Donald Trump issued memorandum today and it is an interesting one.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), shall lead a review of requirements for a polar security icebreaking fleet acquisition program to acquire and employ a suitable fleet of polar security icebreakers, and associated assets and resources, capable of ensuring a persistent United States presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions in support of national interests and in furtherance of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, as appropriate. Separately, the review shall include the ability to provide a persistent United States presence in the Antarctic region, as appropriate, in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty System. The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of OMB, in executing this direction, shall ensure that the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) Offshore Patrol Cutter acquisition program is not adversely impacted.
First, let me introduce a disclaimer immediately. The United States IS an Arctic nation and she certainly has legitimate national interests in Arctic (Antarctic is a separate issue and is not a focus of this post), as long as she sees and considers interests of others in the region clearly. And here we are running into a slight problem. The US doesn't. It doesn't mean that arrangements cannot be made--in theory they can be, but only in theory and considering US history of thinking herself an exceptional and "indispensable" nation which is non-agreement capable, one can fairly clearly see a future flash point in Arctic, and you guessed it already, between Russia and the US. A reason is simple, not only Russia legitimately claims some really resources rich parts of Arctic, she, actually, can defend them and is exploiting them for her own gain.
This doesn't mean that objectively the United States doesn't need the icebreakers. She surely does, and, depending on climate change and the retreat of the Arctic ice cap, one can make a case for one or another number of those icebreakers. But my issue here is different--who WILL build required number and, most importantly, quality ice-breaker fleet which will require primarily nuclear-driven ships of this type? Obviously, the United States Navy has an experience with the nuclear-powered ships, primarily its magnificent aircraft-carriers, but ice-breakers? That is a totally different approach to ship's design. Not to mention its deployment in the zones where said aircraft carriers do not venture into. Frankly, at this stage I am not sure that the United States is capable of creating something of this nature:
Not to speak of a mammoth, almost 70,000 tons of displacement Lider-class nuclear ice-breaker whose program is already financed and the construction starts this year. And then, of course, there is this purely military issue. I do not want to go there yet, because the US objectively, as I stated above, is in need of a modern ice-breaker fleet, but color me pessimistic, I am not sure that the US will be able to create modern ice-breaker, let alone a whole fleet, which would satisfy the most important requirement of year-around operations, including in the deep ice. You may have heard that Russia uses lasers on her ice-breakers to break the ice. So, in this case the issue are not just, however complex, ice-breakers themselves but all those accompanying technologies, which the United States will need to develop. Here is where I have my doubts, even if to consider a very significant time-period for R&D which is 9 years, that the United States will be on time, on budget and on capability. But, I was wrong before. Having said all that: even a brief acquaintance with new National Security Strategy puts me in deep doubt that any of its objectives, at least in Arctic, will be achieved (once one deciphers all this pathos-ridden gobbledygook), least of all through ice-breaker fleet which doesn't even exist on paper yet.