U.S. Coast Guard Restates Need for More Ice Breakers


By MarEx 2015-11-18 19:06:43

U.S. Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Admiral Charles Michel testified on Arctic operations before a joint subcommittee hearing held on Tuesday highlighting a lack of infrastructure in the region and reaffirming the Coast Guard’s desire for two new icebreakers.

“The ability to operate year round, safely and reliably means having heavy icebreakers. Year round access is vital to our nation’s security and economic interests,” he stated.

“The Coast Guard needs at least two heavy icebreakers to provide year-round, assured access and self-rescue in the Polar regions. The Coast Guard is moving forward at best speed to meet the President’s intent of recapitalizing our icebreaker fleet, and we look forward to working with Congress on this important effort.”

Michel has visited the Arctic and Antarctic. “I can personally attest that these regions are remote, hostile and unforgiving,” he shared with the subcommittees. “Distances are vast, weather is a constant factor, ice conditions are very dynamic and infrastructure is almost non-existent.”

“Operations in both polar regions demand detailed and deliberate planning supported by specialized, reliable and unique equipment, and they often demand close coordination with federal, state, local, academic, industry and indigenous community stakeholders,” he added. 

The Coast Guard’s strategic objectives in the Arctic are to improve awareness, modernize governance, and broaden relationships. In pursuing these objectives, the Coast Guard has a number of initiatives planned to be in place by the year 2025. 

These include:

1. Broaden Arctic Shield Operations
Arctic Shield is the Coast Guard’s annual operation in the Arctic region.

2. Establish an Arctic Coast Guard Forum
The Coast Guard is increasing engagement with its peer maritime services from Arctic countries. The Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF), modeled after the successful North Pacific Coast Guard Forum, is a unique maritime governance group where principals of all eight Arctic countries discuss coordination of exercises, strengthen relationships and share best practices.

3. Establish a Center for Arctic Study and Policy
The Coast Guard has established a Center for Arctic Study and Policy (CASP) at the United States Coast Guard Academy. The CASP is currently developing its credentials as a premier center and building subject-matter expertise, by both presenting and participating in Arctic academic forums. Current projects include development of a workshop on shipping in confined waterways in conjunction with the DHS Center of Excellence at the University of Alaska - Anchorage.

4. Promote Waterways Management
With respect to waterways management in the Arctic, the Coast Guard is employing its
Waterways Analysis and Management System and Port Access Route Study (PARS) methodologies to assess vessel traffic density and determine if a need exists for improved aids to navigation and other safety requirements. A thorough Bering Strait PARS, with input from other Arctic Nations, is expected to provide valuable recommendations for the IMO.

The Coast Guard is also engaged with industry to ensure adequate oversight of pollution prevention, preparedness and response requirements to protect the Arctic environment. Pollution response is significantly more difficult in the Arctic region. This year, the Coast Guard partnered with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in coordinating and monitoring drilling operations in the Chuckchi Sea.

5. Engagement with Russia
Engagement with the Russian Federation is a key feature of effective environmental response in the Arctic, says Michel. “The Russian Federation is an important partner with responsibility for vast regions of the Arctic and shares a maritime border with the United States. It is in the interests of U.S. national security for the U.S. Coast Guard to maintain open lines of communication with its Russian counterparts to ensure effective cross-border search and rescue operations, maritime law enforcement, and pollution response.”

The United States Coast Guard, in coordination with the Department of State, has strengthened its engagements with the Russian Border Guard to coordinate fisheries law enforcement operations and search and response in the Bering Sea and North Pacific between the United States and Russia.

The hearing included the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, both with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. As a visible reminder of the need to forge strong partnerships, Michel testified alongside representatives of two critical partners in the region: retired Admiral Bob Papp with the U.S. Department of State and Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet with the U. S. Navy.

The full text of his testimony is available here.

Testimony of Admiral Robert Papp, Jr., USCG, Retired, U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic U.S. Department of State.

Testimony of Rear Admiral Timothy C. Gallaudet, USN Oceanographer and Navigator U.S. Department of Defense.

Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan at Joint Hearing on Charting the Arctic: