The future of U.S. strategy in the Arctic

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Government Matters takes a closer look at U.S. Arctic policy, and how agencies and industry are working together on building next-generation polar vehicles.


The Arctic is quickly becoming the next major frontier of exploration for the United States. At a panel during the 2018 Sea-Air-Space expo, representatives from the Navy, Coast Guard, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stressed the need for an updated strategy in the Arctic.

“What I envision in the future, and in the Arctic specifically is that due to the dearth of infrastructure, there’ll be more reliance on the Coast Guard, there will be a higher demand signal, and they’ll look for more than just maintaining navigation aids and monitoring water ways. They’ll actually be looking for response capabilities and higher demand signal for services,” said Michael Emerson, director of Marine Transportation Systems at the U.S. Coast Guard. “So, more ice breaking, more response to vessel inspection requirements and training qualifications, and all the other marine safety devices that we offer.”

According to the panelists, updating the United States’ fleet of polar-capable ships is a priority. The Navy and NOAA are working with industry to create unmanned seafaring vehicles, and in the FY 2019 budget proposal, the Coast Guard asked for $750 million to construct a new icebreaker, as well as maintain their current polar ships. The Coast Guard currently operates the only heavy icebreaker in the United States; the Polar Star, first commissioned in 1976. The Coast Guard has been looking to construct a new icebreaker for several years. In 2017, the agency began testing ship designs, and in March, they put out an RFP to build and deliver the vessel by 2023.