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GOP rep presses Trump for block buy of Arctic icebreakers

GOP rep presses Trump for block buy of Arctic icebreakers
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Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is pressing President Trump to support a block buy of Arctic icebreakers, arguing the move will save the government “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The Coast Guard has just two fully functional icebreakers, only one of which is a heavy-duty icebreaker. The cost of building additional Arctic icebreakers, special-purpose ships designed to navigate through ice-covered waters, is estimated at approximately $1 billion each.

“A block buy on heavy icebreakers in any quantity would allow for other advanced procurement opportunities, to include securing lead materials. With your level of business experience, I know you recognize the value of this,” Hunter wrote in a letter to Trump Thursday. 

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Hunter, the chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee on the Coast Guard, has long pushed for the Coast Guard to acquire more of the vessels. 

“It is a fact that too many opportunities to accelerate icebreaker construction and acquisition have been missed, but I am confident that with your leadership, this can and will change,” he writes.

Hunter's letter comes after Trump pledged to build up to six icebreakers while giving a speech at the Coast Guard Academy’s commencement Wednesday in New London, Conn.

“Out of the five branches of our armed services, it’s only the Coast Guard that has the power to break through 21 feet of rock-solid Arctic ice, right? Trump said. “You’re the only ones. And I’m proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers that United States has seen in over 40 years. We’re going to build many of them.”

Trump also boasted about the great deal he received on F-35 fighter jets and Ford-class aircraft carriers — neither of which are owned by the Coast Guard.

Earlier in the ceremony, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft had said the service “just freed up money under this administration to finally invest in heavy icebreakers. We’re going to build six, but we’re on the fast track to build the first one.”

Hunter praised Trump’s speech as being “well-received” by cadets, their families, and other lawmakers and lauded the commitment “to invest in the future of the Coast Guard and direct the focus of your administration to construct at least six polar icebreakers.”

Service officials asked for and received $150 million in the fiscal 2017 budget request for icebreaker planning and design before construction starts in 2020. The Coast Guard wants three new medium icebreakers and three heavy icebreakers.

Hunter also advocates for the Navy to support such a buy, even though the Coast Guard falls under the purview of Homeland Security.

“It is no fault of the Coast Guard, but the service simply does not retain the experience or knowledge base for such a major acquisition,” he writes.

“With the Navy’s help, in both the short and long term, the Coast Guard will be better positioned to bring online more ships in even shorter time,” a move that will save taxpayers “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he asserts.

The White House’s draft budget for fiscal 18, revealed in March, initially, sought a 14 percent cut in the Coast Guard’s budget, from $9.1 billion to $7.8 billion. The proposal was later abandoned after heavy pushback.

Hunter in February wrote a similar letter to Trump asking for more icebreakers to counter Russian movement in the Arctic.