Headshot of Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, May 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Reports emerging from a congressional hearing in early May that three heavy icebreakers planned by the U.S. Coast Guard are way behind schedule while the cost has swelled, have put a dent in hopes of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, of boosting the Polar Security Program with greater speed. 

“America needs icebreakers to help secure American interests in the Arctic,” Sullivan said last Wednesday.“I’m disappointed that the Polar Security Program is so far behind schedule and above cost.”   

“This is just one example of the troubles faced by our domestic shipbuilding industry and highlights why securing funding to purchase a commercially available icebreaker was critical. I’ve pressed hard to make sure the vessel is homeported in Alaska and will provide America with greater icebreaking capacity much sooner,” he said. 
Sullivan’s comments came in response to reports delivered at a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security on May 7 in Washington D.C. Alaska Public Media reported that Coast Guard plans for three heavy icebreakers were five years behind schedule and the cost had swelled from the initial estimate of under $2 billion to $5.1 billion. 

House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security Chairman Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., noted in his opening remarks that the Coast Guard vessel upgrades in the works include boosting its icebreaker fleet with three heavy icebreakers to replace the Coast Guard’s sole heavy icebreaker, which is approaching 50 years of service. 

“The Coast Guard has so far commissioned 54 out of the 71 planned Fast Response Cutters and expanded the areas of operation for these new cutters to the Persian Gulf and the Indo-Pacific,” Gimenez said. “The shipbuilder is delivering the new FRCs on schedule at a rate of two per year. Additionally, the Coast Guard will soon commission its tenth out of 11 planned National Security Cutters, and the eleventh NSC is currently under construction. The NSCs are already fulfilling critical mission requirements in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere around the world.” 

Gimenez also acknowledged major setbacks with both the Polar Security Cutter and offshore Patrol Cutter programs. 

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This story was originally published in the May 17 issue of The Cordova Times.

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