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.”

“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.

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.

“Coast Guard Needs Congress for Budget Bailout” –National Defense

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

National Defense reports that the Administration’s 2020 budget request makes deep cuts in the Coast Guard budget compared to recent years, but that there is a good chance Congress will make up at least some of the difference.

You can see a brief summary of the budget submission here.

We have Congress plus up the Coast Guard’s budget in the past, particularly in terms of increasing numbers of Webber class cutters funded. The 2020 budget includes only two. This is likely to be increased to four or even six.

Congress has also added three Bertholf class NSC to the program of record and there have been suggestions that a 12th is needed to fully replace the 378 foot WHECs. If we are to get a 12th NSC, it almost has to happen in FY2020 before we OPC construction goes to two per year and before we need to fund Polar Security Cutters 2-6.

The Commandant has been talking about maintenance backlogs recently. Unfortunately maintenance does not have the highly visible job creation impact of new construction, although the dollar for dollar impact may be as great. It seldom makes the evening news, so this may be a harder sell.

 

“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated May 9, 2019”

The Congressional Research Service has updated their report on the Polar Security Cutter Program. This is the first revision since the award of the contract, so there are significant changes, including a section on the selected design found on pages 5-9.

“VT Halter releases more details of winning Polar Security Cutter design” –Marine Log

Marine Log provides some additional details on the specifications for the Polar Security Cutter (Heavy Polar Icebreaker) construction project, recently contracted to VT Halter.

Projected delivery dates, 2024, 2025, 2027.

  • Displacement, Full Load: 33,000 tons (later corrected to 22,900 tons–Chuck)
  • Length: 460 ft (140 meters)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 meters)
  • HP: 45,200
  • Accommodations: 186
  • Endurance: 90 days

For comparison, USCGC Polar Star is:

  • Displacement: 13,623 long tons (13,842 t) (full)
  • Length: 399 ft (122 m)
  • Beam: 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m)
  • HP: (3 × 25,000 hp (19,000 kW))
  • Accommodations: 187

Thanks to Secundius for bringing this to my attention