President Trump, in a recent memo, asked executive departments to report back by early August on how they can develop a U.S. “fleet” of icebreaking ships to navigate the frozen Arctic and Antarctic — marking yet another step in the administration’s efforts to strengthen U.S. influence in the region as it faces challenges from Russia and China.
Specifically, the Trump memo ordered the State Department, Defense Department, Commerce Department and Office of Management and Budget to review how the U.S. could acquire “at least three heavy polar-class security cutters,” better known as icebreakers.
The U.S. currently lags behind Russia in the icebreakers department, and sees this deficit as a problem. Energy resources, security concerns and more are driving the push to catch up.
The memo, which also considered using smaller icebreakers to support national security priorities like “unmanned aviation” and “space systems,” even flicked at the possibility of a more militarized presence: “This assessment shall also evaluate defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion.”
Below is a look at three major areas where the U.S. faces challenges in the Arctic, and what the Trump administration has done about them.
Icebreakers: The terminology in the memo speaking of a “fleet” of icebreakers is perhaps a bit misleading — the U.S. currently only has one heavy icebreaker that is used for missions in both the Arctic and Antarctic. That icebreaker, the USCG Polar Star, is more than 40 years old. In addition, the Coast Guard maintains the medium icebreaker, the USCG Healy. Other icebreakers in the U.S. are privately owned.
Russia, meanwhile, has dozens of icebreakers, including several that are nuclear powered, multiple large icebreakers and what can legitimately be called a fleet of medium icebreakers. China has a handful of medium icebreakers and is angling for new ones as well.
“We really don’t have the ability to project the presence we need to project in both the Arctic and the Antarctic,” Vice Adm. Scott Buschman, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations, told Fox News of U.S. capabilities with just the Polar Star and the Healy. Buschman’s rank is the equivalent of a three-star general.
“We do need additional polar icebreakers to do what we need to do both in the Antarctic and the Arctic at the high latitudes. In the past they used the term… ‘six, three, one.’ We need six icebreakers, at least three of which are heavy icebreakers. And we need one now.”
Nick Solheim, the founder of the Wallace Institute for Arctic Security, told Fox News that…
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