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Coast Guard Wants to Award Contract for New Icebreaker Ahead of Plan

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- After releasing a request for proposals for its first new heavy icebreaker in decades ahead of schedule last month, the Coast Guard now hopes to ink a contract early as well, the service's director of acquisition programs said.

Speaking at the annual Sea-Air-Space exposition Tuesday, Rear Adm. Michael Haycock said the Coast Guard is working to cut down the lead time to design and build the first of what it hopes will be six new icebreakers.

"We beat the RFP release date by almost a month; we hope we can beat the contract award date as well," Haycock said. "Ideally, if everything goes to plan, we'll deliver the first heavy icebreaker at the end of calendar year 2023, and then a couple years later, we'll follow with hull two and hull three if there's funding and resources to do that."

Five competitors are currently lined up to vie for the contract, but the competition remains open to all bidders.

Questions remain about whether the Coast Guard's last surviving heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, will survive until 2023. Commissioned in 1976, the ship is much the worse for wear and often down for repairs.

According to reports, during the ship's most recent season in the Antarctic, the crew had to contend with a number of breakdowns, including a shaft seal failure that flooded the engine room, and the failure of one of three main gas turbines.

But Haycock said the Coast Guard has worked aggressively to get to its current timeline, narrowing it from an initial planned delivery date of 2028 for the first new icebreaker.

"With Polar Star being in as rough condition as it is, we knew we had to do better. So we pushed hard to get it at the end of calendar year '23," he said. "Industry has indicated that's going to be a challenge; we know that's going to be a challenge. It's a little bit like a marriage -- if you're equally unhappy, you know you probably got it right, so we think that that's the right number."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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