The Coast Guard’s nascent effort to acquire a commercial icebreaker to help fill near-term Arctic icebreaking needs should be expanded beyond a domestically available ship to also consider foreign vessels, House appropriators say.
“In order to conduct a full and open competition, the Coast Guard shall expand its source selection criteria to include commercially available polar icebreaking vessels that may require” a waiver that would be allowed under existing laws, says a draft report by the committee. The draft report was released on June 23 and is part of a markup this morning by the House Appropriations Committee of the fiscal year 2023 funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security.
The Coast Guard in early May began reaching out to industry through an information request for a U.S.- built commercial icebreaker that the service could purchase in 2023 or 2024 for operations in or around the Arctic. Responses were due by June 10.
Once a final appropriations bill is signed into law, the committee wants within 30 days a briefing from the Coast Guard on an updated procurement plan.
The committee is “concerned” about the ultimate cost of a commercial icebreaker and wants a briefing from the Coast Guard on how the ship will be used and detailed life-cycle cost estimates.
Adm. Karl Schultz, the former Commandant of the Coast Guard who retired on June 1, in May told the committee’s panel overseeing DHS that the commercial icebreaker would become part of the service’s inventory and would help with the development of requirements for a new class of medium polar icebreakers. He also said that in addition to the $150 million being requested in FY ’23 to purchase and crew a commercial icebreaker it would cost another $125 million to $250 million to outfit the ship to meet the service’s needs.
Schultz also told the panel that there is a 10-year-old domestic commercially available icebreaker with “very little use on it.”
The Coast Guard currently operates two polar icebreakers, the heavy Polar Star and the medium Healy. The 44-year-old Polar Star is undergoing a series of life-extension efforts to keep it operational until later this decade.
The Polar Star is used each year to break ice in the Antarctic in support of a resupply mission for scientists that work there year-round. The Healy typically conducts science and sovereignty missions in the Arctic.
The Coast Guard has contracted with Halter Marine to build up three new heavy icebreakers, the polar security cutter (PSC), the first of which is currently slated to be delivered in spring 2025 although the contractor has yet to cut steel on the vessel. The PSC isn’t expected to be begin operations until 2027.
Schultz, when he was commandant, mentioned the need for six polar icebreakers, at least three of them heavy.