctic. That they have important roles in Antarctica and might also be used for domestic icebreaking, particularly in the Great Lakes during unusually severe winters, or if the Great Lakes icebreaker Mackinaw should suffer a casualty. I have suggested something similar before. It is also likely we will have reasons to operate in the Arctic entering from the Atlantic side.

This would require a homeport on the East Coast, perhaps Newport, Boston, or Kittery, ME. It would mean the ship would have to fit through the locks from the St. Lawrence to the Lakes and between the lakes.

To qualify as a “Medium Icebreaker” in the Coast Guard lexicon, the ships would have to have propulsion motors totaling 20,000 HP or more, meaning it will be more powerful than the Canadian DeWolf class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, like the one pictured above.

The author suggests a design evolved from the Wind class Icebreakers. These were very successful ships, but the design is about 80 years old, so we can certainly do better. Even so, the successful use of the Wind class globally shows what can be done with a design smaller than the planned Polar Security Cutters.

That the Coast Guard continues to claim a requirement for a medium icebreaker class rather than simply building more Polar Security Cutters may mean they have recognized a need for a smaller ship, perhaps one that could operate in the Lakes or in shallower water than might be accessible to the PSC.

Questions remain regarding the expectations of the class. How will it be armed, and what sensors will it be equipped with? I would anticipate an outfit similar to that of the Offshore Patrol Cutters, but that is yet to be seen. Should it be capable of operating more than a single helicopter? UASs? USVs? Space and utilities to support containerized systems? Space for a SCIF? I look forward to hearing more about this class.

“Royal Canadian Navy HMCS Harry DeWolf Departs On Her Maiden Operational Deployment” –Naval News

HMCS Harry DeWolf, leaving HMC Dockyard in Halifax and steaming under Angus L. Macdonald
suspension bridge crossing Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia, Canada

Naval News reports the first of Canada’s planned eight Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) (six for their Navy and two for their Coast Guard) departed on its first operational deployment on August 3. The deployment is expected to take four months and will include participation in the annual Nanook Exercise with partners including the USCG, transit of the North West Passage, counter clockwise circumnavigation of North America, and drug operations in the Eastern Pacific transit zone and the Caribbean again in cooperation with the USCG.

USCGC Healy departed for a clockwise circumnavigation of North America on July 10. Presumably these two will arrange to say hello as they pass. Hopefully both crews will be home by Christmas.

“Coast Guard to Build Digital Twin for Polar Star” –National Defense

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, January 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.US Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

National Defense reports,

“Canada-based manufacturer Gastops will collect data on the USCGC Polar Star — a ship built in the 1970s — to create a computer model that can undergo risk assessments at a relatively low cost, said Shaun Horning, president and CEO of the company.”

Results will feed into the planned service life extension intended to allow Polar Star to continue operating, at least until the second Polar Security Cutter is commissioned.

“…replacing the Polar Star’s 30-year-old analog control system with a digital control system will be one aspect of the refurbishment that will need to be tested extensively, Horning noted.”

This is the first time I have heard of the Coast Guard developing a “digital twin,” but this is becoming increasingly common. We can probably expect to hear of this being applied to other Coast Guard systems.

Is this a German Buoy Tender? Icebreaker?

SCHOTTEL Mehrzweckschiffe

It is always interesting to find that others deal with missions you perform in a very different way.

A Marine Link report on the new ship above piqued my curiosity about the parent agency. The German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV),

“… is responsible for ensuring a safe, smoothly flowing and thus economically efficient shipping traffic. The tasks comprise the maintenance, operation as well as the upgrading and construction of the federal waterways including the locks, weirs, bridges and shiplifts.

The responsibility of the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration extends to a total of 23,000 km² of maritime waterways and approximately 7,300 km of inland waterways. In addition, we maintain Vessel Traffic Service Centres at waterways in the coastal area and traffic control centres at inland waterways and we use special vessels for different specialist tasks (buoy laying, emergency missions, direction-finding etc.).

Around the clock, our experts on the water and ashore ensure safe traffic flows.

Our leitmotif is: “Facilitate mobility and protect the environment!”

Sounds like it has some of the Coast Guard’s missions and some Corps of Engineers missions.

The ship itself is described as multi-purpose. Presumably it tends buoys, but it is far bigger and more powerful than any USCG buoy tender, at over 90 meters (290′) in length driven by two steerable propulsion units of 4,500 KW each (over 12,000 HP total). It also has a 2,990 kW (over 4,000 HP) pumpjet.  Our most similar ship seems to be USCGC Mackinaw. (240′ in length and 9,119 shp/6.8 MW).

Mackinaw is of course a domestic icebreaker, in addition to being able to tend buoys.  The new German ship looks like it might also be capable of light icebreaking. (Maybe Tups who comments here frequently would be able to tell us.)

SCHOTTEL RudderPropellers type SRP 750 (each 4,500 kW at 750 rpm) on the left. SCHOTTEL PumpJet type SPJ 520 (2,990 kW) on the right. Image: SCHOTTEL

The German ship also has a gas-tight “citadel” structure with a protective air supply, in order to carry out operations in hazardous atmospheres. In the Coast Guard only the National Security Cutters have this feature.

Canada’s HMCS Harry DeWolf Class AOPS

HMCS Harry DeWolf in ice (6-8 second exposure)

The Harry DeWolf class is an almost unique type of ship. Canada is building eight, six for their Navy and two for their Coast Guard. It is derived from the similar and perhaps slightly more capable Norwegian Coast Guard vessel Svalbard, which has made it to the North Pole and recently undertook a mission the Healy was unable to complete due to a machinery casualty.

They are classified as “Artic and Offshore Patrol Ships” or AOPS, rather than icebreakers, but they are clearly designed to operate in ice and are rated Polar Class 5 (Year-round operation in medium first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions). In many ways they approximate the similarly sized and powered old Wind Class icebreakers. (2012 post on the class with updates in the comments here.)

Below are another photo and a couple of videos, but first the specs.

  • Displacement: 6,615 t (6,511 long tons)
  • Length: 103.6 m (339 ft 11 in)
  • Beam: 19 m (62 ft 4 in)
  • Draft: 6.5 m (21 ft 4 in) (estimate based on that of Svalbard)
  • Propulsion Generators: Four 3.6 MW (4,800 hp)
  • Propulsion Motors: 2 × 4.5 MW (6,000 hp)
  • Speed: 17 knots
  • Endurance: 6,800 nautical miles
  • Crew: 65 (accomodations for 85)
  • Armament: one 25mm Mk38 remote weapon system modified for Arctic Conditions and two .50 cal. machine guns (I do feel this is inadequate.)

HMCS Harry DeWolf looking forward, bow and 25mm Mk38 remote weapon system.


“Coast Guard awards task order for Polar Star service life extension contract” –CG-9

USCGC Polar Star in dry dock, Mare Island Dry Dock LLC, Vallejo, CA. Photo: Official USCG Polar Star Facebook

Below is information from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) about the coming Service Life Extension planned for USCGC Polar Star. The SLEP is to be extended over five years and will be conducted during annual availabilities at a Shipyard in Vallejo, California.

I really would have thought the Coast Guard would have recognized the stress these long periods away from homeport are having on the crew and changed the ship’s homeport to the San Francisco Bay area. Its not too late.


The Coast Guard awarded a task order with a total value of $11.1 million Feb. 19 to execute Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star service life extension project (SLEP) activities under an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract with Mare Island Dry Dock LLC of Vallejo, California. The task order will cover annual maintenance of the cutter and support systems as well as SLEP work items including propulsion hub removal and reinstallations for all three propulsion shafts, boiler biennial maintenance and recapitalization of the starboard disconnect coupling on the main reduction gear. The Polar Star SLEP is part of the Coast Guard’s In-Service Vessel Sustainment program.

The Polar Star SLEP will recapitalize targeted systems such as the propulsion, communication and machinery control systems and conduct major maintenance to extend the cutter’s service life by four years. By replacing obsolete, unsupportable or maintenance-intensive equipment, the Coast Guard will mitigate the risk of lost operational days due to unplanned maintenance or system failures. The SLEP work items and recurring maintenance will take place within a five-year, annually phased production schedule running from 2021 through 2025. Each phase will be coordinated so that operational commitments such as Operation Deep Freeze missions in Antarctica will still be met.

Work under this task order will begin later this year. The Polar Star is completing a historic mission this winter to support national security objectives in the Arctic. The 399-foot cutter, commissioned in 1976 and the nation’s only active heavy icebreaker, supports nine of the 11 Coast Guard statutory missions.

The Coast Guard is also investing in a new fleet of polar security cutters (PSCs) that will sustain the service’s capabilities to meet mission needs in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The first PSC, currently under design, is on contract for delivery in 2024.

For more information: In-Service Vessel Sustainment program page and Polar Security Cutter program page

“U.S. Navy Reports On Arctic And North Atlantic” –Naval News

Official portrait of Admiral Burke as Commander NAVEUR-NAVAF

Naval News reports on a Webinar conducted by Admiral Robert Burke who is Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and Commander of Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples. Previously he served as Vice Chief of Naval Operations. He is a submariner. Sounds like he spent some time under the ice.

There is a lot here about the Arctic. Keep in mind he is talking primarily about the Atlantic side rather than the waters around Alaska. This is primarily about the Russian threat, but there are concerns about China as well.

“Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star conducts research, collects valuable high-latitude data to expand knowledge of remote Arctic region” –D17

JUNEAU, Alaska – U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star transits the Gastineau Channel en route Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 12, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Woods.

Below is a District 17 News release regarding USCGC Polar Star’s unusual Winter Arctic deployment. (I did do some editing to remove repetition in the photo captions.)

united states coast guard


News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska
Contact: 17th District Public Affairs
Office: (907) 463-2065
After Hours: (907) 463-2065
17th District online newsroom

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star conducts research, collects valuable high-latitude data to expand knowledge of remote Arctic region

JUNEAU, Alaska - U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star transits the Gastineau Channel to moor up in Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 12, 2021, as the crew nears the end of their months-long Arctic deployment.  In addition to Polar Star’s strategic national security objectives, the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker sailed north with scientists and researchers aboard to work in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to gather data and lessen the void of information from the region and better understand how to operate year-round in Arctic waters.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow.
JUNEAU, Alaska – U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star transits the Gastineau Channel to moor Juneau, Alaska, Feb. 12, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Trevor Bannerman.

JUNEAU, Alaska — The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) arrived in Juneau, Friday, for a logistics stop as the crew nears the end of their months-long Arctic deployment conducting scientific research and protecting the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the polar region.

In addition to Polar Star’s strategic national security objectives, the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker sailed north with scientists and researchers aboard to work in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to gather data and lessen the void of information from the region and better understand how to operate year-round in Arctic waters.

“The Arctic is cold, dark, and difficult to navigate in the winter,” said Capt. Bill Woityra, the Polar Star’s commanding officer. “Deploying with researchers and scientists aboard has aided in the development, understanding and pursuit of technologies that will mitigate risks and enable future mission performance so that looking forward, the Coast Guard can safely operate continually and effectively in this remote environment.”

Working aboard Polar Star, Shalane Regan, a member of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC), teamed up with Lt. Lydia Ames, a NOAA Corps officer to assist CRREL researchers by deploying buoys onto the ice where they will, over time, collect and transmit information about ice flow to help fill in data gaps for higher latitude oceans.

The Polar Star crew also aided in a research project concerning water flow regimes in the Arctic, specifically the Chukchi Sea, a study developed by Dr. Robert Pickart of WHOI. The data collected during Polar Star’s patrol will be used to develop a more complete understanding of the hydrology of the dynamic region.

To support Dr. Pickart’s research, WHOI provided 120 Expendable Conductivity-Temperature- Depth (XCTD) instruments to measure temperature and salinity. These profiles of the water column will give a better picture of what water and nutrient flow look like in the Arctic winter. Polar Star crew members deployed the probes every 12 hours when above 65 degrees north.

Additionally, Regan, who is a mechanical engineer and researcher with the RDC Surface Branch, worked with other scientists and researchers on board to find ways to operate most effectively in the frigid Arctic environment.

For technology, Regan brought a 3D printer and Remotely Operated Vehicle aboard Polar Star to evaluate how the systems would react to the Arctic climate and ship life.

“I used the 3D printer to complete many small projects that resulted in large lifestyle improvements for the crew,” said Regan. “Most importantly, the knowledge I was able to gather about larger issues the crew faces, for example, visibility issues due to frost accumulation on the bridge windows, I can take home for my team to develop solutions that will create a better-equipped, mission-ready fleet.”

Another big item the RDC team is focusing on is underway connectivity, specifically in the Arctic region.

To better understand high latitude communications, The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) was installed on Polar Star to test its abilities at high latitudes in the harsh Arctic winter conditions. Developed for the U.S. Navy by Lockheed Martin, the MUOS is an ultra-high frequency satellite communications system that provides secure connections for mobile forces.

“Looking towards the future, all signs point toward the Coast Guard deploying more platforms to the Arctic, more often and during different seasons of the year,” said Woityra. “The Coast Guard is robustly proficient at summer-time Arctic operations, while winter presents an entirely new set of challenges. Polar Star’s winter Arctic deployment has served to better understand and prepare for the challenges of operating in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.”

The cutter will be visiting Juneau to close out its operational patrol and will be moored downtown through the weekend. Due to COVID-19, the cutter will not be open to the public for tours. 


Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz visits with Coast Guard crews stationed in New York City. U.S. Coast Guard photo illustration by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

(I meant to cover this earlier, but perhaps still worth a listen)

CIMSEC’s Podcast “SEA Control,” had an interview with the Commandant, Dec. 27, 2020. You can find it here.

At first I thought I had heard it all before, but toward the end, there were some surprises.

He talked about  Arctic, Antarctic, and IUU. He talked about the Arctic Strategic Outlook and the IUU Strategic Outlook.

Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated fishing got a lot of attention. He related that it was gaining visibility and had become a national security issue since overfishing has created food security issues for many countries. He pointed to Coast Guard Cooperation with Ecuador in monitoring a fishing fleet off the Galapagos Islands. Internationally he sees a coordination role for the USCG.

Relative to the Arctic he mentioned the possibility of basing icebreakers in the Atlantic and the need for better communications.

He talked about the Tri-Service Strategy and the Coast Guards roles in it, particularly in less than lethal competition.

More novel topics started about minute 38 beginning with Unmanned systems. He talked about the recent CG experiments with unmanned systems and went on to note that the CG will also regulated Unmanned commercial vessel systems.

About minute 41 he talked about the Coast Guard’s role in countering UAS in the Arabian Gulf. He added that we have a lead role in DHS in counter UAS. “We are in the thick of that”

GA-ASI Concludes Successful Series of MQ-9 Demonstrations in Greece

He said the service was looking at MQ-9 maritime “Guardian” (minute 45)

When ask about reintroducing an ASW capability he said that while the Coast Guard was looking at it, the service would have to be cautious about biting off too much. (My suggestion of how the CG could have an ASW mission with minimal impact on its peacetime structure.)

He talked about balancing local and distant missions and concluded that the CG could do both (47), and that the Coast Guard was becoming truly globally deployable (48).

He noted that the first two FRCs for PATFORSWA would transit to Bahrain in Spring, followed by two more in the Fall, and two more in 2022. (49)

He noted technology is making SAR more efficient. “Hopefully we will put ourselves out of the Search and Rescue business.” 50

He talked about the benefits of “white hull diplomacy.” (52)

Asked about our funding for new missions he said it was sometime necessary to demonstrate the value of the mission first, then seek funding. (55)

He also talked about raising the bar on maintenance.