US Coast Guard chief: We are ‘not even in the same league as Russia’ in the Arctic
Russian President Vladimir Putin and defense minister Sergey Ivanov visiting military exercises in Russia’s Arctic North on board the nuclear-missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky in 2005.
The US is lagging far behind other nations, especially Russia, when it comes to planning for the Arctic region as ice melts.
“We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,” Newsweek quotes Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft as saying. “We’re not playing in this game at all.”
The Arctic is stocked with valuable oil, gas, mineral, and fishery reserves. The US estimates that a significant proportion of the planet’s untapped resources — including about 15% of the world’s remaining oil, up to 30% of its natural-gas deposits, and about 20% of its liquefied natural gas — is stored in the regions seabed.
The US has only two heavy diesel icebreakers and one medium icebreaker, among the main measures of Arctic capability. While not a direct military tool, these vessels play a multifaceted role in any nation’s Arctic strategy. The vessels allow a range of other merchant, survey, and military vessels to ply through the Arctic ice safely and in a year-round manner.
In comparison, Russia has six nuclear-powered icebreakers already in service. The Russians also have at least a dozen other diesel icebreakers in service. In 2017, Moscow is expecting the delivery of another new nuclear-powered vessel.
The US Coast Guard’s Polar Star.
Of the US’ two heavy icebreakers, only one, the Polar Star, is in functional condition, according to NPR. Its sister vessel, the Polar Sea, has been languishing at port for years after a major breakdown. The Coast Guard also has a medium icebreaker, the USCG Healy, but the service branch is petitioning to acquire more assets for its fleet.
“The Polar Sea had a major engine breakdown in 2010, had to be towed into its home port of Seattle, and it’s basically been … just rusting in the docks in Seattle,” Shiva Polefka, of the Center for American Progress, told NPR.
This forces the US to rely upon a single heavy icebreaker in the Arctic as the region takes on unprecedented levels of economic and geopolitical significance. The US also deploys its icebreakers to the Antarctic, placing strain on its current fleet.
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