Even with 10 more icebreakers, the United States would trail significantly behind Russia in total fleet size. Still, it would represent a huge increase in American icebreaking capacity compared to what the Coast Guard has now.
Trump did not say specifically where the U.S. government would acquire these additional icebreakers from and whether it would do so through an outright purchase or some other type of arrangement, such as a lease deal. “We’re trying to do a deal with a certain place that has a lot of icebreakers and we’re seeing if we can make a really good deal where you can have them very fast,” the President said cryptically.
“We’re working on it and I think we can surprise you at a very good price, which will be nice,” he continued. “Much cheaper than the one we’re building and that’s also nice.”
This would all seem to indicate Trump is talking about the potential to buy or lease existing ships. This was something that the President alluded to in his Arctic memorandum, which focused heavily on icebreaking, in June.
“In anticipation of the USCGC Polar Star‘s operational degradation from Fiscal Years 2022-2029, an analysis to identify executable options, with associated costs, to bridge the gap of available vessels as early as Fiscal Year 2022 until the new PSCs required to meet the objectives of this memorandum are operational, including identifying executable, priced leasing options, both foreign and domestic,” the memo explained. “This analysis shall specifically include operational risk associated with using a leased vessel as compared to a purchased vessel to conduct specified missions set forth in this memorandum.”
It’s unclear, though, where this many existing icebreakers could be sourced from quickly. No other single country, except Russia, operates 10 icebreakers, in total, which the Coast Guard would consider suitable for independent Arctic operations.
Certain friendly countries, most notably Finland, do have shipyards with significant expertise in building ice-breakers and other ice-capable ships, but having any new ships built, even abroad at yards with applicable designs already in production, would still take time. The Coast Guard already sought to keep costs as low as possible and simplify construction as much as possible with regards to its new Polar Security Cutters by choosing a relatively mature design derived from that of a ship, the Polarstern II, already being built in Germany.
There is also a possibility that Trump may have misspoken, at least in part. The Coast Guard’s existing plans, at least as they are known publicly, call for a fleet of three new heavy icebreakers and three new medium icebreakers. The plan could be to increase the overall size of the service’s future icebreaking fleets to 10 ships, which would only take the addition of four more vessels, either via new production or a lease arrangement.
Trump’s Arctic security memo, which he issued on June 9, gave the Coast Guard 60 days to submit its full report on its icebreaker plans to the White House, by way of the Departement of Homeland Security. This means the review should be completed by the first week of August.
So, we may find out more specific details about the future of America’s icebreaking fleets, and the “certain place” that additional ships might come from, soon.
Contact the author: Joe@thedrive.com