Bollinger Shipyards has begun cutting steel on the first of eight prototype modules that will become the foundation of the first U.S. Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC).
USCGC Polar Sentinel (PSC-1) will be the first heavy icebreaker to be built in the United States in 50 years. The steel cutting took place at Bollinger Mississippi Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.
“Today marks a significant step for both Bollinger Shipyards and the United States,” said Ben Bordelon, President and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards. “After over 50 years, we’re back to building heavy icebreakers. We’re honored that responsibility lies with Bollinger. Beginning work on the first Prototype Fabrication Assembly Unit is an important step closer to commencing construction on the first Polar Security Cutter. This isn’t just an important milestone for our company, it’s also an important step for our national defense. Simply put, the United States is back in the icebreaker business.”
Before constructing a heavy polar icebreaker, a prototype module is built to test new systems, processes, people, and tools needed to work with specialized steel. Lessons learned will improve design completeness and manufacturing quality and efficiency.
“We’re relearning how to build this type of ship,” said PSC program manager Capt. Eric Drey. “It’s the first heavy icebreaker built by our nation in 50 years. It’s not just a big day for the Coast Guard, but a big day for the nation.”
Bollinger will need four months of labor for each module and will recruit and train more workers during this time to manage the transition to production of the lead hull as the prototype modules are completed.
Lockport, Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards acquired the PSC program last year through its acquisition of VT Halter Marine, which was awarded the PSC program contract in 2019, beating out Bollinger Shipyards and Fincantieri Marinette Marine to win the bid.
The Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy icebreaker, the 399-foot USCGC Polar Star, commissioned in 1976, and one medium icebreaker, the 420-foot USCGC Healy, commissioned in 1999.
The Polar Security Cutters (PSCs) is one of the Coast Guard’s highest priority programs, with polar icebreaking capability to support economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs in the polar regions. The program is planned with three vessels capable of executing key Coast Guard missions, including defense readiness; marine environmental protection; ports, waterways and coastal security; and search and rescue.
However, due to the PSC design not yet being mature, the program is over budget and three years behind schedule, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Construction on the first ship is now scheduled to start in March 2024 with completion not expected until at least 2027.
To help fill the capability gap until the delayed Polar Security Cutters are operational, the Coast Guard plans to invest $75 million to extend the service life of the 50-year-old Polar Star.
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