Head of Coast Guard says people are ‘waking up’ to the need for more Arctic icebreakers

Vice Adm. Paul Zukunft, Pacific Area Commander, traveled to Kodiak in 2013 to speak at the change of command ceremony for the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley. (Creative Commons photo by Nicole Klauss)
Vice Adm. Paul Zukunft, Pacific Area Commander, traveled to Kodiak in 2013 to speak at the change of command ceremony for the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley. (Creative Commons photo by Nicole Klauss)

The head of the U.S. Coast Guard says lawmakers and national security staff are waking up to the need for more icebreakers as the Arctic opens to increased ship traffic.

“This is really generating a lot of interest and I am optimistic that on my watch we will see, no fooling, forward progress as we look at building a national fleet of icebreakers,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

The commandant says he’s had a peek at bills pending in Congress that detail how his service will fare in its campaign to modernize.

“I can’t share those with you, but it may very well bring the largest acquisition budget to the Coast Guard in Coast Guard history,” he said.

That optimism stands in contrast to an assessment a few months ago by the Government Accountability Office. The office says the list of ships and airplanes the Coast Guard says it needs is unaffordable. The report also says one upcoming project – the construction of 25 offshore patrol cutters – is expected to consume two-thirds of the Coast Guard acquisition budget until 2032.

Zukunft, in his speech to the Press Club, also discussed the lack of modern charting in the Arctic, and said the Coast Guard is considering a traffic separation plan for the Bering Strait to prevent collisions.

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