Defense spending bill includes funding for an Alaska-based icebreaker

The U.S. Coast Guard is expanding its fleet of icebreakers and could be homeporting one of the vessels in Alaska. Icebreakers are built with thicker hulls and used to navigate the world’s icy, northernmost waters.

USCG Polar Sea, a decommissioned heavy icebreaker. (US Coast Guard)

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday evening to authorize the National Defense Authorization Act for the upcoming fiscal year. 

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said the National Defense Authorization Act for the upcoming fiscal year appropriates $150 million towards buying and converting an existing icebreaker. The vessel most likely would be homeported in Juneau, according to Sullivan. 

Sullivan said he hopes it’s the first of many to be someday based in Alaska.

“It should be a series of ports in our state that can homeport an icebreaker, but right now I think this is huge news for our state,” said Sullivan.

The U.S. currently has two operational Arctic icebreakers – both based in Seattle. The Department of Defense announced plans late last year to build a new icebreaker at a cost of $552,654,727.

Sullivan said adding an icebreaker to Alaska’s existing Coast Guard fleet would bring 190 service members and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure spending to the state. 

Language in the legislation would also cut down the timeline for purchasing an existing icebreaker from more than six years down to one, according to Sullivan. 

Russia currently has the world’s largest icebreaker fleet, which includes dozens more vessels than the U.S. Sullivan said adding to the fleet in Alaska is a top priority.

“Everybody in our state intuitively knows we need more icebreakers to promote our security, economic, environmental interests. And if you have icebreakers in America, they should be homeported in the Arctic,” said Sullivan.

Both Sen. Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted in favor of the bill Thursday evening. The final version outlines $858 billion in defense spending, it now heads to President Biden’s desk.

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