The White House on Monday sent Congress a funding request that includes construction of a second new heavy polar icebreaker and two additional medium endurance cutters but would stretch out two other key Coast Guard shipbuilding programs, the National Security and Fast Response Cutters.
The request for the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2021 acquisition budget would be just over $1.6 billion, 7 percent less than Congress provided in FY ’20 and about $400 million below the minimum threshold the service believes it needs to maintain an appropriate pace for its recapitalization program.
The request includes $555 million toward construction of a second Polar Security Cutter (PSC) after Congress provided long-lead material funding for the ship in the FY ’20 budget. However, the request doesn’t include long-lead funds for a third PSC. The Coast Guard plans to acquire at least three PSCs as part of its pursuit of six new polar icebreakers, which could include new medium polar icebreakers.
The Trump administration in FY ’20 didn’t request long-lead funding for the second PSC, but Congress ultimately added about $100 million for the next ship in the line. VT Halter Marine is under contract to complete the design of the PSC and build the first ship.
The budget request also includes $546 million for construction of the third and fourth medium-endurance Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), which are being built by Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG).
The Coast Guard is conducting a new competition that could result in a different shipbuilder for OPC program, which calls for 25 ships. The service last year granted ESG contract relief due to setbacks from Hurricane Michael in the fall of 2018 that set back the Florida-based shipbuilder but at the same time decided to reopen the program to potential new bidders.
While Congress provided $101 million in long-lead funding for a 12th National Security Cutter in FY ’20, the administration didn’t back up that commitment with money for construction in FY ’21.
The Coast Guard’s original program of record called for eight NSCs, which are replacing 12 legacy high-endurance cutters. Given expanding Coast Guard mission needs, Congress has added to the shipbuilding program to ensure a one-for-one replacement with the existing Hamilton-class cutters.
Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] is the shipbuilder for the NSC.
The budget request also doesn’t include any funding for additional Fast Response Cutters (FRCs). The Coast Guard has ordered 50 FRCs and plans to acquire 62 of the 154-foot patrol craft being built by Bollinger Shipyards. Congress provided $260 million for four FRCs in the FY ’20 budget, leaving eight more vessels to be funded to complete the program.
The $20 million requested for the program in FY ’21 supports program management and related functions.
The administration is also requesting $15 million for a service life extension project for the Coast Guard’s sole operational heavy polar icebreaker, the Polar Star. The Coast Guard plans to keep the 44-year old Polar Star operational until the second PSC is delivered.
The Polar Star is currently conducting its annual mission to Antarctica to break ice for supply vessels to reach the U.S. science operations at McMurdo Station.
The request for the Coast Guard’s aircraft assets is relatively slim, $153.6 million versus $504.6 million appropriated in FY ’20. The biggest cuts are for the HC-130J and HC-27J fixed-wing programs and the MH-60T helicopter program.
The proposed budget provides $8.4 billion for the Coast Guard operations and support, a 5 percent increase over FY ’20, and consistent with the service’s goal of 5 percent annual increases to sustain operations and readiness.