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US CRS report underscores Polar Security Cutter schedule uncertainty as USCG cites need for more icebreakers

The US Coast Guard says it will need more icebreakers for polar operations. (VT Halter Marine/Technology Associates)

As the US Coast Guard (USCG) is planning for a bigger fleet of new icebreakers, the service is facing continued uncertainty about the delivery schedule for its proposed new Polar Security Cutters (PSCs), the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted in a recent report.

“The coastguard testified in April and June 2023 that it had recently signed out a new fleet mix analysis that concluded that the coastguard will require a total of eight to nine polar icebreakers to perform its various polar (i.e., Arctic and Antarctic) missions in coming years,” the CRS said in its report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, released on 10 July.

“Prior to this new fleet mix analysis, coastguard officials had stated that the service in coming years would need at least six polar icebreakers, including three capable of breaking heavy polar ice,” the CRS reported.

The CRS cited a 21 June hearing before the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during which Admiral Steven Poulin, USCG vice commandant testified, “We were on a trajectory to build the Polar Security Cutters, but we recently delivered to this committee and other committees our fleet mix analysis, and in that fleet mix analysis we concluded that we likely need eight to nine new icebreakers. Some of those will be heavy icebreakers like the Polar Security Cutter that's being built at Bollinger, Mississippi. Others may be Arctic Security Cutters [ASCs, i.e., medium polar icebreakers].”

That stated extra requirement comes as the USCG faces delays with PSC deliveries.

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