ACQUISITION AND OPERATION OF POLAR ICEBREAKERS:
FULFILLING THE NATION’S NEEDS
Rear Admiral Richard D. West (U.S. Navy, Retired)
Committee on Polar Icebreaker Cost Assessment
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Transportation Research Board of the
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air
Capabilities, Part II
July 25, 2017
My name is Dick West. I am a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, and I chaired the study committee that authored the report for The National Academies. Our report was requested by this subcommittee, and focuses on strategies to minimize capital acquisition and operating costs for polar icebreakers capable of meeting the Coast Guard’s mission requirements, including breaking out McMurdo station.
For more than 30 years, studies have shown the need for polar icebreakers to fulfill the Coast Guard’s statutory missions and to meet other national goals. These studies have indicated ever-widening gaps in the nation’s ability to meet its statutory obligations, protect its interests, and maintain leadership in the high latitude regions of the Earth.
We recommend building four heavy polar icebreakers—owned and operated by the Coast Guard— and propose an acquisition strategy that could address these anticipated gaps. We examined leasing options and found them to be more expensive for the federal government over the life of the assets. The first three heavy icebreakers would meet the Coast Guard’s need to provide a continuous presence in the Arctic, while the fourth heavy icebreaker could perform the annual McMurdo breakout, with one of the first three icebreakers assigned to the Arctic providing emergency backup, if needed.
The recommended acquisition strategy employs block buy contracting with a fixed price incentive fee for the four ships and a design for a single class of heavy polar icebreakers. By using a single design, we estimate that the fourth heavy icebreaker would cost less than a first medium icebreaker. With our recommended strategy, icebreaker design and construction costs can be clearly defined. A fixed price incentive fee construction contract is the most reliable mechanism for controlling costs for this program. Block buy authority for this program will need to contain specific authorizing language for economic order quantity purchases for materials, advanced design, and construction activities.
Such a contracting program with economic order quantity purchases enables series construction, motivates competitive shipyard bidding, enables shipyard infrastructure investment, and reduces material acquisition costs—allowing for volume purchase and for the timely acquisition of material with long lead times. It would enable continuous production, give the program the maximum benefit from the learning curve, and thus reduce labor hours and costs on subsequent vessels.
Technology transfer from icebreaker designers and builders with recent experience is critical for reducing design and construction costs. In addition, the design should maximize the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, apply the Polar Code and commercial standards, and reduce military specifications (MIL-SPEC) to the minimum amount necessary. Reduction of MIL-SPEC requirements could significantly lower the acquisition cost of each ship with no loss of mission capability. Importantly, the program schedule must allow for completion of design and planning before the start of construction. Our recommended acquisition, design, and construction strategies will control possible cost overruns and provide significant savings in overall life-cycle costs for the polar icebreaking program.
We recommend that the single design for the heavy icebreakers is made “science ready” and include sufficient space and margins to accommodate the needs for future scientific installation. The additional design cost is minimal, especially compared to a subsequent retrofit. Recognizing that the Healy is halfway through its expected service life, the fourth proposed vessel could be made “science capable,” or fully outfitted for science.
The Polar Star is well beyond her expected service life. We propose an enhanced maintenance program with the intent of keeping the vessel operational through the delivery of at least the first new icebreaker. Although extending the life of the Polar Star will be challenging, the committee recommends against compressing the design and construction schedule of the new icebreakers, as such an approach may lead to cost overruns.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I will be pleased to respond to any questions the subcommittee may have.
Rear Admiral Richard "Dick" D. West (USN, Ret) served as President and CEO of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE)/Ocean Leadership from 2002-2008. As President of this DC-based non-profit organization, he led efforts to promote ocean research and education within the U.S. federal government on behalf of the academic and private ocean research community. He has testified before the U.S. Congress on marine related policy issues and has addressed the United Nations on Safety of Life at Sea. Admiral West was also actively involved in three congressionally-mandated Federal Advisory Committees. He was a founding member of the Hydrographic Services Review Panel for two terms from 2003-11, a member of a federal investment in research review team and a member and past Chairman of the National Sea Grant College Program Advisory Board. He co-Chaired a U.S. Navy navigation accident review panel in 2012, Chaired a review of a NSF program and co-Chaired an independent review of NOAA’s fleet. He is a Board member of the Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, Massachusetts, serves on the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography Dean’s Advisory Council, on the U of Connecticut Sea Grant Program and a founding Board member of a charter high school. He helped establish the Sampson Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery in upstate New York and serves on the committee to bring the Viet Nam Traveling Memorial Wall to upstate New York in 2017.
Admiral West retired from the US Navy in 2002. He served as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy providing oceanographic, meteorological, geospatial and navigation support to the U.S. Navy, from 1999 to 2002. As the first Navigator of the Navy, he led the Navy’s transition to electronic navigation. As Oceanographer of the Navy, he was the Department of Defense representative to the U.S. Ocean Commission. Admiral West was a career Surface Warfare Officer serving on several ships and senior staffs in Washington DC and overseas. Admiral West served in Vietnam with the riverine forces and was Commanding Officer of three ships, two during hostilities in the Persian Gulf. He also served as Commanding Officer of the US Navy’s Surface Warfare Officers School, Newport, RI, where all US Navy officers going to sea, from Division Officer to Commanding Officer, are trained.