U.S. Presence In The Arctic – Armed Icebreakers?

2017-05-22T12:35:47+00:00 May 22, 2017|
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the country's only operational heavy icebreaker. (Credit: USCG)

(Click to enlarge) The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the country’s only operational heavy icebreaker. (Credit: USCG)

“U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security,” Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2) proclaimed during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee, Homeland Security Subcommittee. If only doing were as easy as saying – even accessing the remote region requires a heavy icebreaker that can ram through ice that is up to 21 feet thick.

During the hearing, Admiral Paul Zukunft (Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard) shared how the U.S. Coast Guard is set to grow its fleet from three (there are currently two heavy icebreakers, one of which is out of service, and one medium icebreaker) to six, with an even split between heavy and medium icebreakers. The new ships, the first of which is scheduled for delivery in 2023, will include advanced capabilities, such as weaponry, in anticipation of high tensions over resources, especially oil and gas, in the melting Arctic. Chairman John Carter (TX-31) raised concerns associated with funding this undertaking. While the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 244, P.L. 115-31) supplies $150 million for planning and design of the first new heavy icebreaker, its estimated total cost is $1 billion. Since the Coast Guard and U.S. Navy have a joint program office to manage icebreaker acquisition, he described how the bulk of the funding has come from defense appropriations; however, report language encouraged the Coast Guard to budget for “all follow-up requirements.” Zukunft shared the same concern, agreeing we would be “in a much safer place if we had the appropriation in a Coast Guard budget versus DOD.”