President Donald Trump’s budget priorities, which he released in March, proposed a $1 billion cut to the U.S. Coast Guard’s approximately $11 billion budget. That could have possibly halted construction on replacement cutters and the acquisition of new icebreaker vessels.
But at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's commencement exercises in New London on Wednesday, Trump appeared to reverse course, announcing an upgrade to the Coast Guard's fleet of icebreakers.
"It's only the Coast Guard that has the power to break through 21 feet of rock solid Arctic ice -- right?" Trump said to the crowd. "And I am proud to say that under my administration... we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years. We're gonna build many of them. We need 'em," Trump told the crowd.
Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said during his commencement speech that heavy duty icebreakers are a vital part of security in and around the Arctic Circle.
"When I meet all of the Arctic nations, they look to the United States Coast Guard as the leader in the Arctic," Zukunft told the audience. "As they see this world open up, what fills that vacuum? And they look to the United States Coast Guard to fill that vacuum."
Zukunft told the graduating cadets and their families that the Trump administration has promised to build six new heavy icebreaker vessels, with the first icebreaker on a fast track for completion.
Icebreakers are powerful ships with reinforced hulls that can push through sea ice and provide safe passage for other vessels.