WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter is pressing President Donald Trump to include an icebreaker fleet for the Arctic in his plans to rebuild the military.
In a Feb. 21 letter to Trump, Hunter argued the Obama administration "severely underfunded" the Coast Guard, leaving it under-equipped to compete with Russia, which has expanded claims in the Arctic and outpaces the U.S. in icebreaker development. Hunter chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
"Not only have we not built a new icebreaker since the late 1970s, the Coast Guard is being forced to order parts online and cannibalize older vessels to maintain a minimum level of operability — just to operate a single heavy icebreaker," the California Republican wrote.
Hunter is campaigning to fund six icebreakers as well as unmanned aerial systems to help the Coast Guard patrol the Arctic. He has argued for a block buy of the ships, funded beyond the $150 billion for initial development allocated by the Obama administration.
Hunter's letter to Trump followed a Feb. 17 letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, as well as a Feb. 10 letter to Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft.
To Trump, Hunter argued that Russia is "our single biggest competitor" in the Arctic and has 40 vessels in development, including its biggest icebreaker yet, the Arktika.
"It should be of tremendous concern that next to this vessel, there is no equivalent in the world," Hunter wrote. "In other words, Russia is not just exceeding the U.S. in icebreaker production and Arctic presence, they're in a class by themselves and setting a standard, supported by enhanced capability, that is unmatched."
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.