The Coast Guard is getting very serious about fielding highly capable icebreakers — and not just for getting through the frozen oceans in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. They're also looking to prepare these vessels for a fight. A report by the Washington Times revealed that the Coast Guard wants their next six icebreakers to pack some serious firepower, able to send cruise missiles at a hostile target on land or sea.
Contrary to what some might think, heavily armed icebreakers are not a new phenomenon. In fact, a number of countries are currently operating powerful, combat-ready icebreakers.
The Danish Knud Rasmussen-class icebreakers, for instance, are armed with a 76mm gun, two twin 324mm torpedo tubes for the MU-90 Impact, and a Mk 56 vertical launch system for the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. Norway's lone Svalbard-class icebreaker is equipped with a single 57mm gun, similar to those used on the Freedom- and Independence-class littoral combat ships. Russia, of course, is arming its icebreakers as well. The Ivan Susanin-class icebreakers, in service since the 1970s, are armed with a twin 76.2mm gun and two 30mm Gatling guns.
A Russian Federal Border Guard Ivan Susanin-class icebreaker. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)
Even Canada's getting in on the action. Their planned Harry Dewolf-class icebreakers are to be equipped with a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun and two M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns.
The current icebreaker classes in the United States Coast Guard, the Healy and the Polar Star, are each equipped with a pair of M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns.
"We've been able to find offsets to drive the cost down … [and] reserve the space weight and power necessary to fully weaponize these and make these a capable platform offensively in the event this world changes in the next five, 10, even 15 years from now," Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, said during an address at a symposium hosted by the Surface Navy Association.
Sure, there's no combat to be done in the Arctic today, but as always, having weapons ready is often the best way to prevent a fight. With so many armed adversaries, we think putting more guns on new icebreakers is a great move.