VT Halter Wins Contract for Second USCG Polar Security Cutter
The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed the awarding of a $553 million contract to VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the detail design and construction of the second Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) for the U.S. Coast Guard. It represents the exercising of an option in the original contract awarded to Halter in April 2019 for the first of the new vessels designed to replace and expand the Coast Guard’s current aging heavy icebreaker fleet.
The PSC program is a multiple year Department of Homeland Security Level 1 investment and a USCG major system initiative to acquire up to three multi-mission PSCs to recapitalize the USCG’s fleet of Polar Security Cutters. The program has been considered a high priority by both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Trump Administration which called for an expansion of the program.
When the contract was first awarded in 2019, Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard, said, “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.”
The sophisticated vessels are designed to fill a current, definitive need for the Coast Guard statutory mission, of polar icebreaking, and meet other mission needs in the higher latitudes vital to the economic vitality, scientific inquiry, and national interests of the United States. These vessels are 460 feet in length with a beam of 88 feet overall, a full load displacement of approximately 22,900 long tons. The propulsion will be diesel-electric at over 45,200 horsepower and readily capable of continuously breaking ice between six to eight feet thick. The vessel will accommodate 186 personnel for an extended endurance of 90 days.
The initial award in 2019 was valued at approximately $750 million, to cover engineering, detail design, procurement of long lead-time materials, and construction of the first ship. At the time they said, construction would begin in 2021 with and delivery set for 2024, but the contract also contained incentives for Halter to complete the vessel more quickly.
The project, however, has encountered delays in part due to COVID-19 with design work reportedly continuing into 2021. After at one point speaking of an aggressive target to have the vessel by late 2023, the U.S. Coast Guard later said it was still committed to the summer 2024 timeline. However, they recently confirmed that the first vessel is now scheduled for delivery in 2025. In the interim, VT Halter Marine has also completed a major upgrade project to its launch way in preparation for building the first vessel.
“By building the second Polar Security Cutter, Halter Marine will continue its mission in delivering a national priority to the United States Coast Guard,” said Bob Merchent, President and Chief Executive Officer of Halter Marine commenting on the announcement that the DoD had officially exercised the option. “Our talented workforce here at Halter Marine is proud to be part of such an important endeavor.”
The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the official contractor awarding Halter Marine the prime contractor a fixed-price incentive-firm contract valued at $552,654,757 for a second PSC. In announcing the contract, DoD said is expected to be completed by September 2026.
Halter said initial efforts under this option will target the purchase of long lead-time materials, specifically the generator sets, necessary to support production while ensuring commonality across the first two PSCs. Halter Marine is teamed with Technology Associates, as the ship designer. ABB and Trident Marine have been selected for the Azipod propulsion and power distribution system, Raytheon for the command and control systems integration, Caterpillar for the main engines, Jamestown Metal Marine for joiner package, and Bronswerk for the HVAC system.
The USCG currently operates two large, heavy icebreakers. The Polar Star, commissioned in 1976 has already undergone significant overhauls with the recent being a life extension designed to keep it in service till 2025 when it would be replaced by the first new vessel. The second active icebreaker is the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, commissioned in 2000. She was out of commission for the second half of 2020 after a fire destroyed one of her motors resulting in a massive overhaul to replace the damaged motor.