The Commandant has come out and said what we already knew. Navy Times is reporting Admiral Papp stated “We need icebreakers up [in the Arctic], and right now our icebreakers are in a sorry state…They need replacement or very thorough renovation to allow the United States to sustain an active presence and support our sovereignty up there.”
Let’s be clear, a “very thorough renovation” may be needed, but it is not enough. The two Polar Class breakers are already 34 and 36 years old. Hopefully we will get them running again, but they will need to replaced within any prudent planning horizon. It seems to take us ten years to get a new ship built, so if we start on their replacements now, they will be about 46 years old when they are replaced. We need to start with the assumption that we will build new icebreakers, then we can make intelligent decisions about how much to invest in the Polar Class. The replacement ships may not need to be as large or as powerful, but even a ship of comparable capabilities should be possible that is cheaper to man, run, and maintain. The question is not do we need new icebreakers, it is how quickly? Expecting these ships to soldier on without a planned replacement is unrealistic.