I've talked about our icebreakers before and the need to have a presence in the arctic, both scientific and military. I know there are plenty of hippies out there that would like to send a bunch of scientific vessels to these places, give some polar bears hugs, and set up some scientific bases. But frankly that kind of money and research investment doesn't just happen spontaneously. And in the arctic it's worse than in many other places on earth, minus deep ocean exploration. So often the government has to get involved. And no matter your opinion of the military and its place it tends to be a good funding source of scientific exploration.
Now it looks like thanks to budget cuts and economic problems, funding for arctic military programs is on the chopping block. Per Ares, at Aviation Week, we're behind in charts, ships, and don't have a solid plan to get up to speed.
"Decent charts really don't exist," he[Stephen Carmel, senior vice president for maritime services of shipping giant Maersk Line] said, "aids for navigation don't exist, emergency response capability does not exist, so there's things that need to be done before you can really support shipping up there." In general, "there are a lot of things overall that are still far from certain in terms of the practicalities of working" in the Arctic, he concluded.
Now, our old enemies are moving in:
The Russians, meanwhile, with their already large icebreaker fleet have announced plans for more nuclear-powered icebreakers, more ice-capable submarines, and as of 2008, had resumed surface naval patrols in Arctic waters. Moscow has also announced plans to land paratroopers on the North Pole some time this year.
We have two, broken down icebreakers. We are sadly in need of two new ones and nobody wants to fund it. Maybe a new "cold war" fever (literally) will finally inspire us to take the efforts we need to be there. It's not just about shipping and protecting shipping lanes, it's about capable emergency response, security, and scientific endeavors and opportunities that would otherwise be left behind. Knowledge is power. We need charts, plans and the ships and forces necessary to explore and get us there. And we need that to support scientific teams that used to go along on our now, harbor-tethered icebreakers.