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Trump Previews Plan to Acquire 10 Icebreakers

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America's sole heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star, at McMurdo Station (USCG file image)

By The Maritime Executive 07-10-2020 09:59:14

In remarks during a visit to U.S. Southern Command headquarters Friday, President Donald Trump said that his administration is working on a plan to procure as many as 10 icebreakers from "a certain place."

"We have under construction right now the largest icebreaker in the world, and we're going to be trying to get, if we can, an extra 10 icebreakers,"  he said. "We only have one, Russia has 40 . . . but we think we'll have 10, because we're trying to do a deal with a certain place that has a lot of icebreakers. We're seeing if we can do a really good deal where you could have them very fast, you know about that, and we're working on it. I think we can surprise you at a very good price, which would be nice. Much cheaper than the one we're building, and that's also very nice, do about five of them."

[Video available at https://www.pscp.tv/w/1dRKZZvYwAdKB#, time mark 6:30]

The United States currently has two operational icebreakers, the medium icebreaker USCGC Healy and the heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star. Construction on the Coast Guard's next icebreaker series, the Polar Security Cutter, has not yet begun. When built, the new class will be 460 feet in length and will have a full load displacement of 23,000 tonnes - substantially smaller than Russia's new Project 22220 class nuclear-powered icebreaker series.

American shipbuilder VT Halter Marine holds a contract to build up to three of the new Polar Security Cutters for the U.S. Coast Guard. If all options are exercised, each vessel will cost about $650 million ($940 million when including government-furnished equipment). 

Trump did not specify the nature of the new deal or the name of the counterparty. However, the White House issued a memorandum last month requesting alternative options for renewing the Coast Guard's aging icebreaker fleet. The memorandum requires the Department of Homeland Security to identify icebreaker leasing options provided by partner nations "as a near- to mid-term (Fiscal Years 2022-2029) bridging strategy to mitigate future operational degradation of the [Polar Star]."

The memo also requires the department to evaluate "defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors" and "the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion." The study is due by August.