The Coast Guard commandant said March 26 that he is confident the service can proceed on schedule with the procurement of its first new Polar Security Cutter (PSC) despite a smaller procurement request in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget request.

Testifying for the first time before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Adm. Karl Schultz said the service “can absolutely press forward with the $35 million” included in the FY ’20 Coast Guard budget request to award the detailed design and construction contract “hopefully within the next four to six weeks.”

The Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star

Congress in February passed the FY ’19 appropriations bill for DHS after an extended government shutdown period. The bill included $675 million to procure the first PSC, which will replace the service’s Polar Star icebreaker. That $675 million included $20 million for long-lead materials to procure the second PSC, and Congress previously appropriated $300 million toward the program, Schultz noted.

The FY ’20 request “does allow us to maintain the program,” although of course, a larger funding number would allow the Coast Guard to take advantage of buying additional long-lead materials sooner, such as propulsors, Schultz said. He added that lawmakers can expect a larger procurement funding request in the FY ’21 budget as the service looks toward procuring the second PSC.

He warned that the United States is “only one casualty away from being a nation without any icebreakers” as the condition of the Coast Guard’s cutters continues to deteriorate. “New icebreakers cannot come fast enough.”

The service remains committed to procuring six polar icebreakers, three of which will be heavy variants, but it is “premature to really get deep” into conversations about the capabilities of the fourth, fifth, and sixth cutters, Schultz told reporters after the hearing. Once the second and third Polar Security Cutters are procured, then it will be time to consider the next three, he added.

“We’ll have operated the first Polar Security Cutter, we’ll understand the capabilities, we’ll understand what savings in the second and third ship might be derived,” he said. Depending on the cost, the next medium research-size ship could be more of a derivative of the new heavy icebreakers than a new design, he speculated, noting the first of a class of any ship is more expensive.

“The conversation for … the next couple years of my tenure is about Polar Security Cutters 2 and 3 as the follow-on ships,” he said. Schultz assumed the duties of the 26th Coast Guard commandant on June 1, 2018.

Five contractors are vying for the icebreaker replacement program: Bollinger Shipyards, General Dynamics [GD], a U.S. division of Italy’s Fincantieri, Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], and VT Halter Marine, the U.S.-based shipbuilding division of Singapore’s ST Engineering. All five contractors have completed design studies and submitted bids to complete the design and construct the Polar Security Cutters (Defense Daily, March 21).