Funding for the first new U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker in 27 years and three more littoral combat ships (LCS) are among recommendations from the Senate Appropriations Committee for fiscal year 2017.
The committee has set aside $1 billion for the icebreaker, with construction to begin in 2020, according to Coast Guard budget documents. The Coast Guard estimates that $147 million will be spent in 2017 to start acquiring materials for the vessel. Congress last funded a new icebreaker in fiscal year 1990.
The operational polar icebreaking fleet is currently comprised of a 399-foot heavy icebreaker (the Coast Guard cutter Polar Star, commissioned in 1976) and a 420-foot medium icebreaker (the Coast Guard cutter Healy, commissioned in 2000). Polar Star’s sister ship, Polar Sea, has been laid up for six years due to a massive engine failure, and the prospects for reactivation are uncertain.
Also included in the committee’s Coast Guard funding recommendations is $325 million for two more fast response cutters (bringing the total to six), $255 million for a 10th national security cutter (up from the service’s request for $127 million) and $100 million for improving and operating the new offshore patrol cutter. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said that the number of potential contractors for the cutter will be whittled down to one this year.
No decision has been announced about which yard will be awarded the icebreaker contract. Sen. Thad Cochran, committee chairman, has indicated he would prefer Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., to do the work.
Although the committee wants funding for three more LCS in FY 2017, there is considerable disagreement within Congress, with many members calling for only two and some demanding that the program be drastically scaled down.
Coast Guard personnel examine Healy during the cutter’s dry-docking in March. The service’s operational polar icebreaking fleet consists solely of Healy and the 399-foot Polar Star.
Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
An added complication is that one of the two yards building the ships, Austal in Mobile, Ala., has written off $115 million because costs have been higher than expected. David Singleton, CEO of the Australian-based company, cited the need to pass shock trial tests and U.S. Naval Vessel Rules but said that operations would not be affected.
“Initial findings from two shock tests performed in June 2016 on LCS 6 (USS Jackson), the only vessel that will undergo the tests, have been favorable and provide us with confidence on the baseline design and cost of construction across the program to meet the standard,” he said. “Operationally, we have implemented a considerable number of modifications to LCS 8 (USS Montgomery), which has only recently been contractually delivered to the U.S. Navy.”
Austal is sharing a 20-vessel block-buy contract (its portion being worth $4 billion) with Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, which has been subcontracted by Lockheed Martin. The new ships are not part of the block buy.
Lockheed Martin’s LCS production at Marinette Marine has been hindered by quality control problems, some of them yet to be resolved (see story here).
“We look forward to working with the administration and Congress as budget discussions continue,” said John Torrisi, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin. “We have a broad portfolio of proven products and capabilities to help the U.S. government address today’s dynamic global security environment. We’ll continue to invest in innovation and reduce costs for our customers during this challenging budget environment.”