Coast Guard officials said they want to see ice breaking trials with the Aiviq, the Edison Chouest anchor handling supply tug that has been proposed as an interim icebreaker while the Coast Guard builds new polar ships.
The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation was getting an update on the Coast Guard’s icebreaker project Wednesday when Vice Adm. Charles Ray, deputy commandant for operations, mentioned that Chouest had submitted a plan for those ice trials.
“They sent it to us to review several weeks ago,” Ray told subcommittee members. “We would be interested in sending Coast Guard folks to observe that.”
Best known for its role in Royal Dutch Shell’s ill-fated Arctic drilling attempts, the 360’8”x80’x34’ Aiviq was built expressly for that venture by North American Shipbuilding, Larose, La., and delivered in March 2012.
In July 2016, subcommittee member Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, called for the Coast Guard to consider leasing the Aiviq as a fallback for icebreaking duties — insurance against a major casualty with the Polar Star, the remaining 41-year-old 399’ heavy icebreaker, or the 420’ Healy medium icebreaker launched in 1997.
At the time, vice commandant Adm. Charles Michel defended the Coast Guard’s resistance to leasing the Aiviq, saying commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft had himself checked out the tug and determined it “is not suitable for military service without substantial refit.”
Wednesday’s discussion suggests the Aiviq option may still be in play. While Coast Guard officials talk up progress on the $1 billion icebreaker construction program, including close cooperation with the Navy, shipyards and Canadian design experts, “that timeline is 2023 for delivery,” said Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, deputy commandant for mission support.
The Coast Guard has bipartisan support for building icebreakers, and advocates in Congress who fended off an early proposal from the White House Office of Management and Budget to cut the service’s 2018 budget by 14%.
Still, subcommittee chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., complained of “disconnect” between the Coast Guard’s needs and actual funding. One example is a request for six additional 154’x25’5”x9’6” fast response cutters that the Department of Defense wants to replace 110’ Island-class patrol boats in the Persian Gulf region.
That $325 million request would be in addition to the planned 58 FRCs the Coast Guard wants for its other missions.
“Our intent is to take the 58…and keep them where they’re going,” Ray told subcommittee members.
“Someone’s going to have to find the money” for those six extra cutters, countered Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. “Who’s going to pay for them?"
With the administration proposing big increases in other military spending, “it seems to me some of that comes directly out of the Coast Guard,” said Garamendi.
Both Garamendi and Hunter said the Office of Management and Budget appears to still be pressuring the Coast Guard, and they urged its leadership to be more aggressive on their budget needs.
“That’s what all the other service chiefs do…we’re trying to get you to do that,” Hunter said. “We need you to fight for yourselves.”