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USCG needs to stabilise Polar Security Cutter design before starting ship construction, GAO says

The US Government Accountability Office says the US Coast Guard needs to stablise the design of the service's proposed Polar Security Cutters. (VT Halter Marine)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) should put off construction of its proposed Polar Security Cutters (PSCs) until the PSC design is stabilised, according to a recently released US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

“The Polar Security Cutter's (PSC) design is not yet mature, which has led to an extended design phase and contributed to a three-year schedule delay in the shipyard, with construction of the first cutter now planned for March 2024,” the GAO said in its report, Coast Guard Acquisitions: Polar Security Cutter Needs to Stabilize Design Before Starting Construction and Improve Schedule Oversight, released on 27 July.

“Guard officials attribute the extended design phase to various challenges,” the GAO reported. “For example, icebreaking hulls require thick steel – up to twice as thick as a non- icebreaker – and a dense framing structure that has been challenging to plan for the PSC. Additionally, coast guard officials stated that US-based shipbuilders have limited expertise designing and building heavy polar icebreaker.”

To enable the strenuous activities of icebreaking, icebreakers are designed and built to different standards than other non-icebreaking ships that add complexity to the design and construction process, the GAO pointed out.

“Icebreakers require a large number of construction hours to build because they have a thicker hull plating and more internal structural framing to add strength, and often these features can require workers to weld in areas that are difficult to access and thus take longer to build,” the GAO reported.

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