June 10 (UPI) — A White House memorandum on polar security has the U.S. Coast Guard considering the addition of armed, nuclear-powered icebreakers to its aging fleet.
The United States has only two operational heavy icebreakers in use, the 44-year old Polar Star and the 24-year old Healy. Each is prone to breakdowns, officials have said.
The memo comes as global warning has positioned the Arctic region as a possible shipping route, as well as a source of available mineral resources, and calls for evaluation of a “defensive armament adequate to defend against near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion.”
Some U.S. Coast Guard ships have been armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 25mm automatic cannon mounts.
Russia currently operates four nuclear-powered icebreakers — one, the Taymyr, built in 1987, suffers frequent radiation leaks — and is expected to build five more, in addition to numerous conventionally-powered ice-capable ships.
China is constructing one nuclear-powered icebreaker as well.
Trump’s memorandum requires the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard to submit reports within 60 days, after risk/benefit studies with various government agencies are performed.
The Department of Energy is mentioned as a participant, suggesting it will offer advice on a nuclear-powered ship.
“Our adversaries are well ahead of the United States when it comes to Arctic infrastructure,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told Breaking Defense after the memo was released. “Unfortunately, our adversaries are well ahead of the United States when it comes to Arctic infrastructure.”