US, Russia Arming their Icebreakers as War in the Arctic Looms

By | May 19, 2017 10:11 AM EDT

USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), a medium icebreaker.(Photo : USCG)

The United States Coast Guard has finally gotten the funds to build the three heavy and three medium polar icebreakers it's wanted for years and now wants these ships to be armed with "offensive weapons" in anticipation of a war against Russia in the Arctic Circle.

Analysts said the Coast Guard will likely receive approval from the Pentagon to arm these new icebreakers with medium caliber naval guns and probably even anti-ship missiles and cruise missiles.

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The coast guard's new National Security Cutter-class (NSC), the largest of several new cutter designs being built, is armed with one MK 110 57 mm gun and one 20 mm Block 1B Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS). It carries no missile armament, however.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said the service reserves the right to add offensive weapons to them if needed to respond to a rapidly changing threats posed by Russian expansionism in the Arctic.

He noted the Russian coast guard, which is officially designated the "Coast Guard of the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation," has 40 icebreakers.

He said the Russian coast guard is "still building their fleet out, prepared to deliver two icebreaking corvettes that will carry cruise missiles in the year 2020."

Adm. Zukunft argues the U.S. must maintain a "persistent presence in the Arctic and Antarctic," making it necessary to build three heavy and three medium icebreakers.

He noted the U.S. will "really need three to keep one there permanently. One's in maintenance; one's ramping-up to get ready and the other's deployed ... It takes three to make one, which is how we got to three, if we need permanent presence north and south."

He pointed out the coast guard has only one heavy icebreaker today, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10).

The first of the coast guard's new heavy icebreakers is expected to be delivered in 2023.

Russia is beefing-up its icebreaker fleet as part of its strategy to militarize the Arctic Circle and deny it to the U.S. and NATO. Access to this frozen over region is only made possible by using icebreakers.

Russia, which is the only country on Earth that's ever constructed nuclear powered icebreakers, has built 10 nuclear powered icebreakers belonging to two classes.

The newest class is the LK-60Ya-class whose three ships will be the largest and most powerful icebreakers ever built.

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