A top U.S. Coast Guard official has told lawmakers that Russia is getting ahead of the United States in the "Arctic race" and the current U.S. administration must urgently revise its approach to Arctic exploration.

"I''m concerned we are watching our nation''s ice-breaking capabilities decline," Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday.

"It''s imperative to obtain the current validating capabilities so our polar operations can be met," he said.

The Coast Guard chief said Russia had finally put to sea last year the largest icebreaker in its polar fleet - the 50 Years of Victory - which has been under construction since 1989 and guarantees Russia easy access to the vast natural resources in the Arctic region.

Allen said Russia is the only other country, besides the United States , with polar ice breaking capabilities, but the Russian fleet is in far better shape, with "seven to eight" nuclear-powered polar ice breakers.

The U.S. Coast Guard''s medium- and Polar-class ice breaking fleet consists of the cutters Healy, Polar Sea and Polar Star.

Healy, which was commissioned in 2000, is the newest of the ships and is primarily designed for scientific research in the Arctic .

The Polar Star and Polar Sea , both commissioned in the 1970s, are due for a major overhaul and need millions of dollars in maintenance and repairs to stay operational in the future.

Speaking at the same hearings, Mead Treadwell, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, supported Allen''s assessment of the situation.