Icebreakers On Thin Ice

2019-02-11T12:52:55+00:00 December 3, 2018|
(Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard)

(Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was   

The House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing titled: “Review of Recent GAO Reports on Icebreaker Acquisition and the Need for a National Maritime Strategy.”

Why It Matters

The U.S. Coast Guard is in the process of acquiring the first new heavy icebreakers in over 40 years.  Icebreakers are a crucial component of Coast Guard operations and are critical to maintaining political, national security, natural resource, environmental, and other interests in the Arctic and Antarctic. With the current heavy polar icebreaker – the Polar Star – reaching the end of its service life and the absence of a replacement, the U.S. would have to rely on other nations for access to shipping lanes and national defense in these regions.

Key Points

Subcommittee Chairman Brian Mast (FL) began the hearing by discussing a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the polar icebreaker – recently renamed the Polar Security Cutter (PSC) – acquisition program. The GAO report found estimates for cost, schedule, and performance baselines for the PSC acquisition program do not follow standard best practices. It also found the Coast Guard did not have a sound business case when it established the acquisition baselines for the PSC program, with risks in areas of design and technology that could increase cost and delay scheduled delivery dates.

Despite these findings, Rear Admiral Michael Haycock (Assistant Commandant for Acquisition, U.S. Coast Guard) insisted the integrated program between the Coast Guard and Navy is working with GAO on recommendations to ensure the PSCs will be built “on time and on budget.” Haycock emphasized the importance of consistent funding to the timeline – which he said will result in timely delivery. He stated that commitment to funding PSCs show the nation the U.S. government is serious about revitalizing the polar fleet and about national security in the Arctic.

Ms. Marie Mak (Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, GAO) acknowledged that the Coast Guard has started to address some, but not all, problems stated in the report. Ms. Mak said the Coast Guard’s schedule for PSC delivery is still optimistic and they must avoid shortcuts that could be costlier in the long run.

Another point of concern was the underestimation of efforts needed to develop mature technology for the PSCs. Ms. Mak reiterated the need for the Coast Guard to address all aspects of a sound business case to ensure the PSC program is successful. Members of the subcommittee affirmed they are strong supporters of the PSC acquisition program and would continue to conduct oversight to ensure the success of the program.


“We are as close as we have been in over 40 years to recapitalizing our polar icebreaking fleet.” — Rear Admiral Michael Haycock (Assistant Commandant for Acquisition, U.S. Coast Guard)

“The question will be before us whether we move forward with an icebreaker – or Polar Security Cutter, call it what you want – it is literally on the line now. ”— Ranking Member John Garamendi (CA)

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership          

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