The United States Coast Guard is preparing to equip icebreaker vessels operating in the Arctic region with high-tech cruise missiles for the first time as Washington escalates geopolitical tensions with Russia.
Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft confirmed last week that the Coast Guard’s newest fleet of heavy icebreakers would be designed to carry cruise missiles, the Washingon Times reported.
In recent times, the Coast Guard has suggested that it would adopt heavy weapon systems for its vessels operating in the Arctic, but with the latest announcement from Zukunft, he has now confirmed the weapons race between Washington and Moscow has begun in the fight for the Arctic.
“If you look at what Russia is doing, there’s almost a mini arms buildup going on in the Arctic,” USCG Vice Adm. Fred Midgette told CBS in December. Russia operates at least 40 icebreakers with six heavy icebreakers, CBS News reported in December.
Former Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix, a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, said, “this is not just about [new] icebreakers; this is part of a broader competition just below the surface.”
Opponents believe the Coast Guard is trying to take advantage of the rising tensions between Washington and Moscow so that it can arm its icebreakers with unnecessary amounts of expensive high-tech weaponry. Zukunft has denied these claims, arguing that natural resources underneath the water are a national security threat if waterways open up allowing other countries to tap into cheap energy.
Over the years, the Coast Guard has neglected to maintain its Arctic fleet of just three icebreakers. Meanwhile, Russia has a fleet of at-least forty icebreakers, including “four operational nuclear-powered icebreakers and 16 medium-sized craft,” the Washington Times said.
It is important to note, the Coast Guard’s new icebreakers will not be ready until 2023 and could cost around $1 billion. This price tag would include six new icebreakers.
“We’ve been able to find offsets to drive the cost down … [and] reserve the space weight and power necessary to fully weaponize these and make these a capable platform offensively in the event this world changes in the next five, 10, even 15 years from now,” Adm. Zukunft said.
Sputnik provides an embarrassing operational update of the Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet:
The US has three icebreakers, but only one is not operational, the USCGC Polar Sea. The heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star, the Polar Sea’s sister ship, and medium icebreaker USCGC Healy are the only working vessels of their kind in the US fleet, and Healy’s duties are primarily restricted to scientific work, according to Business Insider.
The Polar Star’s task is to keep navigation lanes open in the Arctic and Antarctic. After more than 40 years of service, though, the vessel is “literally on life support,” Zukunft has said. The ship’s captain has said the Polar Star’s computers are so old he has to go on Ebay to find antique replacements.
While the situation in the Arctic presents many difficulties for Washington and its allies in the region, the U.S. has unofficially kicked off a weapons race with Russia for the control of the Arctic and its vast natural resource reserves with the decision to strap cruise missiles to its icebreakers.
For Washington to pursue this policy, it will only cause other countries in the region to arm their ships with high-tech weapons and turn the Arctic region into the next South China Sea.