Alaska Delegation Secures Funding for 1st Commercial Icebreaker in Decades

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Polar Star, the only operational heavy icebreaker in America’s fleet. File photo via USCG.

U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (both R-Alaska) and Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) have secured federal funding for the purchase of a commercially available icebreaker ship, they announced March 21.

The Fiscal Year 2024 Homeland Security Appropriations Act includes $125 million to purchase the icebreaker. The delegation has also secured commitments from the Coast Guard that the icebreaker will be homeported in Juneau, Alaska to afford the vessel greater access and reach into the Arctic.

“The inclusion of funding for the first icebreaker in a generation is significant progress for our state and our country’s national security,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Our national security interests in the Arctic have never been more critical. We have a lot more work to do, but this is an important milestone and I know that the entire community of Juneau is working hard to prepare for it.”

Murkowski called the funding a “critical milestone” in her mission to bolster America’s icebreaker fleet.

“Through the purchase of this Commercially Available Icebreaker, and by protecting against further cuts to the PSC (Polar Security Cutter) Program, our icebreaker fleet is back on the right track,” she said.

“Adding (a new) icebreaker to the Coast Guard’s fleet will allow the United States to conduct important missions, project American presence, and take a leadership position in the Arctic as it opens up,” Peltola said. “It’s never been more essential for the United States to be a leader in the Arctic, and this is a major step in that direction.”

The FY 2024 Homeland Security Appropriations Act is part of the just-released Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024.

The United States currently has only one operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, and one medium icebreaker, the Healy. Russia has 55 icebreakers and is reportedly building more. By 2025, China, which has no sovereignty over any Arctic waters, is expected to surpass the United States’ icebreaker fleet, according to a joint statement by the Alaska delegation.

The Coast Guard section of the FY 2024 Homeland Security Appropriations Act allocates $125 million to purchase the icebreaker, so that the medium icebreaker would be available for use by the Guard.

The Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 authorized the conveyance of 2.4 acres of waterfront property from NOAA to the Coast Guard to facilitate the icebreaker homeporting in Juneau. The transfer was completed on Feb. 7.