Currently, the United States has two icebreaker ships to patrol the Arctic, the Polar Star and the Polar Sea. However, the Polar Star is no longer operational and has been parked up, the crew transferred to the Polar Sea, and its parts transferred to the Polar Sea to keep it operational. According to Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, the United States is in desperate need of recreating a presence in the Arctic. With only 2 ships in comparison to Russia’s 27, we are practically a bystander in the region.
“We sit here on the sidelines as the only nation that has not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention,” Zukunft told a gathering Tuesday at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space exposition and conference at National Harbor, Maryland. “Our nation has two ocean-going icebreakers … We’re the most prosperous nation on Earth. Our GDP is eight times that of Russia. Russia has 27 ocean-going icebreakers.” The space beneath the Artic is abundant with resources that we are not capitalizing on. 13 percent of the world’s oil and 30 percent of its natural gas is found underneath the Arctic.
In addition, atop the seabed is worth nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of minerals. Coast Guard mapping indicates that an area about two times the size of California would be considered America’s extended continental territory under the U.N. sea convention not signed by the U.S. The U.S. signed the original convention in 1958, but not the successor treaty passed in 1982. President Obama has advocated for the sea law, but the Senate has refused to ratify it. Zukunft told Military?.com on Tuesday that a new icebreaker would sit on top of his wish list - one that could be modified to include armaments if necessary.
In order to fully fund subsequent phases of this program, the Coast Guard believes that a “whole-of-government” approach will be necessary. Obtaining a new, heavy polar icebreaker that meets Coast Guard requirements will depend upon supplementary financing from other agencies whose activities also rely upon the nation possessing a robust, Arctic-capable surface fleet.
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