US to break 25-year ice-class fast

The US Senate Appropriations Committee has included shipbuilding funding of US$1 billion in the FY2017 Defence Appropriations bill to accelerate the construction of a US Coast Guard-operated icebreaker.

Once completed, the icebreaker would be the first to be added to the US icebreaker fleet in 25 years.

The funding for the “Polar Icebreaker Recapitalisation Project” is hoped to accelerate plans announced by President Obama last year to shift planned icebreaker construction from 2022 to 2020.

The United States currently relies on just one heavy vessel and one medium vessel, one of which has been in service for 40 years, the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a statement.

The US heavy icebreaker, the ‘Polar Star’, entered service in 1976 and is well beyond its 30-year service life. Congress last funded a new icebreaker in the FY1990 Defence Appropriations Act.

In contrast, the Russian fleet consists of roughly 40 operational icebreakers and 11 icebreakers either planned or under construction.

“Our FY2017 defence funding bill makes a critical investment in the long-delayed expansion of the US icebreaker fleet,” committee chairman, Thad Cochran said. “We must take assertive action to provide the vessels needed to protect American national security and economic interests in the Arctic region. The United States needs the capability to have year-round access to Polar regions.”