Russia Unveils 'Unique' Weaponized Icebreaker as It Eyes Arctic Oil and Gas

Only days after it conducted wide-scale military exercises in its far north, Russia has launched an icebreaker which is part of a fleet dubbed the country's "trump card" in the battle for the Arctic.

Amid much fanfare, the 8,500-tonne 300-foot long Ivan Papanin was unveiled at the Admiralty Shipyard in St Petersburg on Friday as Russia's navy touted its ability to combine the functions of a tugboat, patrol, icebreaker and a scientific vessel.

Viktor Cherkov, an admiral at the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation which constructed it said, according to the Tass news agency: "We wanted to create a ship that would ensure the safety of our fleet in the Arctic. At the same time, we wanted the ship to carry out scientific research in the Arctic ice and, of course, for it to reliably ensure the safety of our national interests there." Tass described the vessel as "unique."

Russia launches its first ‘combat’ icebreaker Ivan Papanin, capable of smashing through 1,5m thick ice and with heavy weapons on board. The icebreaker will be used to patrol the Arctic, it can stay away from base for up to two months

— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) October 28, 2019

Securing the Arctic is a key strategic aim for Russia which is is looking to assert its claim on vast supplies of offshore oil and gas in the region.

Armed with a portable anti-aircraft missile system, the ship named after a prominent Soviet explorer, possesses Kalibr cruise missiles, an electronic warfare system and a helicopter launch pad.

Able to smash through ice up to 6 feet thick, it is expected to be commissioned in 2022 or 2023.

The head of the corporation which constructed the vessel, Georgy Poltavchenko, boasted that it can cope with "unlimited number of different tasks" and its design meant that it could work in the Arctic region "extremely efficiently," reported.

Russia has the biggest icebreaker fleet in the world, comprising of 40 publicly and privately owned vessels, including six nuclear-powered ships, according to The National Interest.

The publication said that the Ivan Papanin was notable for having a dedicated weapon system "more akin to a destroyer."

Russian Navy
Russian navy officers attend the launching ceremony of the Russian diesel-electric attack submarine Stary Oskol on Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg in 2014 in this illustrative image. The shipyard was the scene of the unveiling of Russia's new icebreaker, the Ivan Papanin. OLGA MALTSEVA/Getty Images

In June, the Eurasia Daily Monitor noted that by next year, Moscow was planning to deploy a "multi-branch force" which could react to "existing threats" and protect its Arctic interests.

In a story headlined, "Military Icebreakers—Russia's trump card in the battle for the Arctic?" the publication said that Russia was also looking to deploy the vessel Nikolay Zubov in 2024 as part of its plan to have vessels that can act as an icebreaker, patrol ship and tugboat.

It said this demonstrated Moscow's "determination to secure complete control over the Northern Sea Route (NSR)" as well as the Russian part of the Northeast Passage that links east Asia and northern Europe across Russia's Arctic coast.

Earlier in October, more than 12,000 troops took part in war games in the Russian Arctic and far east which tested the resolve of five nuclear submarines, 105 aircraft, and 213 missile launchers.

Some 15 navy vessels sailed from the headquarters of the Northern Fleet, Severomorsk, to the Barents Sea, including the nuclear-powered battle cruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great).

However, there was a glitch with the testing of the K-44 Ryazan submarine which only managed to fire one ballistic missile instead of two at the Chizha test range from the Sea of Okhotsk.