The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Paul F. Zukunft said he was confident that U.S. shipyards could build icebreakers for less that $1 billion.
He was speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies on Tuesday and confirmed that he is considering three heavy and three medium icebreakers, all built in the U.S.
The U.S. hasn't built an icebreaker for around 40 years; the last heavy icebreaker built, Polar Star, was commissioned in 1976. “There’s a front end investment that industry has to make. But I can demonstrate to industry that this is a worthwhile investment, not to build one ship, but to build a fleet of ships and certainly a fleet of heavy icebreakers.
“But I’ve got to get that first one in the water by 2023, because the one it will replace is living on borrowed time right now, and that’s the Polar Star.”
Five shipyards have been awarded industry studies and are doing modelled ice trials and looking at designs. “Make no mistake,” says Zukunft. “This will be built in the United States with U.S. parts - that signal has been sent loud and clear to every service chief in terms of what expectations are for military acquisitions going forward.”
Zukunft recalled some of the maritime threats currently facing the U.S. “As I look at what is playing out in the Arctic, looks eerily familiar to what we’re seeing in the East/South China Sea and with what Russia is doing up there as well. We’re seeing the movement of transnational criminal organizations who realize that most of our trade moves by water, and they’re using these same trade routes to move people, to move weapons, bulk cash and the like.”
He also noted that Coast Guard icebreaker Healy has mapped the extended continental shelf up in the Arctic, and area about the size of Texas, beyond the U.S. 200-mile limit. “And what’s below this water on the seabed and below the floor is 13 percent of the world’s oil reserves, about a third of the world’s gas reserves, and about a trillion dollars-worth of rare earth metals.”
Last month, Zukunft testified before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation about acquisition programs and the need for more funding.
During the hearing, he called for more support for the perennially underfunded agency. With just five percent annual growth in operations and maintenance and $2 billion per year for acquisition, Zukunft said that he could “dig out of the Budget Control Act basement [and build] out our fleet of national security cutters, offshore patrol cutters, fast response cutters, [and] icebreakers.”