California Congressman Duncan Hunter wrote an impassioned plea to speed up the acquisition of U.S. icebreakers in an opinion piece published by the Navy Times last week.
Hunter, the Republican chair of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee conjured the ghosts of the Cold War in characterizing “the race to gain access to the Arctic and project force from the polar region” between the U.S. and Russia.
The congressman bemoaned the state of what’s left of the U.S. icebreaker fleet noting that “the more reliable of the [Coast Guard’s] two [icebreakers] is one engine failure away from catastrophe and the second is essentially a floating research lab.”
With a new icebreaker at least 10 years away from completion, Hunter called for officials to examine refurbishing existing ships or leasing an icebreaker for the interim period.
In either scenario, “this must not distract from the pressing objective of completing a vessel as speedily and efficiently as possible,” Hunter wrote.
Hunter also suggested that icebreaker acquisition not be limited to a single ship, recommending that funding for icebreakers would go further as part of a two-ship deal.
“There’s an opportunity to build in the upfront cost of combined materials for two ships while production commences on the first — helping to maximize savings,” Hunter wrote, citing a Congressional Research Service specialist’s statement that "a block buy would reduce overall costs by 5% — amounting to $100 million in savings for a two-ship acquisition.”
"The time to make decisions is right now," Hunter concluded. "Otherwise there is a risk of higher costs and lost opportunity in the long-run. The U.S. cannot afford either. In this case, there is too much to lose and even more for Russia to gain."