Polar Icebreakers in A Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs (September 2006)Report in Brief
The United States has enduring national and strategic interests in the polar regions, including citizens living above the Arctic circle and three year-round scientific stations in the Antarctic. Polar icebreaking ships are needed to access both regions. Over the past several decades, the U.S. government has supported a fleet of four icebreakers -- three multi-mission U.S. Coast Guard ships (the POLAR SEA, POLAR STAR, and HEALY) and the National Science Foundation's PALMER, which is dedicated solely to scientific research. Today, the POLAR STAR and the POLAR SEA are at the end of their service lives, and a lack of funds and no plans for an extension of the program has put U.S. icebreaking capability at risk. This report concludes that the United States should continue to support its interests in the Arctic and Antarctic for multiple missions, including maintaining leadership in polar science. The report recommends that the United States immediately program, budget, design, and construct two new polar icebreakers to be operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The POLAR SEA should remain mission capable and the POLAR STAR should remain available for reactivation until the new polar icebreakers enter service. The U.S. Coast Guard should be provided sufficient operations and maintenance budget to support an increased, regular, and influential presence in the Arctic, with support from other agencies. The report also calls for a Presidential Decision Directive to clearly align agency responsibilities and budgetary authorities.