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The commander of US Northern Command has warned that the United States is trailing significantly behind Russia in terms of its Arctic icebreaker fleet capacity.

While speaking at a US Armed Services Committee hearing, Air Force General Gregory M. Guillot said, “We do appreciate that the Coast Guard is procuring more icebreakers, but even with those, we will be severely outnumbered. That does limit our freedom of maneuver in that region.” General Guillot noted that the United States “really only [has] one heavy icebreaker ship for Arctic operations” compared to Russia’s approximately 40.

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The critical role of icebreakers, with their unique design to navigate through thick Arctic ice, has become a focal point of national security concerns. The current US fleet includes the heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy, with another vessel parked for years. Maine Sen. Angus King has raised serious concerns, likening the deficiency to “not having a road to get where you need to get.”

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan also shared the same concern, saying, “We need to make sure that we are trying to close a very, very significant icebreaker gap. Even China’s icebreaker capacity is on pace to surpass ours in 2025.”

For roughly twenty years, the US Coast Guard has been seeking additional funding to boost its icebreaking fleet. However, lawmakers have consistently deferred this request, mainly due to the significant costs associated with building the vessels.


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