The Coast Guard no longer appears to have an expectation for when construction will begin on its first polar security cutter (PSC), which is still in the design phase and was beset with delays stemming from the COVID pandemic.
“The start of construction will be authorized when the shipbuilder has attained sufficient design maturity,” a Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily this week in an email response to questions about production and delivery plans for the PSC. “In parallel to detail design work, the Coast Guard has awarded several special studies to allow the shipyard to validate production processes and tooling in a pre-production environment, with the goal to reduce production risk when construction is authorized to start.”
Former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schulz said earlier this year that the first PSC would be expected to begin construction this year and be delivered in 2025. Previously, the service had said construction would begin in early 2021 and the ship would be delivered in the first half of 2024 with incentives to potentially accelerate that schedule into late 2023.
The Government Accountability Office in early 2021 warned that the PSC program could experience construction and delivery delays if the icebreaker’s design doesn’t mature as planned. VT Halter Marine in April 2019 won a potential $1.9 billion contract for the detailed design and construction of up to three PSCs.
The spokesman said that the PSC is still in the detail design phase and that “Delivery of the lead ship will not occur for several more years.”
On Sunday, Bollinger Shipyards said it agreed to acquire Mississippi-based VT Halter Marine and ST Engineering Halter Marine Offshore from parent company ST Engineering, which is based in Singapore. The two business units have about 1,200 employees combined.
The PSC program is a key component of the acquisition, giving Bollinger a marquis Coast Guard acquisition effort. The shipbuilder currently builds the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters and is about 75 percent complete with that multi-billion program.
Asked by Defense Daily about the delays in the PSC program and what Bollinger can do once it owns Halter Marine, Ben Bordelon, Bollinger’s president and CEO, provided a statement saying “We don’t want to speculate on the current status of the program, however, moving forward the Bollinger team will leverage our proven and best-in-class management team, operational excellence and existing capability to bring stability, reliability, and certainty to the Polar Security Cutter program. Using our proven serial production build strategy overseen by the experience Bollinger management team, we can seamlessly plug-in and work hand-in-glove with the existing skilled workforce as we work towards delivering the first vessel.”
Bollinger’s acquisition is expected to close during the fourth quarter of 2022.
Halter Marine is under contract for the first two PSCs, a program that has strong support in Congress. House and Senate appropriators this year both recommended that the Coast Guard be provided long-lead time material funding for the third icebreaker.
Congressional appropriators also are backing a Coast Guard funding request to acquire a commercial polar icebreaker to at least fill near to medium-term needs while the service waits for its first PSC and phases out its lone operational heavy icebreaker the Polar Star. The 46-year-old Polar Star is undergoing a series of annual fixes and repairs to extend its service until later this decade.
The Coast Guard has one other operational polar icebreaker, the medium-ship Healy, which was commissioned in 1999.