The Coast Guard this week began its formal outreach to potentially acquire a commercial icebreaker built in the U.S. and available for purchase in 2023 or 2024 and that can operate in or around the Arctic.
Release of the Request for Information (RFI) on Tuesday follows the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2023 budget request to Congress in March seeking $150 million for a commercially available polar icebreaker to meet the Coast Guard’s interim needs until its new fleet of heavy polar security cutters (PSCs) is operational.
Responses to the RFI are due by June 10.
Some of the requirements the Coast Guard has for the commercial icebreaker are the ability to break at least three feet of ice, at least 15 years of design life remaining, the ability to land Coast Guard H-65 or H-60T helicopters, and be underway for at least 60 days without resupply. The Coast Guard also wants to know if the owner of the vessel is willing to sell it to the service and provide personnel to augment the Coast Guard’s crew for one to three years after purchase.
The Coast Guard also wants to know the estimated price to purchase the vessel and the price for technical and data rights for the vessels and associated systems on the vessel.
Acquiring a commercial icebreaking vessel would get the Coast Guard more polar icebreaking capabilities sooner while the service completes the acquisition of PSCs. Purchasing a commercial vessel would allow the service to keep the ship in its inventory.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Wednesday during a Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee budget hearing said she has has been told that if a commercial icebreaker is purchased, it could be operational within 18 to 24 months. She asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was testifying before the committee on his department’s FY ’23 budget request, if he will “commit to that timeline” to ensure there is nos “significant gap” in Coast Guard icebreaking capabilities.
Mayorkas committed to ensuring a commercial vessel is brought online within that timeframe.
“I well understand the importance of the ice cutters,” he said. “And this commercially available cutter is a bridge to that period.”
The program of record for the PSC is three ships, with the first ship slated for delivery in the third quarter of fiscal year 2025 but wouldn’t be operational for another two years. Halter Marine is under contract for the PSCs.
The Coast Guard has two operational polar icebreakers, the 46-year-old Polar Star, an aging heavy icebreaker that is undergoing a series of life extension efforts to keep it operational until later this decade, and the medium icebreaking ship Healy, which is just over 20 years old.