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House Maritime Leaders Propose Icebreaker Act

Authorizes Navy Procurement of Coast Guard Icebreakers


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Washington, D.C. – Today, along with Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA), John Garamendi (D-CA), and Rick Larsen (D-WA), Alaska Congressman Don Young introduced H.R. 1816, the Icebreaker Act. This bipartisan legislation would specifically authorize the U.S. Navy to partner with the U.S. Coast Guard to procure up to six new icebreakers – three medium-class and three heavy-class – which are desperately needed to ensure the nation’s security and maritime interests are protected in the Arctic.

“Our nation is desperately in need of new icebreakers. With Russia, China, and other nations seeking to increase their presence in the Arctic region, the United States must get serious about updating its limited and aging fleet of icebreakers. This bill is very simple, it specifically authorizes the Navy, in consultation with the Coast Guard, to enter into a contract to build icebreakers,” said Alaska Congressman Don Young, Co-Chair of the Congressional Arctic Working Group and former Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  “As development in the Arctic continues, including new resource development, potential shipping lanes, and other economic activities, we cannot afford to be left behind. By working together with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, this legislation helps pave the way to get it done.”

“The U.S. Coast Guard is a military service—first and foremost.  It’s not the Navy that will break ice in the polar regions, it’s the U.S. Coast Guard,” said Rep Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard Subcommittee. “And while it’s the Coast Guard that will undertake the mission that’s supported by heavy and medium icebreakers, it’s a hard truth that the Coast Guard’s overall experience in such a major acquisition efforts and its budget restrictions prevent any real accelerated development of these assets which are urgently needed for U.S. national security.  The Navy can supply the Coast Guard with not only best practices, but lessons learned—from development and construction, to the use of block buy authority.  The Coast Guard owns the icebreaking mission, but the Navy can and should contribute to icebreaker development and production to the fullest extent possible in the best interest of American and global security.”    

“The Arctic is an area of increasing economic and geopolitical importance, but we don’t have the icebreaking capabilities we need to meet our responsibilities and maintain our leadership in the region. This is a glaring national security oversight, and this legislation will help remedy that. The Navy and Coast Guard both have critical Arctic missions, and they must work together to ensure that these national security requirements are met, said Rep. Garamendi, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard Subcommittee ”

“Earth’s climate is changing, and nowhere is it changing faster than the Arctic. Travel through the Arctic will increase, as will the opportunity to advance US scientific, military, and economic interests in the region. I am introducing this bill because unless the US addresses its current shortfall in icebreakers – as this bill aims to do – these opportunities will slip away,” said Rep. Larsen (WA-02), another senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard Subcommittee.

Background:

Currently, the United States has only one active heavy icebreaker; the Polar Star, which requires significant federal investment to extend its service life to 2023. According to a June 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, current projections show a looming three to six year gap in U.S. heavy icebreaking abilities at the conclusion of the Polar Star’s service life. The Coast Guard’s pending icebreaker operations gap has received significant attention since the GAO report was released, including in a July 12, 2016 hearing by the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Last year, Chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee Rep. Duncan Hunter, in coordination with the Coast Guard and Navy, led an effort to create an integrated program office (IPO) for icebreaker development.  However, the IPO is predicated on a temporary relationship and there is no indication that the Navy intends to continue consultation and coordination with the Coast Guard following the introduction of the first heavy icebreaker.

The Icebreaker Act works to resolve the many challenges associated with acquiring new Coast Guard icebreakers by specifically authorizing the Navy to work with the Coast Guard to procure up to three medium-class and three heavy-class icebreakers.

The legislation works to address the significant challenges of procuring new Coast Guard icebreakers by utilizing the Navy’s experience in ship building and its significant annual shipbuilding budget of roughly $20 Billion. As estimates place the cost of one single heavy-class icebreaker to be in the vicinity of $1 Billion, many believe it is impractical for the Coast Guard (whose annual procurement and acquisition budget is ~$1.25 billion) to procure an ice breaker itself. Further, the legislation capitalizes on the Navy’s previous leadership in procuring all currently operational icebreakers.

 

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