The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Appropriations Bill has included one billion dollars in funding to accelerate construction of a new polar icebreaker for the U.S. Coast Guard, reported Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).
Cochran, who chairs the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said the bill recommends $1 billion in Navy shipbuilding funds to procure the first U.S. Coast Guard-operated icebreaker in more than 25 years. Congress last funded a new icebreaker in the 1990 Defense Appropriations Act.
The U.S. currently relies on just two polar icebreakers, one heavy and one medium vessel. The heavy icebreaker, Polar Star, entered service in 1976 and is well beyond its 30-year service life. In contrast, the Russian fleet consists of roughly 40 operational icebreakers and 11 icebreakers either planned or under construction.
“Our FY2017 defense funding bill makes a critical investment in the long-delayed expansion of the U.S. icebreaker fleet,” Cochran said. “We must take assertive action to provide the vessels needed to protect American national security and economic interests in the Arctic region. The United States needs the capability to have year-round access to Polar Regions.”
The funding for the Polar Icebreaker Recapitalization Project would accelerate plans announced by President Obama last year to shift planned icebreaker construction from 2022 to 2020. In addition to funding, language in the bill would encourage actions to facilitate an earlier construction start and long-range cost savings.