Russia Is Building Laser-Armed Nuclear ‘Combat Icebreakers’

In addition to a warship-sized array of weapons, the 8,500-ton Ivan Papanin–class vessels will mount powerful lasers that can cut through ice—and possibly through enemies as well. They will join a fleet of forty existing Russian icebreakers. The United States is now down to two, even as the United States, Canada and other nations are focusing on the Arctic, where melting ice offer the lure of fresh mineral deposits and new commercial shipping routes.

The first of these icebreakers was laid down in April, according to Russian news site  Sputnik News. “The multipurpose vessel is conceived as an all-in one Navy warship, icebreaker and tugboat,” measuring 361 feet long, and with a speed of sixteen knots and a range of six thousand nautical miles.

The Ivan Papanin–class ships, also known as Project 23550, will be fitted with a “modular armament suite,” Russian defense-industry sources told Jane’s 360 in April. Sputnik News cites a Russian analyst who claims that “in addition to radio-electronic equipment and its heavy-duty hull, Project 23550 icebreakers will include the ability to deploy missile weapons…The Kalibr-NK [cruise missile] system’s launch containers can be placed comfortably on the ship behind the helicopter landing pad. A total of eight launchers can be deployed onboard.”

The same analyst also raises an intriguing possibility: an Ivan Papanin–class icebreaker could “rescue an intruder vessel that’s been caught in the ice, and tow it” to another location. This suggests that these Russian icebreakers won’t necessarily sink vessels deemed to illegally be in Russian territory: if those ships are stuck in ice, the icebreakers will tow the hapless intruder back to a Russian port to stand trial.

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