The US Coast Guard (USCG) has awarded five firm-fixed-price contracts with a total value of nearly $20m, in order to conduct early industry design studies and analysis for the purchase of the country's next heavy polar icebreaker.

The contract awardees are Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana; General Dynamics / National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, San Diego; Fincantieri Marine Group in Washington; Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi, US.

Industrial design studies will help identify design and systems solutions that would facilitate acquisition cost reduction, as well as minimise schedule and technology risk.

The five companies will have to examine major design cost drivers, solutions to address potential acquisition, technology and production risks under the new agreements, in addition to benefits related to a wide range of production contract types.

"Our nation has an urgent need for heavy polar icebreaking capability; we formed an integrated programme office with the navy to take advantage of their shipbuilding experience."

USCG is working in collaboration with the US Navy to ensure the success of the project, as well as offering the capabilities required to address national defence and homeland security mission demands in the polar regions.

US Coast Guard Acquisition Programmes director and programme executive officer rear admiral Michael Haycock said: “These contracts will provide invaluable data and insight as we seek to meet schedule and affordability objectives.

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“Our nation has an urgent need for heavy polar icebreaking capability. We formed an integrated programme office with the navy to take advantage of their shipbuilding experience.”

The heavy polar icebreaker integrated programme office will use the study results to validate and refine the draft heavy polar icebreaker system specifications.

USCG plans to release a draft request for proposal (RFP) for detail design and development by the end of the current fiscal year, which will be followed by the release of the final RFP in the next fiscal year.

The studies are expected to be completed in 12 months.