President Donald Trump is looking to bump up the U.S. presence in the Arctic in order to position the country against any threats from Russia or China, Fox News reports.
In June, Trump asked several executive departments to report back by early August on ways to develop a “fleet” of icebreaking ships that can be deployed in the frozen Arctic and Antarctic.
The president specifically asked the State Department, Defense Department, Commerce Department and Office of Management and Budget to figure out how to acquire "at least three heavy polar-class security cutters," also known as icebreakers, according to a memo.
The U.S. has one heavy icebreaker in its fleet, according to Fox News. The USCG Polar Star is more than 40 years old. There is one medium icebreaker, the USCG Healy, which is maintained by the Coast Guard.
Russia has dozens of icebreakers, including some that are nuclear powered. China has several medium icebreakers and is also looking to beef up its fleet, according to Fox News.
"We really don't have the ability to project the presence we need to project in both the Arctic and the Antarctic," Vice Adm. Scott Buschman, the Coast Guard's deputy commandant for operations, told Fox News. Buschman's rank is the equivalent of a three-star general.
"We do need additional polar icebreakers to do what we need to do both in the Antarctic and the Arctic at the high latitudes. In the past they used the term... 'six, three, one.' We need six icebreakers, at least three of which are heavy icebreakers. And we need one now,” he said.
He added that the U.S. needs to keep up with Russia and China in order to protect interests in the Arctic.
"There is a lot more interest by countries in the Arctic. Certainly by Russia. Certainly by China. They're also increasing their ability to build out their fleet and operate in the Arctic," he said. "At the current pace, China's got the potential to have more icebreaking capacity than the United States by 2025."
Nick Solheim, the founder of the Wallace Institute for Arctic Security, told Fox News that the U.S. is lacking in its icebreaking capabilities.
"There was an instance a couple of years back where an Alaskan city contracted a Russian icebreaker to deliver fuel and supplies so the city could continue running through the winter," he said. "Because we were not able to get there. That's alarming when you have to, as a city in the United States, as an American citizen with the same rights as every other American citizen, have to ... charge a foreign country with supplying your own city. That's absolutely insane."
Experts say China is preparing to build a "Polar Silk Road” by setting up both diplomatic and economic relationships with Arctic countries.
Solheim points out China's increased activity on the Arctic Council, an international organization of Arctic countries, which China is not a part of. He said China has been building relationships with members of the council and signing agreements in order to spread propaganda in Arctic countries.
The U.S. has started to show more of a presence in Arctic countries. In June, the U.S. opened a consulate in Greenland.
On Wednesday, the State Department appointed diplomat Jim DeHart to fill the position of U.S. Coordinator for the Arctic Region.
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