Senator Seeks to Cut Wait for New Icebreaker in Arctic

The Coast Guard Cutter HEALY (WAGB - 20) is United States' newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. (Coast Guard photo)
The Coast Guard Cutter HEALY (WAGB - 20) is United States' newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. (Coast Guard photo)

KODIAK, Alaska — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska is pushing to get a new icebreaker in the Arctic to boost the nation's defenses and investments in commerce.

Sullivan said the federal government is "behind the curve" in transportation and resources in the Arctic compared to other countries, like Russia.

"I think we're making progress but not nearly as much as we need to be, particularly given what other countries are doing," said Sullivan, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There are several other countries who aren't arctic nations that have more icebreakers than we do."

Many countries have sought to take advantage of melting sea ice that has created new pathways in the Arctic by acquiring icebreakers, which are used to create paths for other vessels.

The U.S. has two active icebreakers, the Healy and the Polar Star, which is the only one capable of year-round access in the Arctic. The Coast Guard predicts the 40-year-old Polar Star will only be in commission for about seven more years.

Russia has 40 active icebreakers, with more likely on the way.

"The Department of Defense, and they even admit it, has just essentially been very, very behind the curve on what's going on in the Arctic in terms of transportation, in terms of resources, in terms of what the Russians are doing in the Arctic," said Sullivan. "We're playing catch-up."

A new icebreaker is estimated at about $1 billion and takes up to 10 years to build, which Sullivan said is too long of a wait.

He has co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington that seeks to refurbish the Polar Sea, which was decommissioned in 2011 after an engine failure. Sullivan said he also is in favor of leasing an icebreaker from the private sector.

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