The United States Coast Guard’s plan to recapitalize its polar icebreaker fleet continues to move forward - and is becoming more ambitious
Back in January 2016, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft made the announcement that his service was interested in building 1-2 new heavy polar icebreakers and would soon reach out to shipbuilders to gauge their capabilities to deliver. Now, over 10 months later, the Coast Guard has released an updated Request for Information (RFI) that quietly adds a third heavy icebreaker to its notional acquisition timeline.
In the new expanded acquisition timeline, construction on the first icebreaker will begin in late 2021 with a desired delivery date at end of third quarter of 2023. The second icebreaker will begin construction at end of the third quarter of 2022 and have a desired delivery date at end of the first quarter of 2025. Finally, construction on the additional third icebreaker will begin at end of the third quarter in 2023 and have a desired delivery date at end of the first quarter of 2026.
The Coast Guard remains in the early “Analyze and Select” phase of its icebreaker acquisition program, but the addition of a third potential icebreaker to its current acquisition timeline is significant. In addition to the tacked-on third icebreaker, the new RFI is also intended to solicit information from shipbuilders on whether they can dramatically accelerate the construction of the first new heavy icebreaker. Whether an expedited acquisition of the first icebreaker is viable remains to be seen, but it follows President Obama’s call in September 2015 to make icebreaker acquisition a priority.
The Coast Guard is continuing to assess strategies and methods of acquiring the new ships. In this “Analyze and Select” phase, American shipbuilders interested in winning the contract--namely Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works--have been invited to submit information on how they can expedite construction and whether they can deliver a new total of three heavy icebreakers. According to the Coast Guard’s current timeline, the notional contract for all three icebreakers will be awarded to a single shipbuilder in late 2019--and it will likely go to one of the two shipbuilders named above.
While the Coast Guard has increased the number of icebreakers it wants to acquire on paper, it of course remains to be seen whether the funding will materialize for a second and third ship, each with its own $1 billion price tag.