The Coast Guard is considering whether to arm new icebreaker ships in the Arctic, in response to armed Russian vessels.
Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said that Russia is far ahead of the U.S. in its Arctic military capabilities, and he himself is hoping for Congress to fund 6 armed icebreakers for construction by 2023.
“We know Russia is probably going to launch two icebreaking corvettes with cruise missiles on them over the course of the next several years,” Zukunft said. “We’re not building anything in the Navy’s surface fleet to counteract that. So what might an icebreaker of the 21st century need to do?”
The Daily Caller reports:
Zukunft argued the service should purchase three heavy and two medium icebreakers to pick up the slack, especially given that Russia has a vastly superior position in the area over the U.S. For Zukunft, Russia’s moves and investment in the region mean that Moscow is making the bold statement: “I’m here first, and everyone else, you’re going to be playing catch-up for a generation to catch up to me first.”
Just in terms of icebreakers, Russia has 40, while the U.S. only has two in service. Of those two in service, only one, the Polar Star, is fit for Arctic deployment, as the medium icebreaker the Healy is insufficient for northern conditions. The Polar Star, however, was built in the 1970s and is by no means a state-of-the-art vessel. The other vessel, the Polar Sea, is hopeless and incapable of refurbishment, as it would cost a minimum of $300 million.
Unlike the U.S., Russia has a significant overall presence in the Arctic, with around 20% of its GDP coming from the region.