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Icebreakers and the Arctic Power Play

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Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson; Voiceover by Harold Hoover

The Arctic remains one of the few areas of the globe with relatively little human activity and therefore limited prospects for international conflict. Even during the Cold War the Arctic remained comparatively under-resourced by both adversarial blocs. The main theater was Europe, supporting theaters included the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but the Arctic was mainly visited by strategic nuclear platforms such as submarines and bombers which rehearsed their WW3 missions there.

The end of the Cold War gradually raised the Arctic’s importance, and it did so for two reasons. The current multipolar power distribution means the addition of two independent or largely independent political actors, namely the EU and China, and the shifting of the global economic “center of gravity” eastward. This development is increasing Russia’s importance as the economic and political link between the EU and China. However, while the European and Asian economic powerhouses are exploring various forms of economic linkages with Russia serving as a vital component of the relationship, United States is actively seeking to drive a wedge between them by isolating the EU from Russia and therefore also China, and fully subordinating Europe to its economic and political interests. Whether the EU acquiesces to being merely a US protectorate or asserts its independence remains to be seen, however, in the meantime the Arctic is acquiring importance as a trade route linking Europe and Asia. The second reason for the Arctic’s importance is the presence of considerable reserves of energy resources in the region on which the global economy will depend. National control over these resources or lack thereof will in turn determine the power ranking of the country in question.

And since we are increasingly in a world where “possession is 9/10ths of the law”, anyone seeking to access the Arctic and maintain permanent presence there will have to maintain a sizable force of icebreakers in order to ensure navigation in areas which are temporarily or permanently ice-bound. Each of interested powers already maintains an icebreaker fleet whose size and importance is only going to increase in the coming decades.


Having the longest coastline facing the North Pole and maritime and trade interests in the region going back centuries, it is no surprise the Russian Federation maintains the largest and the most modern icebreaker fleet in the world, with no country even coming close to it. It is also the only country to operate nuclear icebreakers, vessels whose powerplant ensures remarkable endurance and which can plow through ice pack with the aid of hot water jets, courtesy of the reactors.

As of 2019, the nuclear icebreaker fleet consists of four active and one reserve vessels. The active ships include two-reactor, 75,000hp “Yamal” and “50 Years of Victory”, and two single-reactor 50,000hp “Taimyr” and “Vaygach”. The “Sovetskiy Soyuz” remains in reserve, to be used in the event of another ship becoming not operational. The fleet is rounded off by the “Sevmorput” nuclear-powered barge-carrier, capable of independent operations in the ice. The nuclear icebreaker fleet is complemented by five Project 21900 conventional icebreakers, each powered by a 30,000hp diesel powerplant.

The aging of the nuclear fleet means they will be replaced in the coming decade by the LK-60Ya (Project 22220) nuclear-powered icebreakers. They are also two-reactor designs, but boasting slightly greater power than their predecessors at 80,000hp. The first two ships of the class, “Arktika” and “Sibir” have already been launched, the third “Ural” is under construction. A total of five ships of this class are planned, all to enter service during the 2020s.  The LK-60Ya (Project 22220) icebreakers will be followed by LK-120Ya “Lider” (Project 10510) boasting not only vastly greater power (160,000hp) but also greater width, to enable even the largest of ships to use the Northern Sea Passage. Overall, the plan is to have not fewer than 13 heavy icebreakers in service, of which 9 will be nuclear-powered, by 2030. This represents both a quantitative and qualitative expansion of the force, an indicator of the importance of the Arctic to Russia.

United States

By comparison, and in spite of Alaska being part of the United States, the US Coast Guard operates exactly one (1) heavy icebreaker dating back to the 1970s, the Polar Star, with an 78,000hp diesel/gas turbine power plant. A second ship of the class, the Polar Sea, is ostensibly in reserve but has not been to sea in many years and is likely being cannibalized for spare parts to sustain the Polar Star in service which even so remains prone to mechanical breakdowns due to its advanced age and heavy use caused by an absence of alternative ships with similar capabilities.

When it comes to the expansion of its icebreaker fleet, the United States also lags behind the Russian Federation. Currently the plan is to procure three heavy and three medium polar icebreakers within the next decade, with the first of the new ships to be delivered in 2023 and the final in 2029. However, it should be noted that the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and its modernization programs have suffered after the service was merged with the DHS which is a very much post-9/11 creation whose current budget priorities also happen to include the infamous “wall” separating the United States and Mexico.  Therefore the icebreakers will remain vulnerable to the DHS budget battles, and may also be affected by the looming next US financial crisis.


The United States may to some extent rely on Canada’s icebreaker fleet, which includes two heavy (36,000hp) and five medium icebreakers. However, its construction program is not as ambitious as Russia’s or even the United States. Only one new icebreaker, the 45,000hp John G. Diefenbaker is expected to join service in the 2020s, replacing one of the current heavy icebreakers. This would mean that for the first time in decades Canada would face icebreaker inferiority relative to the United States. Given US Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent assertion that Canada’s claims to the Northwest Passage are “illegitimate”, it appears that Canada is about to lose control over its portion of the Arctic to the United States.


While the PRC is not generally considered an Arctic power, its interest in trade routes means that even though it operates exactly one ship capable of ice-breaking operations, the Xue Long scientific research vessel built in Ukraine in the 1990s, there is an ongoing discussion in China over the importance of the Arctic to its economy. Therefore it is not surprising that China is in the process of developing a heavy nuclear-powered icebreaker comparable to the Russian vessels currently in service, which will likely enter service during the 2020s. Given the pace of Chinese ship-building in general, should China decide to enter the Arctic power play in earnest, it will be able to quickly out-match the United States and Canada in that realm.


Looking at the current situation and the emerging trends, it would appear that the two Eurasian powers, Russia and China, will remain dominant in the Arctic at least during the coming decade. While the United States is starting to get into the game, it is clearly very low on its list of priorities. The fact that the US capabilities are being stretched very thin indeed and the sorry state of America’s finances mean that US Arctic capabilities, military or otherwise, will receive veritable crumbs in terms of funding. Canada’s sovereignty is being gradually eroded by the United States and may lose its status as an Arctic player altogether in the next decade, particularly if icebreaker construction will have to compete for funding with the F-35 fighters which the United States is bent on imposing on Canada. China remains the wild card. At the moment, it seems content to rely on Russia’s icebreaking capabilities in the region, however, should US-China competition in the region intensify, the PRC will become more proactive in exerting its influence in the region.

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Vince Dhimos

There are clues suggesting that the EU is interested in cooperating with Russia in the Arctic:


That’s amazing: Paragraphs of analysis about why the Arctic has become more important without once mentioning that the fucking ice is melting. It’s mostly gone now. There never was a Northwest Passage before, but there is now. It never used to be possible to get oil from under the Arctic ocean, but it might be now. In general, you couldn’t run trade or access resources from there, but you can now, so everyone wants it. Even that moron Pompeo, working for a guy who says global warming is a Chinese plot, comes right out and admits precisely that with all the ice melting there’s big prospects for profit and so the US wants the dough (for its billionaires).


“There never was a Northwest Passage before, but there is now.”
Exactly the reverse, there was a sort of Northwest Passage, but now there is not.
Arctic ice has moved to the west, and has opened up the Northeast passage for a few months of the year.

Stop behaving like a hysterical bitch.



Hysterical bitch, huh? Oooo, we got a tough guy over here.


Bear in mind Australia was founded as a penal colony.
Some changes are seasonal, but this long term chart looks a bit scary ( to much CO2 and others? )
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Ivan Freely

Sell the current ocean front property and buy further inland.


Don’t you find it interesting how they can plot a chart for global ice cover going back to 600AD, when they have only been able to measure sea ice since the advent of satellites?
That chart could be valid for some place that kept records of local ice cover, but global how?

paul ( original )

I don’t want to divert your discussion by going off on a tangent. But sometimes I just need to say something. Now in the sixties when I was a teenager one of the big preoccupations was population growth. Really there was quite a big panic about this with lots of media coverage. I remember one ‘alarmist’ television programme which had permanently displayed a ‘population clock’ showing the growth accrued in real time during the transmission. There were also apocalyptic film showing the disastrous future that was rapidly approaching.

But then by the end of the seventies the discussion had virtually completely vanished. Now it’s seldom even mentioned. This just strikes me as very strange.
May be I am eccentric in this matter but it does seem to be a phenomenon which should be of concern. Without taking sides on these issues it does seem like ‘problems’ like global warming, depletion of oil and other natural rescues or even environmental protection would all be alleviated if there were fewer people.


I agree. Unfortunately, the right doesn’t like talking about too many people because the religious ones hate birth control and the rich ones link population increase with economic growth and them getting more money. And the left doesn’t like talking about too many people because they think it’s an excuse for solving problems on the backs of the poor, since the places with the most people tend to use far fewer resources per capita. Plus the more erudite left remember that Malthus was a right winger. So nobody wants to talk about it.


“the rich ones link population increase with economic growth and them getting more money.”

That’s why western countries create and take refugees, to prop up their banks.
All wars are about money.

paul ( original )

I don’t see how this can work. It is related to something you wrote in a previous post. All that can happen is money printing is done on a massive scale in order to support the refugees. Alternatively taxes need to be raised in order to support the refugees. Looks bad from any direction, unless one thinks that the more money we print or the more taxes we pay then the richer we are. I added this sentence since some people do think this, if indeed it can be classes as thought.


A refugee eats, so somebody supplies the food, that increases GDP.
OK so some poor schmuck pays more tax, do you think the elites care?

Even with the money printing, that has been going on for 50 years, the rich use that printed money to buy land(food) and gold, the only real assets and today are richer than they were 50 years ago, and the poor are poorer than they were 50 years ago.



paul ( original )

I thought your analysis was very comprehensive and insightful, getting clearly to the heart of the matter. Your analysis puts me in mind of the following observation.
I know people say that some how population growth results in economic growth. This to me seems like a medieval view were the more peasant there were to work the land the more wealth that was produced. To think this way in a technological world is just lunacy. Increasingly machines and intelligent systems will replace human beings reducing the need for labour.
The other line of attack is that somehow all will be well if there are more consumers. This is just out in space thinking. The idea that shopping is the same a productions can not be anything but a dead journey only possible in a Keynesian world gone mad


Yes population is the elephant in the room, and why measures to reduce CO2 emissions will fail.


Worst graph i have ever seen anyone post! Even when i click on it and zoom in, its text is still unreadable! If you are going to the effort of making a POINT by posting a picture of a graph, can do us a favour…… have some decent resolution! And please dont get bitchy about this, seriously i wanted to read it but there is one line of text that i cannot read! Therefore your point failed! Im sure you dont like failing, but you just did!


I was a bit to quick in picking out a graph. :(
Perhaps it was put out by the Al Gore team.
This one covers a shorter time period.
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Toronto Tonto

Hes a brain dead ruskie idiot .


Sorry about that.

Brad Johnson

Unfortunately even though Al Gore predicted the Actic to be completely melted by 2013, that never happened. Since Al Gore made the prediction in 2008, the sea ice extent of the Arctic has not changed.

Brad Johnson

Unfortunately even though Al Gore predicted the Actic to be completely melted by 2013, that never happened. Since Al Gore made the prediction in 2008, the sea ice extent of the Arctic has not changed.
comment image


Although Al Gore got the timing wrong, the earth is warming, and it won’t stop warming until it finds its new equilibrium.

The world seems to be divided into 2 camps, those who deny its happening like you, and those who run around screaming the sky is falling like purpleguy.

The earth’s climate has somewhere between 1000 and 1500 years inertia built into it.
So buying a Prius won’t help, but it will make it worse a thousand years from now.
What we are currently experiencing is the result of man changing from a hunter gatherer into a farmer. Our ancestors felled the forests and released a staggering amount of CO2.

Most of that CO2 ended up in the oceans, and the oceans cycle surface water to bottom water and back to surface water at a 1000-1500 year cycle rate. As the oceans warm they release CO2 and amplify the warming process.

It’s here, it’s not gonna stop, adapt or die.

Brad Johnson

We were specifically talking about Arctic ice and it’s relevance to icebreaking ships. The data shows Arctic ice has not changed since Al Gore made that statement.


Yes it has changed.
Arctic sea ice extent for April 2019 averaged 13.45 million square kilometers. This was 1.24 million square kilometers below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average extent. From here.

The simple fact that shipping now use the Arctic route, when they couldn’t 20 years ago is all the proof a thinking person would need to realize that it has changed.

Brad Johnson

My regression is using data straight from nsidc, I focus on the minimum because is a far more useful comparison year-year, and look, the minimum in 2018 was pretty much exactly the same as it was in 2008 when Al Gore made his prediction. comment image


“I focus on the minimum because is a far more useful comparison year-year”


Brad Johnson

I think I answered that, it isn’t very interesting to compare April year of year. Maybe one year April is unusually warm to be followed by an unusually cold May and it all balances out, that isn’t interesting. September OTOH is a good proxy for an entire season of melting.


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Brad Johnson

Let’s see where we are in September, I predict we will have more ice than we did in 2018 or 2008.


Well, first, I don’t know where you got that graph or whose data it is. I could make that on a spreadsheet and pull numbers out of a hat.
Second, that kind of figure neglects the question of ice thickness. There is virtually no multi-year ice left; it used to represent the majority.

Brad Johnson

Those numbers are straight from https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/.
You are also wrong on your two other points, I used the September averages because that is the minimum for the year. The ice that does not melt by September becomes mulityear ice and thus thicker, also the chart clearly shows there is still multi-year ice.


The carbon cycle is interesting. Over the eons the ocean mollusk and such would take CO2 and convert it into Calcium Carbonate. So a lot of the carbon became trapped in layers of limestone and marble.
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Yeah, the carbon like all the other elements never goes away they just change state.
Quite a bit of the CO2 that once existed in our atmosphere and oceans mixed with hydrogen to create hydrocarbons and oxygen.


Result of what now? Thousand year lead time? I’ve never heard a scientist make any such claim, let alone back it up. When humans moved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers, world population was a few million, not a few billion. Our impact, no matter what we did, was way smaller.
Even the beginning of the 20th century was a couple of population-doublings ago, and we used a lot less resources per person then too. Our impact has been growing exponentially. The big stuff is the recent stuff.

And sure, some CO2 is released by cutting down forests and turning them into farmland. But it’s a very small effect compared to taking the results of millions of years’ worth of forests and sea life that got buried, and burning them all in a few decades. The fact is that the science is clear, and trying to pretend that all the climate scientists are only saying what they’re saying because of some sinister agenda which somehow holds all of the most fractious bunch of people on the planet together despite that there’s no obvious money to be made from it, is a fool’s game. And what the scientists are saying is not some rigmarole about CO2 disappearing into the oceans for a thousand years and then coming back, it’s very direct: We burn things, CO2 goes into the atmosphere, and once there it has an impact. The ocean is involved, but backwards from what you’re saying–the ocean has absorbed a lot of the CO2 we’ve been emitting just lately, otherwise things would be even hotter (and the oceans wouldn’t be acidifying). But it’s not enough, and CO2 concentrations are going up fast, because we’re burning stuff for seven billion people’s worth. The details and the extras are rocket science–methane, reflectivity, effects of aerosols, feedback loops, impacts on the gulf stream, bla bla. But the basic schtick is lead pipe simple: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it traps some heat that would otherwise leave the earth, and if you shove more of it into the air there will be more of it in the air. Duh.

I’ll agree driving a Prius won’t help. Even my Leaf, although I quite like it, does not in itself represent much solution; this isn’t something that can really be tackled at the consumer level. And, the thing has momentum–wave a magic wand and create an economy that produces zero greenhouse gases tomorrow, and temperatures would still keep going up for a while. But the difference between two degrees and six is stark, and all arguments for just not doing anything, whether it’s the “There’s no such thing!” of yesteryear or this bizarro “It all happened a thousand years ago” schtick of yours, strike me as simple cowardice. Playing pretend so you don’t have to face a hard reality.

The odd thing is that at the time you started trashtalking me I hadn’t actually said or implied any of this. I was just making the point that any analysis of politics in the Arctic and how it has changed which doesn’t mention that the physical conditions for navigation and resource extraction are different now is kind of stupid. And I don’t think you even disagree with that, so why you got all pissy is beyond me.


PurpleGuy, your comment for some reason was marked as spam?

Try reading https://climategate.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2011-Goldewijk_et_al-2011-Global_Ecology_and_Biogeography.pdf

That only just touches on the issue, when I researched climate change many years ago there was more information available, today the science has to fit the current economic model. As an example you will never read that the easiest way to reduce emissions is to reduce consumption. Currently electric vehicles are supposed to save us, but it takes about 14 years of use before a car produces the same amount of CO2 that was generated to build the car.
Telling people the best thing they can do for the environment is to keep driving their old car for as long as possible is bad for business.
Cars with catalytic convertors produce more CO2 than cars without them, but nobody will mention that.
Sadly there is a lot of disinformation about climate change, it can’t be stopped and CO2 emissions can only be reduced by depopulation.

It looks like Donald Trump might save the world, by killing us all?


weird because i could have sworn that i watched a Russian doco on the ice in the Artic just 2 months a go! I could have sworn i just saw a shit load of ice in the video posted! i KNOW i just read that polar bear numbers INCREASED in the last 10 years!
For your information, this “the ice is melting” is all bullshit! Global warming is a hoax! If you didnt know this already then im guessing your still in your 20’s and u havent recovered from the brain washing yet! Us older folk know more than you guys! We actually do our own research!
Think about this, if they can give a nobel peace prize to a guy who started 3 extra wars and whilst bombing northern pakistan when they gave him the award, what do you think they can do with the “double peer reviewed” bullshit where they put 300 scientists names on the the list only to have 30 of them sue them for putting their name on it, and 130 were not even scientists!
What you need to learn is that not only lawyers and politicians lie, but also corporations, govt owned scientific research directors, greedy money thieves and al gore most certainly!

you didnt know that they lie?
Damn dude!


1. I’m in my 50s. Which is to say, old enough to remember the weather being different.

2. Learn something about science. I work at a university, I’m personally acquainted with some scientists, I know their culture. There is nothing on earth that can produce near-unanimity among scientists to say something major is true unless it is not only true but the evidence is overwhelming. Young scientists make their reputations by showing up older scientists; if you can show that something important that was previously believed is wrong, your career is made. And yet you just do not see any hot young scientists debunking global warming. Why not? Because the evidence is overwhelming and the theoretical basis is ironclad. The best they can do is wrangle about the details, and boy do they.
And while some scientists have been bribed to tell lies about global warming not being real, it’s very hard to bribe scientists to say stuff that flies in the face of a solid body of evidence because if there’s one thing scientists hate it’s looking like a complete idiot in front of other scientists. It’s easier with stuff like, say, claiming Monsanto’s herbicides are safe, because Monsanto themselves do a lot of the research on it and it’s a smaller subject, so it can take a lot longer for the real research to start producing a consensus; they can maintain serious doubt for quite a while. But the real research tends to get done eventually and then the liars have to start finding more and more marginal types to do the lying, people who don’t have a reputation to lose or any aspirations in the field. On climate science we got there long ago; it’s impossible to get serious scientists to lie about it because they’d look like quisling morons and nobody in the field would ever take them seriously again.

3. Learn something about why lies happen. They happen because there is money in suppressing the truth. Now, what are the richest, most establishment-integrated non-financial corporations in the world? Oil companies. ExxonMobil researchers were actually among the first to know about global warming. They suppressed the information and busily started financing deniers. The money, the bribes, the lies have always been flowing in the opposite direction to what you think. They come from the same outfits that sponsor half the world’s wars, and they are told in the service of maintaining the world’s biggest, most profitable business–oil (with natural gas and coal biz helping out).

There is, in the end, money in renewables. But the establishment rarely wants to disrupt a profitable status quo. And, renewables don’t make the same kind of concentrated windfall profits as oil–the money gets spread out a lot more, there’s more jobs and lower profit margins. And renewable energy tends towards the decentralized; when the price point is right, you can put solar panels on your roof and a battery in your basement, say goodbye to the grid and the gas station. That’s not the kind of business the elites prefer. Current power comes from centralized plants run by big utility companies, current fuel comes from refineries that take huge amounts of money, expertise and time to build, controlled by a small number of corporations worldwide who are mostly all pals. That’s the kind of business elites like. So they do not want change and they are colluding to avoid it. And you have been duped into repeating their talking points.


The Trump sanctions on Iran, China and Russia will bite Trump itself.


Some parts of Russia have fallen to NATO under Jewish conspiracy terrorism. Russia has full right to take that back because these are integral parts of Russia.

Toronto Tonto

You are just a racist Russian like putin .


Avoide America and their US dollar, both are haram. Anything you buy or sell with US dollar is also haram because that will make you losers in long run.

Toronto Tonto

The only dollar is the USA dollar everything else is chump change .


Some of russia’s ice breakers have everything is place to be outfitted if needed to be a warship


Ice Breaker by Victor Suvorov (largely discredited, but makes a good point IMO).

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