Increased activity in the Arctic means we need a strong American presence. Our only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is forty-two years old, operating twelve years beyond its expected lifespan. The Polar Star reaches the end of its operational life in 2023, just as there is expected to be an increase in activity, including the opening of new shipping lanes, the presence of cruise ships, and an increase in exploring Arctic oil and gas reserves. Our competitors, including Russia and China, are investing heavily in their own Arctic presence: Russia has over forty icebreakers, some of which are armed. We must ensure the new heavy icebreaker is delivered by 2023 or risk being excluded from this important region.
The Coast Guard's missions in the Arctic, including fisheries management, search-and-rescue activities, and law-enforcement missions, will increase and they must be properly resourced to meet challenges in this harsh environment. Beyond the national security needs of having an American presence in this important area, many government agencies depend on the capability of American icebreakers, including Department of Transportation (the Committee on the Marine Transportation System), Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce (NOAA), Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation, to perform their functions.
A Department of Homeland Security Mission needs statement and Coast Guard studies have shown that the right number for secure American presence is three heavy and three medium icebreakers. The Administration has requested $750 million for icebreaker procurement in FY19 funds, and this request should be supported by Congress. This provides enough funding for the first heavy icebreaker and long-lead materials for the second.
Why You Should Act
The Coast Guard needs your help to secure these funds. There is significant competition within the Department of Homeland Security budget for other projects, and we need to ensure these funds are protected and fully appropriated---or risk falling even further behind our competitors!