Marie Mak, Director of Contracting & National Security Acquisitions at the Government Accountability Office, details potential issues with the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker procurement, and why it’s imperative that the program succeed.
As arctic sea ice melts to record lows, nations on the Arctic Circle are working to leverage the opportunities that reside there. Russia currently has the largest active icebreaker fleet in the world, with more than 40 ships on the sea. Right now, the US Coast Guard only has two of these specialized vessels, and the Polar Star heavy icebreaker is nearing the end of its operational lifetime. While the contracting process for more heavy icebreakers is underway, the Government Accountability Office has some concerns GAO Director of Contracting & National Security Acquisitions Marie Mak, says the procurement could run into some technical issues, well before anything rolls out of the shipyard. “There’s an integrated power plant which provides propulsion for the ship, as well as electricity… there’s also the azimuthing propulsors [that] can rotate up to 360 degrees to move the ship in the water,” Mak said. “The Coast Guard will say that it has been used by foreign icebreakers, but it’s a different form, fit and function for our ships… We think an assessment needs to be done to see how mature that technology really is.” Another issue is the time involved to construct a heavy icebreaker. Mak says that the Coast Guard’s contract lowballs the amount of time it will take to build a boat from scratch. “They primarily based this schedule on when the Polar Star will be reaching the end of its service life, and not doing realistic assessments of typical shipbuilding activities,” Mak said. “We’re not able to judge whether the schedule was realistic or not.”