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Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World: An Assessment of U.S. Needs
GOALS FOR THE COMMITTEE’S FINAL REPORT
Having identified both basic uses and needs for polar icebreakers and described how the roles and missions of these ships may change in response to changing environmental conditions in the Arctic, over the next several months the committee will investigate the mix of icebreaking capabilities and numbers of icebreaking ships that are required to meet these needs over the long term. The committee will consider this mix in light of the multiple, divergent missions of the polar icebreakers, how the operational mode of the U.S. Antarctic Program might be modified to reduce dependence on icebreaking assets and the potential for increasing icebreaker needs in the Arctic. Specifically, the committee will investigate whether multipurpose or single purpose assets are required to efficiently meet the nation’s long-term icebreaking needs and identify a range of options to efficiently manage and operate these ships over the next several decades.
Although the Statement of Task charged the committee to outline feasible scenarios for continuing icebreaking operations and identify those that seem most promising, the committee determined that it was not feasible to conduct this analysis in the three months the committee had to deliver this interim report. In the final report, the committee will investigate the options for acquiring icebreaking capabilities, including, but not limited to, a full service life extension program for one or both existing heavy icebreaking ships, construction of one or more new ship(s), and alternate methods of meeting identified needs (e.g., use of ice-strengthened vessels, hiring foreign vessels, and other options that do not use U.S. Coast Guard services). The committee will specifically investigate the future needs for polar icebreaking to support national security issues, especially in light of the potential environmental and economic changes in the Arctic. The committee will also review existing laws governing U.S. Coast Guard polar icebreaking operations and present recommended changes in these laws based upon potential missions and new operating regimes that seem most promising to meet the nation’s long-term icebreaking needs.
The committee wishes to emphasize that the issue before them is the viability and need for icebreaking capabilities to support U.S. needs in the polar regions. Although the Committee’s Statement of Task emphasizes the U.S. Coast Guard role, and this role has been crucial in the past, it is uncertain whether the future will hold the same type of nearly exclusive emphasis on the U.S. Coast Guard to meet the nation’s full polar icebreaking needs. The committee will investigate a wide range of models to determine how to best meet the nation’s needs for icebreaking and address this central issue in its final report. These findings and recommendations will be focused on providing direction for meeting the nation’s long-term icebreaking needs for the next several decades.