The U.S. Coast Guard named a new offshore patrol cutter its top priority and said it might look to heavy icebreaker designs from outside the U.S. when the agency’s commandant outlined Fiscal Year 2017 budget requests before the House Appropriation Homeland Security Subcommittee last week.
Adm. Paul Zukunft faced questions on force-mix analysis, and whether funding for other areas, specifically a 10th national security cutter, would endanger the offshore patrol cutter program.
“Our number one priority is the offshore patrol cutter, and I always look at any new adds that might jeopardize that program of record.”
The FY2016 budget request includes $100 million for long-lead procurement for the offshore patrol cutter program.
Icebreakers were another hot topic, as the budget request also includes $150 million in long-lead funding to accelerate the acquisition of a new heavy icebreaker, and Zukunft was questioned about how soon the agency could begin acquiring a second or third icebreaker.
Zukunft said the Coast Guard was already hiring acquisition professionals for a heavy icebreaker program and had published the requirements for such a vessel and reached out to the industry for input.
“The shipbuilders of the United States are convinced that they can build a heavy icebreaker here in the United States,” Zukunft said. “To accelerate this timeline, we’re also looking at parent craft designs in other countries, but that design would be built here in the United States to accelerate that timeline. What the $150 million does is it incentivizes industry.”
Zukunft said that the Polar Star, the only U.S. heavy icebreaker that is currently operational, has “maybe five to seven years of service life.”
“We’re doing everything we can to sustain it before its relief arrives,” Zukunft said.
The commandant added that Russia has about 40 icebreakers, eight of those heavy icebreakers, with six additional heavy icebreakers under construction.
“On a global scale, we’re seeing internationally a desire for the United States to step up to the plate and be a more active player in the Arctic region,” Zukunft testified.
However, the commandant said there was “no good return on investment” to attempt to compete with Russia on the number of icebreakers.
“Right now the baseline study says three heavy icebreakers, three medium, but not peer-to-peer competition with Russia to be…you know, if you have 40 than we need 41.”
Read Adm. Zukunft’s complete written testimony.
Watch the full hearing: