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White House Urged To Build Up Arctic Icebreaker Fleet Amid Russian Expansion In The Region

February 22, 2017

In a letter written to President Trump, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter urged him to build up an Arctic icebreaker fleet as Russia is looking to expand its reach in the Arctic region.

Hunter, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, wrote the letter to Trump to warn him that Russia will be commissioning the world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker, Arktika, in 2019, while the U.S. Coast Guard is struggling to maintain their two 1970s era icebreakers.

Hunter argued that the Obama administration “severely underfunded” the U.S. Coast Guard, leaving it unable to keep up with Russia’s expansion into the Arctic region.

“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,” Hunter wrote.

Hunter said that the Coast Guard needs at least six more icebreakers so that the United States can show power in the region. He also called for unmanned aerial ships to patrol the Arctic. Hunter argued for a block buy of the ships, beyond the $150 billion allocated by the Obama administration.

Hunter said that it is of great concern that Russia has forty vessels at its disposal and that they will soon be launching “Arktika.”

“It should be of tremendous concern that next to this vessel, there is no equivalent in the world,” he 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.”

Hunter similarly wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asking for support for the development of the icebreakers.