Russia's New Arctic Ice Breaker Has One Very Special Feature: Anti-Ship Missiles And Naval Guns
Icebreakers have taken on strategic importance as declining sea ice promises to open up vast reserves of oil in an area with a jumble of maritime boundaries and competing claims. Icebreakers are primarily peacetime vessels designed to carve passageways for civilian shipping, but the vessels with their strengthened hulls and ice-smashing bows and sterns could similarly clear a path for warships in the event of a conflict. Armed icebreakers could patrol those claims, and just as importantly, enforce them … in theory. The United States by comparison has only two operational icebreakers, and is funding a third. But most of the Arctic’s resources are already apportioned, as Andreas Kuersten recently pointed out, and icebreakers are less militarily useful than as popular media accounts make them out to be. For one, Russia is starting at a disadvantage because it requires a large number of icebreakers to clear approaches to and from its northern shipyards. And while these ships open up further paths in the Arctic for follow-on warships to maneuver, those vessels must follow the icebreakers in a predictable fashion—which makes them vulnerable to attack from submarines, far more useful in the Arctic than surface ships. Submarine warfare is where the U.S. Navy—which possesses 41 submarines capable of punching up through the ice from below—has an stark advantage compared to Russia, which has 25 suitable subs which also sail far less frequently. A new Russian icebreaker with a few cruise missiles and a 76-millimeter gun won’t change that.