The US Coast Guard icebreaker program is far behind the original timeline. U.S. Congresswoman for Alaska, Mary Peltola, urges the US Congress to fund icebreakers in Alaska to meet the increased Russian and Chinese activity in the Arctic.
“I spoke with the Coast Guard at a subcommittee meeting last week to emphasize the need for Congress to fund icebreakers in Alaska,” Mary Peltola writes on social media.
“The Arctic is going to be critical to the international power balance. China and Russia are preparing for it – why aren’t we?” asks the Alaskan Congresswoman.
As previously reported by High North News, USA's icebreaker fleet consists of two aging icebreakers – USCG Healy and USCG Polar Star – that have repeatedly suffered mechanical failures, including onboard fires, leaving them unavailable for extended periods of time.
The 46-year-old Polar Star, the Coast Guard's only heavy icebreaker, is nearing the end of its useful service life and relies on its out-of-service sister ship, Polar Sea, for spare parts.
The US Coast Guard icebreaker program is far behind the original timeline, and the first vessel will not be ready until the middle of 2028. The second Polar Security Cutter will likely not enter service before the next decade, extending the US icebreaker problem into the 2030s.
The Coast Guard is now looking to purchase an existing commercial icebreaker for $150m to bridge the gap. Meanwhile, Russia's Rosatom signed construction contracts for two more nuclear icebreakers intended for delivery in December 2028 and December 2030.
Russia currently has at least three dozen national icebreakers, while China has increased its count to four.
And they are not even an Arctic nation ...
"The continuation of the construction of a series of universal nuclear icebreakers is a key element in the integrated development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation," said Acting Director General of Rosatomflot, Leonid Irlitsa, in February.
In October, Chinese shipping company NewNew Shipping Line completed the inaugural round-trip voyage of the new regular liner service connecting China to western Russia via the Arctic.
At a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) warned of the consequences of falling further behind Russia and China in the Arctic, according to The Hill.
"Even China's icebreaker capacity is on pace to surpass ours in 2025 … and they are not even an Arctic nation," Sullivan said, commenting that one of the two US icebreakers is, in fact, broken.
Highlighting Alaska's pivotal role in Arctic competition, Senator Sullivan underscored the importance of the 49th state in guarding the United States against threats from competitors, particularly Russia and China. He noted that Alaska's proximity to both nations necessitates its active involvement in securing American interests in the Arctic.