Few ships have a strong enough hull, the appropriate shape, or enough power to push through multiple meters of solid sea ice.
Icebreakers are becoming increasingly necessary ships for the Coast Guard as the climate warms and the Arctic thaws, opening the once-inaccessible area to traffic and foreign nations like Russia and China. The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing to discuss these much-needed vessels (vital for conducting Artic research) with the Coast Guard.
Unfortunately, the U.S. fleet is down to only three icebreakers; in contrast, Russia, our neighbor to the north, owns 40. President Trump’s budget request for the Coast Guard did not include funds for any new icebreakers, and the Navy’s budget doesn’t allocate any funds towards building icebreakers of their own. “What that told me is that the political leadership here, at the Department of Defense and the Navy – none of the them see icebreakers as a national security asset,” remarked Chairman Duncan Hunter (CA-50). However, Chairman Hunter also expressed frustration with the Coast Guard for their failure to produce five- and 20-year major acquisition planning documents, which Congress could have used to “fill in the blanks and provide a roadmap for the future.” Although this subcommittee has expressed their support for growing the icebreaker fleet in the past, in this fiscal climate, they said it is difficult to convince their colleagues due to these knowledge gaps. The Coast Guard plans to release a formal request for icebreaker Detail Design and Construction in Fiscal Year 2018.