ICYMI: “Icebreakers for the Arctic should be based in our Arctic state”

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – On Monday, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Commerce Committees, penned an op-ed in Roll Call calling on the Pentagon and the Trump administration to home-port the next generation of icebreakers – the Polar Security Cutter – in Alaska, America’s only Arctic state. In the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Sullivan secured a provision authorizing the construction of six new icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard, America’s first new icebreakers in forty years. Contracts have since been awarded for up to the first three vessels. 

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Icebreakers for the Arctic should be based in our Arctic state
Amid rising Arctic traffic and tensions, Alaska is the right location for ice-capable U.S. vessels
By Senator Dan Sullivan
October 5, 2020

As ice continues to recede in the Bering Sea — stretching between Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula — we in Alaska, the only Arctic state in the U.S, are witnessing an increase in ships passing through the area. Indeed, maritime traffic north of the Bering Strait has increased 128 percent since 2008. Some, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have predicted that this narrow stretch of sea is poised to become the next Suez Canal, and Putin says Russia will control it.

Coinciding with the increase in maritime traffic is an alarming increase in Russian military activity in the Arctic. Just a few weeks ago, three Russian warships and two support vessels and a nuclear submarine conducted joint missile drills in our commercial fishing waters, harassing our fishing boats. There has also been a significant increase in Russian bombers — four of which participated in the recent military exercise — entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. It’s clear that the Arctic, with its vast natural resources as well as strategic location, is becoming an increasingly contested area.

Is America, one of eight Arctic nations, equipped to handle this increase in traffic and activity through our waters? No — not yet, at least.

Our Coast Guard, the lead agency for projecting American power and interests in the region, has just one operational heavy icebreaker and one aging medium polar icebreaker, the Healy, a vessel that recently caught fire and had to cancel all of its Arctic operations. Russia, on the other hand, has a fleet of more than 50 icebreakers, and China, a nation far from the Arctic Circle but that calls itself a “near Arctic” state, is expected to surpass our icebreaking capacity by 2025. 

The disparity is alarming, but the federal government is finally waking up, with some firm jostling from Congress.

To read the full op-ed, click here

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