Money for Coast Guard Icebreaker, Key to Added Arctic Presence, Included in Newly Passed Funding

Diver are lifted from the water onto the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Corey Smith, U.S. Coast Guard Senior Chief Jeff Esser, divers, are lifted from the water onto the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) and assisted by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James Moore, and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Countie, divers, after the southernmost dive operation in the Bay of Whales, Antarctica, Feb. 3, 2024. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Graves)

The $1.2 trillion spending package signed by President Joe Biden on Saturday furnishes $11.8 billion to the U.S. Coast Guard to support its mission and operations, including the purchase of a commercially available icebreaker to provide coverage in the polar regions.

The service, which currently has a heavy icebreaker and a medium icebreaker capable of ocean operations, has requested at least $125 million each year since 2021 to buy a commercial icebreaker.Coast Guard officials have said they needed the ship in order to continue operations in the polar regions while waiting for the delivery of three planned polar security icebreakers.

The law does not specify which ship the service must buy, but it has had its eye on the multipurpose offshore vessel Aiviq, a tug supply vessel with icebreaking capabilities owned by a subsidiary of Edison Chouest Offshore.

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The ship is expected to be homeported in Juneau, according to members of Alaska's congressional delegation.

"Inclusion of funding for the first icebreaker in a generation is significant progress for our state and our country's national security," Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said in a statement Thursday. "Our national security interests in the Arctic have never been more critical."

Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, concurred, saying, "Adding an icebreaker to the Coast Guard's fleet will allow the United States to conduct important missions, project American presence, and take a leadership position in the Arctic as it opens up."

The fiscal 2024 Homeland Security Appropriations Act also included a requirement that the service provide a report on the viability of reactivating the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea, which has been out of service since 2010 as a result of engine failure.

In 2017, the Coast Guard determined that fixing the ship and refurbishing it would be too costly, deciding to use it as a source of parts for its sister ship, the 48-year-old heavy icebreaker Polar Star.

The proposed purchase is intended to provide a platform for U.S. operations in the Arctic region as China and Russia step up their presence in the area. Russia has 55 icebreakers, while China has expanded its fleet and calls itself a "near-Arctic state."

In addition to the purchase of the new icebreaker, funding for the Coast Guard offers $1.4 billion for major capital and acquisition programs, including slightly less than $1 billion for additional vessels, $69 million for aircraft, and $188 million for shore facilities. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

It also provides $1.5 million for an independent and impartial review of the Coast Guard's efforts to respond to and reduce sexual assaults.

The law requires the Department of Homeland Security to commission an independent review of the service's handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, as well as an Office of Inspector General investigation into the withholding of the results of Operation Fouled Anchor, the investigation into sexual assaults at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, from Congress.

The Coast Guard has requested $13.8 billion for its fiscal 2025 budget, including $12.3 billion in discretionary funding.

The budget includes funding requests to refit the commercial icebreaker for military use and to crew it, as well as money for two new fast response cutters intended to be used in the Indo-Pacific region and funds for construction of a seventh offshore patrol cutter, among other projects.

The proposal also calls for $206 million to recapitalize aircraft and install unmanned aircraft systems on national security cutters, as well as $166 million for shore infrastructure improvements in locations that include Charleston, South Carolina; the lower Mississippi River; and the Indo-Pacific region.

Related: Coast Guard Pleads for Commercial Icebreaker as Timeline for New Polar Cutter Falls Apart

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