The contract to build the Coast Guard’s long-anticipated — and sorely needed — polar icebreaker has been awarded to VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Miss.
Three offers were received via the Federal Business Opportunities website, according to the Defense Department.
The $745,940,860 fixed-price contract for design and construction of the Polar Security Cutter, or heavy icebreaker, could soar to $1,942,812,266 if included options are exercised.
Options would also extend the timetable of work on the icebreaker: Construction is on track to begin in 2021 and the ship is expected to be completed by June 2024, but if all options are exercised it should be done by November 2027. The contract includes financial incentives for accelerated delivery.
“Against the backdrop of great power competition, the Polar Security Cutter is key to our nation’s presence in the polar regions,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz. “With the strong support of both the Trump administration and the United States Congress, this contract award marks an important step towards building the nation’s full complement of six polar icebreakers to meet the unique mission demands that have emerged from increased commerce, tourism, research, and international activities in the Arctic and Antarctic.”
At a White House event last week, President Trump declared that the Coast Guard is “doing the most advanced icebreaker in the world.”
“They were trying to get it for 20 years. They couldn’t get it. We’re doing it. It is expensive, I will say,” Trump added. “Built in the USA, by the way.”
Sixty-one percent of the work will be performed in Pascagoula, 12 percent in Metairie, La., 12 percent in New Orleans, 4 percent in San Diego, 4 percent in Mossville, Ill., 2 percent in Mobile, Ala., 2 percent in Boca Raton, Fla., and 3 percent in other locations.
“The PSC program is a multiple year Department of Homeland Security Level 1 investment and a USCG major system acquisition to acquire up to three multi-mission PSCs to recapitalize the USCG fleet of heavy icebreakers which have exhausted their design service life,” the Defense Department said. “The PSC’s mission will be to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs.”
DoD added that fiscal year 2019 procurement, construction, and improvement under the Coast Guard and fiscal 2018 and 2017 shipbuilding and conversion under the Navy, “in the amount of $839,224,287, will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.”
Acquisition has been jointly managed by the Coast Guard and Navy to draw upon the best practices and know-how of each service. Naval Sea Systems Command is the lead contract authority.
“This contract award reflects the great benefit achieved by integrating the incredible talents of U.S. Coast Guard and Navy acquisition and shipbuilding professionals to deliver best value at speed,” said Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts. “Working with our industry partners, the team identified approximately $300 million in cost avoidances and accelerated the schedule for delivery of this capability to the nation by almost three years. This reflects the urgency in which we are operating to ensure we deliver capabilities necessary to support the U.S. Coast Guard and the nation’s missions in the polar regions.”
Mississippi lawmakers said the contract is expected to bring up to 450 jobs to the state. “Winning the contract to build the Polar Security Cutter is a great achievement for the talented shipbuilders at VT Halter,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The ships we build in Mississippi will help close the gap in our polar defense and ensure American mariners cannot be denied access to the Arctic region by our adversaries.”
Schultz stressed to lawmakers in March that the Polar Star — currently the nation’s only heavy icebreaker — sustained “several high-risk casualties to the ship’s engineering systems” during Operation Deep Freeze this winter.
“The ship’s crew had to battle a fire that left lasting damage to electrical systems; ship-wide power outages occurred during icebreaking operations. And in the same transit, divers were sent into the icy waters to investigate and repair a propeller shaft seal leak,” he said in prepared testimony. “Events like these reinforce the reality that we are only one major casualty away from leaving the nation without any heavy icebreaking capability.”