On June 9th, US President Donald Trump issued a memo ordering a review of the country’s requirements for icebreaking capabilities in the Arctic and Antarctic, with the goal of getting a fleet in place by 2029.
“The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), shall lead a review of requirements for a polar security icebreaking fleet acquisition program to acquire and employ a suitable fleet of polar security icebreakers, and associated assets and resources, capable of ensuring a persistent United States presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions in support of national interests and in furtherance of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, as appropriate.”
The memo is a bit of a reminder, since three heavy icebreakers are currently being built in the United States, but the remaining ships that aren’t under contract should be reviewed for what can be done to maximize their utility in the frozen poles.
The memo calls for “an assessment of expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium [Polar Security Cutters] not yet contracted for, specifically including the maximum use of any such PSC with respect to its ability to support national security objectives,” which is due in 60 days.
In addition, the memo shows concern of specifically Russia’s capability, as it is the only country that has a fleet of nuclear icebreakers.
“This assessment shall also evaluate defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion.”
The memo asks for “use cases in the Arctic that span the full range of national and economic security missions (including the facilitation of resource exploration and exploitation and undersea cable laying and maintenance) that may be executed by a class of medium PSCs, as well as analysis of how these use cases differ with respect to the anticipated use of heavy PSCs for these same activities.
“These use cases shall identify the optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers for ensuring a persistent presence in both the Arctic and, as appropriate, the Antarctic regions.”
Finally, the memo calls for the study to identify two basing locations in the United States for its ice-hardened fleet, as well as two international locations. A study mandated by last year’s National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Department of Defense study locations for a port in the Arctic.
Alaska’s Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, who is an advocate for allocating more resources to directed toward the Arctic, said in a statement that Trump’s memo would “add weight” to ongoing efforts to build up the U.S. arctic presence.
“Our adversaries are well ahead of the United States when it comes to Arctic infrastructure,” Sullivan said. “We have one heavy and one medium functioning Polar-class icebreakers, while Russia has more than 50. I have fought for five years to bring Arctic issues to the forefront, including in the FY19 NDAA to authorize the building of six such icebreakers and my bill, the Strategic Arctic Naval Focus Act, to develop the capabilities and basing locations needed to support persistent presence in the Arctic.”
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