GOP rep to Trump: Russian activity in Arctic a 'tremendous concern'

GOP rep to Trump: Russian activity in Arctic a 'tremendous concern'
© Greg Nash

A Republican lawmaker is pushing President Trump to buy more icebreakers for the Coast Guard to counter Russian moves in the Arctic.

“Russia is launching its biggest icebreaker — The Arktika. It should be of tremendous concern that next to this vessel, there is no equivalent in the world,” Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterWhat a year it’s been: A month-by-month look back at 2018's biggest stories Bipartisan lawmakers unveil bill to tighten some campaign rules California dreamin’ in the 2020 presidential race MORE (R-Calif.) wrote Trump in a letter Tuesday.

“In other words, Russia is not just exceeding the U.S. in icebreaker production and Arctic presence, they’re in a class by themselves and setting a standard, supported by enhanced capability, that is unmatched," he continued. “We must act with the same sense of urgency.”

Global powers are relying on icebreakers as they move to maintain access to — if not control of — new waterways created as Arctic sea ice melts.

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The Coast Guard has just two fully functional icebreakers, only one of which is a heavy-duty icebreaker. In contrast, Russia has 40 icebreakers and another 11 planned or being built.

With Russia’s progress on icebreakers, Hunter said, the U.S. should prioritize funding for six new icebreakers — three heavy-duty and three medium-duty.

Hunter, an early Trump supporter and chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee on the Coast Guard, has long pushed for the Coast Guard to acquire more icebreakers. He recently met with Trump, according to the letter, but did not have time to discuss the issue of icebreakers with him.

In his letter, Hunter said the Coast Guard has had to order parts online to operate its single heavy-duty icebreaker.

“It’s not the Navy that will be responsible for patrolling the Arctic. It’s the Coast Guard,” he wrote. “As such, funding for six new icebreakers must be a high priority to ensure the Coast Card can begin undertaking a more expansive Arctic mission without any further delay.”

Hunter’s Tuesday letter to Trump follows a similar one to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly last week.

The Coast Guard is under the purview of Homeland Security, but Hunter asked both secretaries for their support on the issue, especially as discussions are underway on requesting more defense funding. 

“In your respective leadership capacity, I also ask that both the law enforcement and military service duties of the Coast Guard are evaluated to fully understand the urgent needs that currently exist,” Hunter wrote to Mattis and Kelly. “And, as part of any funding considerations, to include any emergency requests that might be currently under discussion, it is important that the Coast Guard is not overlooked.”