The Coast Guard has requested slightly less funding for fiscal 2024 than it was awarded this year, saying the proposed budget would adequately support the service "while building the Coast Guard of the future."
The $13.45 billion budget request, down from the $13.8 billion it asked for last year and the $13.9 billion the service actually received, includes a repeat $125 million request for a commercial icebreaker, which would be used to bolster polar operations while the service waits for delivery of a new class of icebreakers.
The ship, which would be modified to meet Coast Guard operational needs, is necessary because "adversaries ... are increasing their presence in the Arctic and may seek to disrupt established norms for their own benefit," according to White House budget documents.
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White House officials also said the vessel would give the Coast Guard greater access to vulnerable coastal communities in the region that are dealing with the impact of climate change.
The service has awarded a $745 million contract to VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, to build the first polar security cutter, with an original delivery date of 2025. But service officials now worry that the schedule could slip to as late as 2027.
The Coast Guard's deputy commandant for operations, Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, told a House committee last year that it is highly unlikely that the ship will be delivered in fiscal 2025.
"I think that might have been the latest update from the Coast Guard on that, and that's what's in the contract," Gautier said. "And in fact, we assess that there's considerable schedule risk even for delivery in fiscal year '26."
The Coast Guard operates two oceangoing icebreakers, with just one capable of providing service in Antarctica, the heavy icebreaker Polar Star, which is more than 46 years old. A commercial icebreaker would fill any gaps in polar operations that might occur with increased mission demands or in the event of a catastrophic failure of those two ships.
In addition to the new icebreaker, the budget requests $1.2 billion to maintain or purchase new vessels, including $579 million to build a sixth offshore patrol cutter and purchase materials for a seventh; $98 million for a new waterways commerce cutter; $55 million toward a new Great Lakes icebreaker project; and $17 million for post-build needs of two National Security Cutters.
The budget also calls for $115 million to maintain the service's MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter fleet and fund a service life extension project for its nearly 40-year-old series of MH-65 Dolphin helicopters.
Several Coast Guard installations also would see infrastructure improvements under the budget: The proposal calls for $144 million for a fast response cutter homeport in Seward, Alaska; a waterways commerce cutter homeport in St. Petersburg, Florida; and ongoing support for construction of a consolidated operations command at Charleston, South Carolina.
Facing recruiting shortages, the service's $12.05 billion discretionary budget, which actually represents an increase of more than $550 million from last year's request, includes $12 million to establish seven new recruiting offices across the country, as well as funding to improve medical services and training and money to implement changes to its military justice programs required under the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
The budget also would cover a 5.2% pay raise proposed by the Biden administration for service members.
The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, which has requested a total of $103.2 billion for fiscal 2024. That amount includes funding for mandatory programs such as the National Flood Insurance Program and the Disaster Relief Fund, plus $60.4 billion in discretionary spending, a decrease of 1.1% from fiscal 2023's approved amount.
Prior to the release Wednesday of the proposed fiscal 2024 plan, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan said the service's expanding mission set likely will require annual budget growth in the coming years of 3% to 5%.
"This means that by 2033, the United States Coast Guard would be a $20 billion a year organization. I am certain you will not find a better return on investment for the American people," Fagan said in her first "State of the Coast Guard" speech March 7 in Washington, D.C.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime
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