Icebreakers work by sliding up on top of polar ice, then crushing through it with the weight of their hulls. The United States has four of them — three run by the Coast Guard and one operated by the National Science Foundation — but the ships are decades old and include one, the USCG Polar Sea, that suffered a catastrophic engine failure in 2010 and has been out of service since.

Trump did not promise additional funding Wednesday, but his comments mark a show of support for a mission that Coast Guard officials have said has grown increasingly important in light of climate change, which has opened up more shipping lanes in the Arctic as ice melts. Russia — which has at least 21 government-operated icebreakers, according to a recent Congressional Research Report — devotes significant resources to the region.

Although Zukunft suggested that the Trump administration freed up money for a heavy icebreaker, the project to build one was launched with the Coast Guard’s 2013 budget request, according to the CRS report. The project received $15.6 million through 2016, and service officials have planned for a significant escalation in the project this year, with $150 million going to planning and design ahead of construction beginning in 2020.


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