Coast Guard Boss: Ahoy! Icebreakers on Budget Horizon

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft. Photo: KRBD
Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft. Photo: KRBD

The head of the U.S. Coast Guard says lawmakers and the national security staff are waking up to the need for more icebreakers as the Arctic opens to increased ship traffic.

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“This is really generating a lot of interest and I am optimistic that on my watch we will see, no fooling, forward progress as we look at building a national fleet of icebreakers,” said Admiral Paul Zukunft, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this week.

The commandant  says he’s had a peek at bills pending in Congress that detail how his service will fare in its campaign to modernize.

“I can’t share those with you, but it may very well bring the largest acquisition budget to the Coast Guard in Coast Guard history,” he said.

That optimism stands in contrast to an assessment a few months ago by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO says the list of ships and airplanes the Coast Guard says it needs is unaffordable.  The report also says one upcoming project – the construction of 25 offshore patrol cutters – is expected to consume two-thirds of the Coast Guard acquisition budget until 2032.

Zukunft, in his speech to the Press Club, also discussed the lack of modern charting in the Arctic, and said the Coast Guard is considering a traffic separation plan for the Bering Strait to prevent collisions.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage.

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