It's a really good question.
This is something I get quite a lot, in that the thought on such a thing is that the ice is disappearing and we're not going to have that thick ice and it's not going to be really hard and difficult to navigate through, so why are we going to need icebreakers? In fact, in the short term over the next 10 to 20 years we will still have a lot of ice hazards, and even beyond that, as we start to form new ice.
Let's say we get rid of the multi-year sea ice. Here's a little background. When the sea ice survives a summer and starts to regrow the next year, we call that multi-year sea ice. This stuff has an average thickness of six metres or so. It's very hard and very difficult to navigate through with a ship. When you get annual ice—when you remove that multi-year sea ice and you just have annual ice that year—it only grows to a maximum of two metres thick. In the wintertime, we will form that kind of ice well into the future. The next 100 years or so will form this kind of ice.
What happens, and what is really critical to understand, is that the ice becomes more mobile. Because it's more mobile and moves around a lot, it bumps into other ice, and it will form ridges and rubble areas that can still be quite thick. We've seen this starting to happen in different parts of the Arctic, and there are periods of time when you would need an icebreaker to be able to manage that kind of ice. There will be other times when you won't need that kind of icebreaker.
Over the next 30 to 40 years you will still require icebreakers at certain times of year in certain locations if you want to be able to navigate in an unimpinged fashion. Right now, the only group on the planet that can do this are the Russians. They're the only ones who can go wherever they want in the Arctic, whenever they want. We can't, the Europeans can't and the Americans can't.