420-foot Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice in the Bering Sea. Photo: US Coast Guard, Jonathan Lally

US Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told a House subcommittee late last week that the US may deploy armed icebreakers in the Arctic to protect US interests against Russia and China.

He says the Coast Guard has begun work on designing and buying three heavy and three medium polar icebreakers and reserves the right to add offensive weapons to them in response to a shifting strategic environment. He noted that the US has “sovereign interests” in defending natural resources being uncovered by the rapidly melting ice sheet.

“We have seen China, for example, with their icebreaker (in the region). … next thing we know we see a Chinese mobile offshore drilling unit going into the extended continental shelf to extract what otherwise would be US oil. We see Russia with their 40 (icebreakers), right now, they’re still building their fleet out, prepared to deliver two icebreaking corvettes that will carry cruise missiles in the year 2020, ” Zukunft told a House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee on May 18.

“I have to look differently at what an icebreaker does. We need to reserve space, weight and power if we want to strap on an (anti-ship cruise) missile package on it,” Zukunft told the subcommittee.

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