Sen. Lisa Murkowski drilled Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Arctic security on Wednesday. At an Appropriations Committee hearing on the Coast Guard’s Arctic assets, Murkowski urged Secretary Johnson to look beyond the nation’s plan to build just one new icebreaker.
“We recognize that it is expensive, but we also recognize that, [per] the Coast Guard’s study, that it be not just one icebreaker, but there actually be three polar ice breakers and three smaller icebreakers,” Murkowski said.
Right now, the nation has two polar class icebreakers. The Polar Star splits time between the Arctic and Antarctic, and its sister ship, the Polar Sea, has been out of commission since 2010.
Secretary Johnson was receptive to Murkowski’s call for increased presence in the Arctic. But, he said, members of the House Appropriations Committee think they may be moving too quickly in the region.
In another effort to increase presence in the Arctic, Murkowski encouraged Secretary Johnson to homeport a National Security Cutter in Alaska. The closest cutter right now is near San Fransisco.
“Right now the closest is Alameda, California,” Murkowski explained. “It’s a long haul to get from Alameda, California to get up into the Arctic—into the Beaufort, into the Chukchi, into the areas in the Gulf and the Bering Sea.”
The National Security Cutter Murkowski wants to homeport in the Arctic is still under construction. For that reason, Secretary Johnson said it would be premature to comment on whether or not there is a chance the cutter will be homeported in Alaska.