A senate panel has agreed to fully fund the Coast Guard’s request for production funding of a second new heavy icebreaker and the third and fourth medium-endurance cutters in fiscal year 2021, matching the amounts provided by a House panel in a demonstration of bipartisan support for continued modernization of the service’s capital assets.
The Senate appropriators recommend $555 million for the Polar Security Cutter, which is being built by VT Halter Marine, and $546 million for the third and fourth Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), rounding out the last two that will be built by Eastern Shipbuilding Group before the contract is recompeted.
The Coast Guard plans to buy at least three heavy Polar Security Cutters and 25 OPCs.
The Senate panel also provides $15 million to for a service life extension for the Coast Guard’s sole operational polar heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, which is aging and is only expected to remain in service another five or six years.
The committee is recommending just over $2 billion for the Coast Guard’s procurement account, nearly $200 million less than House appropriators but still $374 million more than requested. The recommendation doesn’t include funding for a 12th high-endurance National Security Cutter (NSC). The committee over the years under prior chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who died in 2019, was the driving force behind increasing the purchase of NSCs from the originally planned eight ships to 12, which would equal a one-for-one replacement of the legacy Hamilton-class high endurance cutters.
“The committee is disappointed that the Coast Guard has not officially conveyed to the committee a determination on whether a 12th NSC is required,” said an explanatory statement accompanying the proposed FY ’21 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. “Based on the lack of direct communication and the inclusion of a proposed rescission of funds provided in fiscal year 2020 in the budget request, the committee infers that an additional vessel is not required at this time.”
Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] is building the NSCs. The company just delivered the ninth ship. Two additional ships have been funded.
The committee says that that a 12th NSC would help the Coast Guard with its missions, in particular with preventing drugs coming into the U.S., but adds that it “is not positioned to recommend funding for another vessel when faced with budgetary constraints and additional requests for vessel classes well short of the Coast Guard’s program of record.”
The committee did increase funding for the shorter-range Fast Response Cutter (FRC), which is being built by Bollinger Shipyards, providing $160 million for two vessels. House appropriators recommend $260 million for four FRCs. The administration requested just $20 million for sustainment costs.
The Senate and House Appropriations Committees at some point will go to conference to resolve their differences in their respective DHS spending bills for FY ’21.