“These icebreakers are examples
of something that we need to get on-
line now,” Obama said during Sept. 2
remarks at Alaska’s Seward Harbor.
“They can’t wait. And I’m looking
forward to trying to work with
Congress to make that happen.”
While Obama was cautious not
to poke the Russian bear during his
remarks, strained relations between
Washington and Moscow have
helped boost political interest in the
Arctic. Additionally, increased com-
mercial use of the waters promises
to make the Arctic an important new
trade route for U.S. business.
“It’s important that we are prepared, so that whether it’s for
search-and-rescue missions, whether it’s for national security reasons,
whether it’s for commercial reasons, that we have much greater
capabilities than we currently
have,” Obama said.
The plans almost certainly will
receive support from members of
both parties, including Alaska
Republican Lisa Murkowski, a
member of the Senate Appropria-
tions Committee who has long
pushed for greater U.S. investment
“For those of you that listen to
me for five minutes, you know that
my first priority when it comes to
Arctic infrastructure is making
sure that we have the assets that we
need for maritime activities and
that starts with an icebreaker,”
Murkowski said June 11 during
panel consideration of the defense
spending bill. “And we do not have
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 6 SEAPOWER / OCTOBER 2015
Talk of Procuring Icebreakers
Gains Traction in Washington
In a move intended to beef up U.S. presence in the increasingly navigable Arctic, President Barack Obama
wants to accelerate plans to replace the Coast Guard’s
heavy-duty icebreakers and consider construction of
more vessels capable of traversing the icy waters.
The president’s plans, announced in early September during a trip to Alaska, are intended to boost
U.S. commerce in the Arctic and maintain America’s
status as a power in the region, just as other countries
— most notably, Russia — make significant investments there.
To be sure, the plans are modest compared to those
of Russia, which intends to augment and modernize its
fleet of 40 icebreakers with 11 new ships. By comparison, the United States, which once maintained a fleet
of seven icebreakers after World War II, has only two
operational icebreakers, the nearly 40-year-old heavy
icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker
Healy, owned by the Coast Guard.
Under Obama’s accelerated timeline, the United
States would speed up procurement of the new vessel by
two years, from 2022 to 2020. While the plan stretches
past his presidency, Obama’s proposal injects new
urgency in an area in which many Arctic boosters have
felt that U.S. investment and interest has been lagging.
A C-130 Hercules from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak,
Alaska, air-drops a container of parts and supplies to the
Coast Guard medium icebreaker Healy Aug. 19. Healy was
underway in the Arctic Ocean.