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Updated 4:59 PM EDT, Fri, Oct 11, 2019

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US Coast Guard to Build New Missile Ships to Counter Russia

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

The United States Coast Guard will meet fire with fire and will build a new generation of combat icebreakers armed with anti-ship missiles and heavier gun armament in response to similar plans by Russia.

The battle for dominance in the now more accessible Arctic Circle is leading to an "Arctic Arms Race" that will soon involve NATO, and probably China, as well.

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Current plans call for the Coast Guard to build three medium and three heavy icebreakers with accelerated delivery of the first heavy icebreaker in 2023, said Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

He said the growing threat from Russia calls for more icebreakers and heavier weapons for these ships.

"We need to look differently ... at what an icebreaker does," he said. "We need to reserve space, weight and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it."

The Coast Guard last February awarded contracts worth $ 20 million to five firms for design studies expected to be completed within 12 months. The Coast Guard plans to award contracts for the first of the new icebreakers in 2019.

Russia recently laid the keel for its first heavily armed "combat icebreaker" designed to break Arctic ice and sink warship of the U.S. Navy.

The lead ship of this new class called Project 23550 -- the RFS Ivan Papanin -- will be launched in 2019. Work on the second ship, RFS Nikolay Zubov, is expected to begin in 2018.

Russian state controlled media claims the Papanin will have more features than its foreign icebreakers, none of which are as heavily armed as the new Russian icebreaker. It said the Papanin's weapons "will be able to inflict strikes on groups of ships and ground targets."

Project 23550 combat icebreakers will combine the capabilities of a warship with the qualities of an icebreaker, cargo and rescue ship.

Papanin will deploy at least eight 3M-54TE Club-N anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of 220 km. Her gun armament will be the AK-176MA 76.2 mm automatic naval gun capable of firing up to 125 rounds per minute. 

USCG has just one heavy icebreaker, the 40-year-old USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), and one medium icebreaker, the USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), used primarily for research expeditions.

In contrast, the Russian Coast Guard (officially the Coast Guard of the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia) operates 40 icebreakers and is building more ships, including two ships that will be armed with cruise missiles and fast-firing deck guns.

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