The United States is still relearning how to construct technology and iron for its polar icebreakers despite spending billions of dollars on its Arctic defense program, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The U.S. Coast Guard currently operates two icebreakers, one of which is set to retire this year, and is not set to complete construction on a replacement ship until at least 2028, according to the WSJ. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused some of the gaps in production, the U.S. has not produced a new heavy icebreaker since 1976, meaning the industry has had to relearn how to make and construct material heavy enough to withstand the wear caused by thick Arctic ice.
“According to Coast Guard officials and shipyard representatives, the U.S. industrial base lacks experience designing and building a heavy polar icebreaker, since the Polar Star and Polar Sea were designed and built over 45 years ago,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a report on the U.S. icebreaker shortage. “Coast Guard officials and shipyard representatives told us that unlike in other shipbuilding programs, there are no existing U.S.-developed hull designs for a heavy polar icebreaker that the shipyard could easily leverage as a basis for [Polar Security Cutters] PSC.”
Pressure to create new icebreakers has risen over the past few years because of escalated U.S. tensions with Russia and China, according to the WSJ. Both countries have drastically increased their presence in the Arctic Circle over the past few years, and Russia, which currently has three dozen icebreakers in its national fleet, continues to build more of the heavy ships each year to patrol in the area.
The U.S. faced major setbacks as it repeatedly used technology for its icebreakers that had not yet been fully tested or proven. These design flaws and shortcuts caused a three-year delay and made the project go $3.5 billion over budget, while construction will not begin on the proposed lead ship until at least March 2024.
The U.S. currently has a contract with Bollinger Shipyards, a Mississippi-based company, to build six new icebreakers, the WSJ reported. The Coast Guard reported in June 2023 that it needed at least eight or nine icebreakers to maintain operations in the Arctic and Antarctic waters, according to the United States Naval Institute News.
The projected defense budget for Fiscal Year 2024 has reduced the Coast Guard’s allotted amount for heavy-duty icebreakers by $25.8 million, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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