Countries including China and Russia are increasing their military presence in the high Arctic, and US President Trump is looking to follow suit. Trump has ordered an assessment of possible US bases at the North and South poles along with plans for a fleet of icebreakers to be ready by the end of the decade, per a memo released Tuesday. As the US has one medium and one heavy icebreaker, both of which are nearing end of life, the US Coast Guard is developing another three each, reports Defense News. But Trump's memo calls for "an assessment of expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium [polar security cutters] not yet contracted for, specifically including the maximum use of any such PSC with respect to its ability to support national security objectives," due in 60 days.
It also requests "use cases" of missions that may be executed by medium or heavy PSCs, "including the facilitation of resource exploration and exploitation and undersea cable laying and maintenance." This is to identify the requirements "for ensuring a persistent presence in both the Arctic and, as appropriate, the Antarctic regions." The memo sent to various departments also asks for an assessment of four locations for polar bases—two in the US and two on foreign soil, per the Guardian. Greenpeace criticized Trump as "finding new ways to exploit the climate crisis" rather than supporting Arctic communities. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan backed the move, however, noting the US lags behind "our adversaries" in the Arctic, per Defense News. Russia, with 7,000 miles of Arctic coast, has 40 icebreakers, including a nuclear-powered version that doesn't need to refuel. (Read more Arctic stories.)