“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” Updated 12 March, 2020, CRS

The Congressional Research Service has once again updated their report on the Polar Security Cutter. You can see the whole report here. I have reproduced the one page summary below. The entire report is a 63 page pdf. 

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 medium polar icebreakers. The PSC program has received a total of $1,169.6 million (i.e., about $1.2 billion) in procurement funding through FY2020, including $135 million in FY2020, which was $100 million more than the $35 million that the Coast Guard had requested for FY2020. With the funding it has received through FY2020, the first PSC is now fully funded and the second PSC has received initial funding.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $555 million in procurement funding for the PSC program. It also proposes a rescission of $70 million in FY2020 funding that Congress had provided for the procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th National Security Cutter (NSC), with the intent of reprogramming that funding to the PSC program. The Coast Guard states that its proposed FY2021 budget, if approved by Congress, would fully fund the second PSC.

The Coast Guard estimates the total procurement costs of the three PSCs as $1,039 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) for the first ship, $792 million for the second ship, and $788 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated cost of $2,619 million (i.e., about $2.6 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, or government program-management costs. When GFE and government programmanagement costs are included, the total estimated procurement cost of the first PSC is between $925 million and $940 million, and the total estimated procurement cost of the three-ship PSC program is about $2.95 billion.

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.

Polar Sea Sails for McMurdo, and We Need Six PSC

Below is quoted a press release about the departure of the Polar Star for the annual McMurdo resupply mission.

I may be reading too much into this, but the paragraph regarding the Polar Security Cutter program seems to represent a change from previous pronouncements.

The Coast Guard … is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

The same message is now on the Acquisitions Directorate Polar Security Cutter page, “The Coast Guard needs six new PSCs to ensure national year-round access to the polar regions and to provide self-rescue capability.”

The High Latitude study that the number six was based upon, said the Coast Guard needed three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers. The heavy icebreaker became the Polar Security Program. Are medium icebreakers also being called Polar Security Cutters? It does not seem so. There is no mention of this second type.

There is logic to simply building only a single class. It would save the development costs of a new, second class. The cost of the PSC is less than originally estimated and with the cost potentially dropping as the shipyard continues the learning curve with each new ship, building three less capable ship may not save much. Having instead six of the more capable ships would increase flexibility, and commonality pays dividends in logistics and training. Six more capable ship could allow a Northern Hemisphere winter deployment of two ships to McMurdo, while a second pair of ships could alternate, one on patrol in the Arctic, and the other on standby in Seattle, while a third pair are in the yard for maintenance to be ready for deployment during summer months.

Of course for any mission requiring an icebreaker, a heavy icebreaker Is more likely to get there quicker and be capable of doing more than a smaller ship when it gets there.

The Press Release

united states coast guard

News Release

Nov. 26, 2019
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3319
After Hours: (510) 333-6297
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Nation’s only heavy icebreaker departs for Antarctic military operation

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020
USCGC Polar Star crew departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020 https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5941169/uscgc-polar-star-crew-departs-seattle-operation-deep-freeze-2020 USCGC Polar Star crew departs Seattle for Operation Deep Freeze 2020

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

SEATTLE — The crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) departed Tuesday commencing their annual deployment to Antarctica where the cutter and crew will support Operation Deep Freeze 2020, a joint military service mission to resupply U.S. interests in Antarctica.

“We set out today on an important mission, saying goodbye to the friends and families who have supported us and our ship for the past seven-months since we returned from Operation Deep Freeze 2019,” said Capt. Gregory Stanclik, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “We are looking forward to this year’s mission to McMurdo Station with a ship that is running the best it has since reactivation. This mission is critical to the United States and our continued strategic presence on the Antarctic Continent and I have the best crew possible to ensure we safely accomplish our goal.”

Homeported in Seattle, the 43-year-old Coast Guard cutter is the United States’ last remaining operational heavy icebreaker. This is the cutter’s seventh deployment in as many years to directly support the resupply of McMurdo Station – the United States’ main logistics hub in Antarctica.

Each year, the crew aboard the 399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar Star create a navigable path through seasonal and multi-year ice, sometimes as much as 21-feet thick, to allow a resupply vessel to reach McMurdo Station. The supply delivery allows Antarctic stations to stay operational year-round, including during the dark and tumultuous winter.

Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is showing its age. Reserved for Operation Deep Freeze each year, the Polar Star spends the winter breaking ice near Antarctica, and when the mission is complete, the cutter returns to dry dock in order to complete critical maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next Operation Deep Freeze mission.

The Coast Guard has been the sole provider of the nation’s polar icebreaking capability since 1965, and is seeking to increase its icebreaking fleet with six new polar security cutters in order to ensure continued national presence and access to the Polar Regions.

In the fiscal year 2019 budget, Congress appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new polar security cutter this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second.

The Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, working through an integrated program office, awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., a fixed price incentive contract in April for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s lead polar security cutter, including options for the construction of two additional PSCs.

“The Coast Guard greatly appreciates the strong support from both the Administration and Congress for funding the polar security cutter program,” said Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard. “These new cutters are absolutely vital to achieving our national strategic objectives in the Polar Regions – presence equals influence, and we must be present to meet the Nation’s national security and economic needs there in the future.”

Canada’s New Icebreaker, John G. Diefenbaker

Canadian Polar Icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker

Some information from Canadian ship design agency VARD, on the planned Canadian polar icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker. The project is long delayed and construction has not yet begun.

There is much more detail in the VARD brochure and Wikipedia entry linked above, but a few significant data points.

  • Displacement, full load: 23,500 tons
  • Length overall: 150.1 m 492’-6”
  • Length waterline: 137.6 m 451’-5”
  • Breadth moulded 28.0 m 91’-10”
  • Design draft: 10.5 m 34’-6”
  • Generators: 39,600 kW 53,100 hp
  • Propulsion: two 11 MW (14,751 hp) wing shafts and a 12 MW (16,092 hp) azimuth thruster. total 34 MW (45,595 hp),
  • Speed: 18 knots ice free, 3.0 kn, 2.5m ice 
  • Range:  26,000 NM @ 12 kn ice free 
  • 1,800 NM @ 3.0 kn 2.2 m of ice
  • 60 core crew + 40 program personnel
  • Endurance  270 days

For comparison these are figures for the planned Polar Security Cutter. Projected delivery dates, 2024, 2025, 2027.

  • Displacement, Full Load: 22,900 tons
  • Length: 460 ft (140 meters)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 meters)
  • HP: 45,200
  • Accommodations: 186
  • Endurance: 90 days

In many ways the designs are remarkably close. Looks like the Canadian breaker will be slightly larger than the PSC, but will have a much smaller crew.

Presumably there will be no provision for armament since the Canadian Coast Guard does not arm its vessels.

The Diefenbaker’s very long endurance is a bit of a surprise, in view of Canada’s lack of a requirement to go to Antarctica, a feature that has driven the design of the PSC.

Propulsion power is almost identical, a bit over 45,000 HP, and both designs include three propellers, but the way it is done is different. While the PSC has a conventional shaft on the centerline and rotatable drive units to port and starboard, the Canadian design has a single rotating drive unit on the centerline and conventional shaft driven props port and starboard. This may provide the PSC with a redundancy advantage in that it might allow steerage even if one unit is damaged. On the other hand the single Canadian unit may be less likely to be damaged because of its position.

“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” CRS, an even newer version

I am a bit embarrassed to admit, I have been behind on this subject. My post from Saturday, linked the 19 September version of the report, but there was already a more recent version, dated 4 October. You can see it here

The significant change in this edition is the addition of the new section at the top of page 15. (This new section reflects the questions Tups has raised here earlier.) 

“Parent Design and PSC Design

“One potential aspect of the issue of technical, schedule, and cost risk in the PSC program relates to the parent design for the PSC design. As mentioned earlier, a key aim in using the parent design approach is to reduce cost, schedule, and technical risk in the PSC program. As also mentioned earlier, VT Halter states that its winning design for the PSC “is an evolution from the mature ‘Polar Stern II’ [German icebreaker] currently in design and construction; the team has worked rigorously to demonstrate its maturity and reliability.” As also mentioned earlier, VT Halter and ship designer Technology Associates, Inc. reportedly made “a lot of modifications” and went through six design spirals to refine the PSC’s design. Potential oversight questions for Congress include the following:

  • “To what degree was Polarstern II’s design a completed and proven design at the time it was used as the parent design for developing the PSC design? How much of Polarstern II’s detail design and construction plan was completed at that time? When did Polarstern II begin construction, and when is the ship scheduled to complete construction and undergo sea trials to confirm the ship’s design and operational characteristics?
  • “How closely related is the PSC’s design to Polarstern II’s design? How many changes were made to Polarstern II’s design to develop the PSC design? What were these changes, and what technical, schedule, and cost risks, if any, might arise from them?”

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

19 September, the Congressional Research Service has issued an update to its “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” replacing an edition published on eight days earlier. You can see the latest version here. The only significant changes I see in the latest edition is reflected in table C-1 to include future year PSC funding though FY2024 and table C-2 that provides projected Procurement, Construction and Improvements (PC&I) funding through FY2024. Notably these PC&I projections are well below the $2B annually that the Coast Guard has been saying they need.

Projected PC&I totals by FY are:

  • 2020: $1,234.7M
  • 2021: $1,679.8M
  • 2022: $1,555.5M
  • 2023: $1,698.5M
  • 2024: $1,737.0M

You can track the changes made between consecutive editions here.

CRS: “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress”/ Plus a Note on Great Lakes Icebreaker Procurement

The Congressional Research Service his issued a revised “Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” updated 9 August 2019.

It includes a short appendix (Appendix E, pp 63-66) on the issue of a potential new Great Lakes icebreaker. The final paragraph of that appendix states:

“An examination of procurement costs for Mackinaw, the National Science Foundation’s ice-capable research ship Sikuliaq, new oceanographic research ships being procured for NOAA, and OPCs suggests that a new Mackinaw-sized heavy Great Lakes icebreaker built in a U.S. shipyard might have a design and construction cost between $175 million and $300 million, depending on its exact capabilities and the acquisition strategy employed. The design portion of the ship’s cost might be reduced if Mackinaw’s design or the design of some other existing icebreaker were to be used as the parent design. Depending on the capabilities and other work load of the shipyard selected to build the ship, the construction time for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker might be less than that of a new heavy polar icebreaker.”

If you would like a quick, only slightly out of date (May 2017), summary of world icebreaker fleets, take a look at Fig. B-1, page 40.

Seattle to be Homeport for Polar Security Cutter

Not surprisingly the Coast Guard has announced that Seattle is the planned homeport for the new Polar Security Cutter (heavy polar icebreaker). Below is the press release. 

U.S. Coast Guard announces homeport of newest Polar Security Cutter

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Coast Guard today announced that Seattle, Wash. will be the home of the service’s new Polar Security Cutters.

“I am pleased to announce that Seattle, Washington will be the home of the Coast Guard’s new Polar Security Cutters,” said Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.  “The Pacific Northwest has been the home of our icebreaking fleet since 1976, and I am confident that the Seattle area will continue to provide the support we need to carry out our critical operations in the polar regions.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access in the polar regions.  The addition of the Polar Security Cutters in Seattle will support the United States’ ability to conduct national missions, respond to critical events, and project American presence in the high latitudes.

The Coast Guard conducted a detailed analysis to identify locations that could accommodate the Polar Security Cutter. Based on operational and logistical needs, Seattle was determined to be the appropriate homeport for the first three Polar Security Cutters.

In April 2019, VT Halter Marine, Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, was awarded a contract for the detail design and construction of the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter class.