The Coast Guard last Friday issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a service life extension of its lone heavy polar icebreaker, the Polar Star.

The service plans a phased service life extension project (SELP) of the aging icebreaker to keep it operational while new Polar Security Cutters (PSCs) are delivered to the fleet beginning in 2024. Work on the Polar Star, which was commissioned in 1976, will occur between deployments.

The 399-foot icebreaker is currently in Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual joint mission to resupply the U.S. Antarctic stations operated by the National Science Foundation. The ship departed its homeport of Seattle in November is expected to remain in the area through February before heading home.

After completing its annual mission to Antarctica, the Polar Star typically returns to homeport before heading to drydock for months of repairs to ready the ship for the next Operation Deep Freeze deployment. Depending on the necessary repairs, the ship could be in drydock for up to six months.

During its mission to Antarctica in in late 2018 and early 2019, the Polar Star suffered several high-risk casualties, including an incinerator fire, a leak in a propeller shaft seal, and power outages. So far during the current operation there have been no significant mishaps, a Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily on Monday.

The Polar Star previously underwent a life extension that lasted four years during which time it was in caretaker status. The ship was commissioned again in 2012.

The contract for the Polar Star SLEP will be an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity award with a five-year base period that contains five one-year ordering periods. Work, which will include recurring maintenance, will occur from 2021 through 2025.

The Coast Guard hopes to build at least three PSCs. Shipbuilder VT Halter Marine is currently designing the new heavy icebreaker and is scheduled to deliver the first ship in early 2024, although the contract contains incentives to accelerate delivery into the fourth quarter of 2023.

Responses to the RFP are due by March 18.