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  February 23rd, 2017 | Written by

USCG: Icebreakers Are National Security Asset

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  • Senior Coast Guard leaders recently went to Washington to press for icebreakers.
  • Committee on Polar Icebreaker Cost Assessment was organized through National Academy of Sciences.
  • Committee was directed by Congress to report on options for acquisition of heavy icebreakers.

Leaders of the United States Coast Guard recently gathered in Washington to press the strategic need for icebreakers.

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Admiral Charles Michel briefed the Committee on Polar Icebreaker Cost Assessment, sharing how US security and sovereign interests hinge upon year-round, assured access to the polar regions.

The committee – organized through the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine – was directed by Congress to develop a report on options regarding the acquisition and operation of one or more heavy icebreakers.

This was the first information-gathering session for the committee, taking place over a two-day period. The committee aims to publish its findings in a July 2017 report.

The briefing served as an opportunity for the Vice Commandant to highlight the entire US inventory of two heavy icebreakers, only one of which is operational. The Polar Star, the sole heavy icebreaker in service, is currently on a mission in Antarctica. The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea was taken out of service in 2010.

The Polar Star has been in operation for over 40 years. Michel stressed how this aging asset requires substantial upkeep to operate. He also emphasized how the shortage of icebreakers impacts national security and maritime needs.

“Our current fleet does not meet this need,” said Michel. “We currently cannot guarantee year-round, assured access. If Polar Star were to suffer a casualty, we have zero self rescue capability.”

Due to the age and condition of the vessel, Michel spoke of the need for modern, capable icebreakers as a national security imperative. He shared key findings from a 2010 study that identified the need for three heavy and three medium icebreakers to provide sufficient capability to support U.S. national interests in the polar regions.

Michel also spoke of progress in recapitalizing the national fleet. Last summer, the Coast Guard established an integrated program is working toward the acquisition of the first US heavy polar icebreaker in more than four decades.