Unless you’re golfing, being down 40-1 is not a good way to end a game, but that’s currently the score in the Russia vs. U.S. Arctic turf war. Moscow stands as the military and exploration leader at the top of the world with their massive fleet of 40 icebreakers, compared to our single functioning heavy icebreaker (a second has been out of service since 2010, and the newest addition to the fleet is classified as a medium icebreaker).
Despite the decline of sea ice, navigating the Arctic Ocean still requires use of these ships that break through the thickest of ice covers. During a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation focused on bills that would authorizing the Coast Guard and the Federal Maritime Commission, the issue of funding these critically important ships was discussed.
Chairman Duncan Hunter (CA-50) emphasized that the Coast Guard is a critical part of our nation’s defense and homeland security and that one component of that is building and improving these Arctic vessels. Representative Garret Graves (LA-6) elaborated on the committee’s concerns about our nation’s lack of ice-breaking capability, stating, “We simply have insufficient capabilities for this interim period while we concurrently work on long-term acquisition of an icebreaker.” Admiral Paul F. Zukunft (Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard) explained that the cost of building these ships is a significant issue as they move forward with design and development. Although regular disagreement occurs on the Hill in regards to the rapidly changing climate of the Arctic, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can agree — keeping the polar ocean safe is a matter of national security, and funding is imperative to achieve that goal.