Murkowski Applauds New Polar Security Cutters Authorized in Coast Guard Bill
Icebreakers Critical to U.S. Arctic Operations
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) applauded the authorization of additional Polar Security Cutters (icebreakers) in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, which passed Congress as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021. The bipartisan provision was authored by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
Since coming to the senate, Senator Murkowski has focused on Arctic issues, working to raise awareness of the significance of the region and is recognized as the congressional leader on the arctic. For years, Murkowski has led the charge to recapitalize and expand America’s fleet of Polar Security Cutters to further prioritize the U.S. presence in the Arctic region.
“My priority in the arctic has long been to raise awareness of America’s role in this rapidly evolving region. As recognized by this year’s NDAA now, more than ever, it’s time to move from awareness to action. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have worked aggressively to help secure a robust fleet of Polar Security Cutters to meet our nation’s needs in the Arctic, to protect our interests in the region, and to strengthen our national security. I’m proud of the progress that we have made to help the U.S. strengthen its capacity and presence in the Arctic as other Arctic and non-Arctic nations expand theirs,” said Senator Murkowski. “The authorization of additional Polar Security Cutters in the final NDAA is significant and a sign that we are moving in the right direction.”
“The reality is, there is a race on for the Arctic passageway, and we need to be ready,” said Senator Cantwell. “This formal authorization of six polar icebreakers will send a strong message to the rest of the world: the United States is showing up in the Arctic. And with three of the icebreakers homeported in Seattle, this is a big win for the State of Washington and an opportunity for us to continue to pave the way in Arctic exploration, scientific research, and protecting our nation’s foreign policy interests.”
“I am pleased that the bipartisan Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 is included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act,” said Chairman Wicker. “In addition to authorizing the funds necessary to support our Coast Guard, this legislation would provide for the purchase of an advanced new class of polar security cutters – proudly being built by Mississippi shipbuilders. These vessels are the future of U.S. presence in the polar regions and will be critical to meeting our nation’s economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs.”
“The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers, and the authorization of Polar Class icebreakers in this year’s NDAA—building on my previous defense authorization work—will put America in a much better position to operate in the region and protect our national security and economic interests,” said Senator Sullivan. “I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, from all corners of the country, for recognizing the importance of the Arctic, and for supporting the vessels and infrastructure that are needed to realize America’s role as an Arctic nation.”
The U.S. currently has only has two polar icebreakers, POLAR STAR and HEALY. Due to the HEALY’s fire this past summer, only the POLAR STAR is operational, putting the country at a disadvantage in comparison to other Arctic nations with much larger fleets. According to the most recent Coast Guard data, Russia has fifty-three icebreakers and Canada has seven. Even smaller Arctic nations have icebreaker fleets that outnumber that of the U.S.—Finland has ten icebreakers, Sweden has seven, and Denmark has four.
Polar Security Cutters are essential to developing a strategic and consistent presence in the polar regions, providing America with greater opportunities for research and development and the ability to respond to issues in some of the world’s most remote and isolated regions. The diminishing sea ice we are seeing in the Arctic has led to greater opportunities for economic activity and greater accessibility regarding commercial transit and shipping.
- In June 2020, Senator Murkowski commended the Trump Administration for issuing a Presidential Memorandum entitled Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions. The memorandum and statement of support from President Trump prioritizes some of our nation’s most urgent Arctic needs, including the consideration of all assets and capabilities needed for the region, such as a full fleet of polar security cutters.
- In November 2019, Senator Murkowski introduced the Arctic Shipping Federal Advisory Committee Act, legislation to urge the U.S. to prioritize emerging opportunities in the Arctic for maritime transportation, and ensure that increased Arctic shipping proceeds safely and securely.
- In April 2019, Senator Murkowski introduced the Shipping and Environmental Arctic Leadership Act (SEAL Act), a bill that establishes a congressionally charted seaway development corporation in the Arctic to help fund the infrastructural and environmental demands of safe and reliable shipping in the region.
- In April 2019, Senator Murkowski introduced the Arctic Policy Act (APA), legislation to increase local and indigenous voices in federal science and policy in the Arctic by aiming to improve coordination and collaboration across agencies to advance an integrated plan for the Arctic, including establishing an Advisory Committee with local and tribal input in shaping national Arctic priorities.
- In April 2019, Senator Murkowski joined the Alaska Delegation in welcoming the announcement from the DoD Contracting Office on awarding the contract to build the nation’s first new heavy Polar Security Cutter (PSC) in more than forty years.
- In February 2019, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Murkowski worked to ensure funding in a year-end budget package for long lead-time materials (LLTM) for design and construction of a second Polar Security Cutter.