GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter is pushing for President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to build out the aging U.S. Arctic fleet, amid serious Russian innovation in the region.
In a letter sent to Trump Tuesday, Hunter argued that because the Coast Guard has been viewed as an arm of law enforcement, as opposed to being a branch of the military, Coast Guard operations have been severely underfunded, resulting in a large gap in readiness.
Hunter serves as chairman of the House Committee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
For Hunter, building out the Coast Guard fleet is critical as a counter to Russian ambitions in the Arctic, but at the moment, the Coast Guard is struggling with acquiring six icebreakers.
“These vessels are critical for projecting power in the Arctic and advancing our strategic interests,” Hunter wrote. “Although, currently, the U.S. has only two operational icebreakers while Russia, our single greatest competitor in the Arctic region, possesses 40 vessels with more coming online in the near future, including vessels set for completion in 2018 and 2020.”
“Not only have we not built a new icebreaker since the late 1970s, the Coast Guard is being forced to order parts online and cannibalize older vessels to maintain a minimum level of operability-just to operate a single heavy icebreaker,” Hunter added.
While the Coast Guard is languishing from limited funding, Russia is preparing to launch its largest and most innovative icebreaker, the Arktika.
Hunter’s message to Trump follows on the heels of a letter he sent to Mattis last Friday, in which he argued that Mattis should push for adequate funding.
Reuters reported in January that Moscow is engaged in its biggest build-up in the Arctic since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The U.S. Geological Survey thinks the Arctic holds about 22 percent of all undiscovered oil and gas, which is likely to become far more accessible as ice levels decline.
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