The House on Thursday authorized additional funding for Coast Guard cutters and icebreakers, including a 12th national security cutter (NSC), although appropriators so far have been unwilling to pay for another high-endurance cutter absent a request by the Coast Guard for the ship.
The Coast Guard provisions are contained in an authorization bill for the service that is wrapped into the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the House approved overwhelmingly. The Senate is expected to take up the NDAA next week.
The bill provides $300 million for the NSC, which is built by HII [HII]. So far, 11 ships have been funded but there is a lot of interest within Congress for one more vessel so that the fleet of NSCs equals the now decommissioned portfolio of Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters.
The bill also includes $420 million for six fast response cutters (FRCs), which are built by Bollinger Shipyards. The FRCs typically operate in the littorals for several days at a time.
The medium-endurance offshore patrol cutter (OPC), one of the Coast Guard’s two shipbuilding priorities, is authorized to receive $650 million. Eastern Shipbuilding Group is under contract for the first four OPCs and the Coast Guard earlier this year awarded Austal a contract for the next 11 ships. That award is being challenged in federal court by Eastern.
The other priority is the heavy polar icebreaker called the polar security cutter (PSC). The first two PSCs are under contract with Bollinger and the bill provides $167.2 million in long-lead funding for the third ship.
The Coast Guard authorization would also establish an Arctic Security Cutter Program Office by Jan. 1, 2025, if the service decides to build a new class of medium polar icebreakers.
The Coast Guard currently operates one heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, and a medium icebreaker, the Healy. The PSCs will replace the Polar Star and a potential class of Arctic security cutters would replace the Healy.
The bill directs the Coast Guard to conduct a fleet mix analysis for its polar icebreakers and icebreaking tug boats. The report would include a look at the mix of heavy and medium icebreakers, and put forth timelines and costs.
The bill also authorizes the $150 million request to purchase a U.S.-built commercial medium icebreaker that could be ready to operate in less than two years after it is acquired. The commercial vessel would help fill a U.S. icebreaker gap and lay the groundwork for requirements for a potential Arctic security cutter.