Trump Orders Coast Guard To Look Into Building Nuclear-Powered Icebreakers Like Russia

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The memo also calls for examining possible defensive armament options to protect these ships against near-peer threats.
This requirement to explore nuclear-powered icebreakers, almost certainly the reason why the Secretary of Energy will be involved in the study, is unprecedented. Neither the Coast Guard nor the U.S. Navy has ever operated a nuclear-powered icebreaker of any kind. In fact, the only country to do so to date is Russia, which operates four such ships, including the massive 21,000 ton-displacement Taymyr , and is looking to build at least five more , on top of dozens of other conventionally-powered icebreakers and other ice-capable ships . China is now in the process of building its own nuclear-powered heavy icebreaker , as well.

The study that the Coast Guard will now conduct will include an assessment of "expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium PSCs [Polar Security Cutters] not yet contracted for," according to the memo. "This assessment shall also evaluate defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion."

Trump issued the new Memorandum on Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions on June 9, 2020. Despite its more general name, the document is centered entirely on buying icebreakers and related issues. The memo directs the Department of Homeland Security, by way of the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and in cooperation with the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Energy, to conduct a study of the "benefits and risks of a polar security icebreaking fleet mix that ... are appropriately outfitted to meet the objectives of this memorandum." This is part of a larger assessment of icebreaking requirements that the Secretary of Homeland Security, with help from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, is now also instructed to conduct.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a memorandum on…
Joseph Trevithick
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