WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard’s last remaining icebreaker has just over half a decade left in it at most, putting enormous pressure on the service to get a ship designed and built on a constrained timeline, the service’s No. 2 officer said Wednesday.
“We need to get that first heavy icebreaker on the water in 2023, that’s about it for Polar Star, which is the nation’s only heavy icebreaker,” Adm. Charles Michel said at the Defense News Conference in Pentagon City, Virginia. “That ship basically goes from Antarctica to the yards, Antarctica to the yards. And there is no backup.
“But in order to get that first icebreaker in the water by 2023, we have to get that first big slug of money in 2018. This is a critical year.”
The Coast Guard requested $19 million in funding for the icebreaker in 2018, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Coast Guard is cautiously optimistic it will get the funding, Michel said.
“I’m optimistic we’re going to get it, but it‘s another one of those competing priorities,” he said.
The Coast Guard is aiming to build three heavy and three medium icebreakers over the coming years, Michel said, which is the level needed to fulfill all the Coast Guard’s missions.
To get there, the service will need to tap expertise from overseas.
“We haven’t built a heavy icebreaker in this country since the Polar Sea and the Polar Star in the mid-1970s,” Michael said. “All the major icebreaker technology developments over the past 40 are all overseas in countries like Finland, Sweeden, Russia. It’s going to require a significant bit of foreign expertise.”
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.