The AP‘s Eric Talmadge got two technically-poised stories out in the last week. First, as noted in a previous post, was his insightful analysis of North Korea’s space and missile ambitions. It ran on the eve of what turned out to be a dismal flop of a rocket launch that leaves almost everybody this side of the DMZ worrying young Un will order a nuclear test to compensate on the scales of madness. It’ll fizzle too, one expects.
Next story from Talmadge or the next that lit up tracker radar is his article updating an issue that has gotten plenty of coverage already – the prospect of a navigable, summertime Arctic Ocean. With it comes the security issues, plus search and rescue needs, that Arctic nations must address.
His piece put icebreakers on my mind, even though he mentions them deep in the story but not in depth. It occurs to to me that while his article is illustrated by a photo that looks like a lot of other photos going back years but was taken just about a year ago: the USS Connecticut, a Sea Wolf-class nuclear submarine, draped in blocks of ice where its conning tower – or sail in Navy parlance – punched up to the surface. Methinks better would be a pic of one of the immensely capable nuclear-powered Russian icebreakers (The teeth on that Russian one suggest menace but it’s largely a cruise ship these days), or simply one of the fairly new diesel ones that nation’s such as Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, of course Russia and other nations operate. The US has exactly one icebreaker in service, the coast guard cutter Healy. A fine ship used largely for science cruises and I’ve been on one and loved it, the Healy is modest as icebreakers go in the Arctic. This nation’s two 30+ year old floe-crushing bruisers, the Polar Star and Polar Sea, are both laid up in Seattle. The latter appears sure to be decommissioned, while the former may be fit for duty again in a year or two. There is talk of one or a few new US icebreakers. They cost a lot of money. Nonetheless, a lot of people will be exploring and working and doing science or merely yachting the northern ocean in late summer – and may get caught in the annual freeze. Some will get in trouble. Some will make trouble. We need a way to go on patrol, to do rescues, maybe to arrest poachers, maybe but hope not to face somebody else’s icebreaker-led navy down.
Oh, Got off topic there. I do read that America is in decline, or the rest of the world is in incline anyway. But just one or two icebreakers? That’s pathetic. We’re not that worn out and anyway one expects this is just a dip, a phase.
Back to Talmadge’s story. One of its points, well and distinctly made, is that whatever it is that the American right fringe prefers as truth naval brasses worldwide and the squadrons of disciplined weather and climate analysts under their commands are on board with the Arctic’s thinning ice pack as no decadal oscillation that is not our fault. Talmadge’s opening theme, sustained most of the way through, is military. Submarines, airplanes, and armies may all deploy northward. The closing passages mention what is likely to be the routine hazardous duty up there: not battle-readiness but response to emergencies and disasters. Which again impels 12-month access. That means icebreakers. If this nation has spine, it’d think about a few nuclear-powered Naval ones of our own.
– Charlie Petit