Arctic Race: Soon North will be really hot

Russia, China and the United States urgently build icebreakers in preparation for the battle for oil and gas.

The federal state-owned unitary enterprise Atomflot, designed to support the operation of nuclear-powered icebreakers, has announced a tender for the construction of two of the world’s largest production nuclear-powered icebreakers of the project 22220 Arktika. They will be the fourth and fifth in a row.


100,059 billion rubles are allocated for construction. And this amount will not be adjusted upwards. True, two years ago, when the first serial and second Siberia icebreaker in the project 22220 was preparing to be launched, it was officially announced that its cost was about 40 billion.


In addition, it is reported that the financing of the construction of two icebreakers will be provided not only from the state budget, but also from “other sources”. It is quite clear that “other sources” are Rosneft, Gazprom and other oil and gas companies that are seeking to establish themselves in the Arctic region, which is rich in huge hydrocarbon reserves. This is in the long run. Well, now, in connection with the ever-increasing cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route, additional icebreakers are needed for year-round piloting.


The fourth “Arctic” should be transferred to Atomflot no later than December 20, 2024, the fifth – December 20, 2026.


The results of the competition will be announced on August 6. However, it is still clear that the construction of icebreakers will be handled by the Baltic Shipbuilding Plant in St. Petersburg. It is here that the Arktika icebreaker and two serial ones, Siberia and Ural, are completed. All of them will be put into operation in the period between 2020 and 2022.


The question may arise: why do we need so many of these specific vessels, the construction of which is very expensive? After all, Russia, it would seem, was cut off on the part of the icebreaking fleet from the rest of the world at great distance.


We operate 40 such vessels of various capacities and purposes. Neither in quantity nor in quality, no fleet of the world has such powerful fleets capable of escorting ships in the winter at high latitudes. Sweden has 7 icebreakers, Finland – 6, Canada – 4 active and one under construction.


The gap between Russia and the rest of the world is enormous: the number of domestic icebreakers is equal to the number of icebreakers that are operated by all other countries of the world. In addition to Sweden, Finland and Canada, the ships of this class are in service of Denmark (4), Estonia (2), China (2), USA (2). One icebreaker from Argentina, Australia, Germany, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Latvia and Norway. According to the total displacement, the difference is even more significant. Moreover, only Russia has atomic icebreakers.


The most powerful icebreaker at the moment is the Yamal, built according to the Soviet project 10520 and operated since 1989. Power plant power – 50 MW. Length – 150 m, width – 30 m, displacement – 23.5 thousand tons. Draft – 11 m. At a speed of 1-2 knots, it overcomes ice fields with ice thickness up to 3 meters. That is, it is capable of performing work on the wiring of ships at any time of the year. Yamal has already made 46 trips to the North Pole.


With the arrival of “Arctic” next year, it will lead the world ranking. Two nuclear reactors provide 60 MW shaft power. The length is 173 m, the width is 34 m, the displacement is 33.5 thousand tons. The Arctic will be able to carry out giant tankers with a displacement of up to 70 thousand tons.


However, due to the growing interest in the Arctic, which has vast hydrocarbon reserves from superpowers such as the United States and China, we don’t have to rest on our laurels. These two powerful players intend to vigorously fight competitors for Arctic oil. Moreover, these intentions are already expressed, it can be said, at the official level.


Last week, Vice-Admiral Daniel Abel, Deputy Commander of the US Coast Guard, publicly stated: “We need at least six icebreakers, including three heavy ones. So far we have only one icebreaker – Polar Star, and it is already 40 years old. ”


In Petersburg, after a warm weekend, cool, overcast weather will come with rains. Weather forecasters promise that the heat will return, but only in August.

Vice-Admiral slightly rejuvenated the “Polar Star”, it was already 44 years old. Despite the relatively small displacement, equal to 12 thousand tons, the icebreaker is well-equipped with power.

The total power of its engines reaches 75 thousand hp, which allows it to overcome the ice thickness of 3.5 meters.


Abel did not say why to increase the number of the icebreaker fleet by 7 times. However, a little earlier, the goal of this need was clearly defined by John Bolton, adviser to the US President on National Security. Speaking to graduates of the US Coast Guard Academy, he said: “We must defy Russia’s military influence in the Arctic.”


So far there has been no information about the development of new American icebreakers and contracts for their construction. But there is no doubt, all this is not far off. Because Americans build ships quickly.


True, the Chinese are building even faster. Quite a long time ago, the PRC had only one icebreaker, the “Snow Dragon”. Last week, Snow Dragon 2 was commissioned. Its displacement is 14,000 tons. Length – 123 m, width – 22 m. Diesel power plant produces a power of 15 MW. Able to overcome ice ½ meter thickness at a speed of 3 knots.


China, not intending to stop there, intends to make a serious leap forward. A year ago, the press service of the Academy of Defense Science of the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) reported that a series of icebreakers with a nuclear powerplant is expected to work in the polar latitudes. It is quite clear that if the initiator is the PLA, their icebreakers, like the American ones, are intended for the coming struggle for Arctic hydrocarbons. And the message says that these vessels will be multipurpose, That is, it is possible to place on them the necessary weapons.


By the way, the nuclear icebreaker of the project 10521 “Soviet Union”, which was withdrawn from Atomflot and awaiting disposal, could be quickly turned into a warship. Part of the weapons in a mothballed form was on board – part of the coastal warehouses. Before felling, an artillery unit fire control radar was installed.


Due to the fact that the United States and the People’s Republic of China are capable of approaching Russia in the class of heavy icebreakers in the foreseeable future, the Krylov State Research Center and the Iceberg Central Design Bureau have developed a super-heavy icebreaker Leader. It can be built already in 2023. Of course, not on the Baltic GCC, which is occupied until 2026 by the icebreakers of project 22220 “Arctic”. It was assigned to a new construction site – the Shipbuilding Complex Zvezda, which is being completed in the city of Bolshoy Kamen, Primorsky Krai. This complex is specially created for the construction of super-large vessels with a displacement of up to 250 thousand tons, up to 350 meters long and up to 60 meters wide.


The nuclear-powered icebreaker “Leader” of project 10510 is equipped with two nuclear reactors that give a thermal power of 2 × 315 MW. Power on the shafts – 120 MW. As propellers – just four screws.


The length of the icebreaker is 209 m, the width is 48 m, the side height is 20 m, and the draft is 13 m. Displacement is 71 thousand tons. Crew – 80 people. Food availability is eight months. Service life is 40 years.


Travel speed in clear water – up to 24 knots. The “Leader” will be able to guide the largest ships operating in the Russian fleet along the Northern Sea Route all year round. Able to overcome the ice, the thickness of which exceeds 4 meters. Through ice fields 2 meters thick will go at a speed of 15 knots.


There are no weapons reported on the “Leader”. However, it can be assumed that there is plenty of room for it on the icebreaker.