US Shamed Into Arctic Race as Well: Too Embarrassing to Rely on Russia’s Help in the Far North!
The presentation ceremony of the newest Russian icebreaker, the Andrei Vilkitsky, took place this week in St. Petersburg. In November, the vessel successfully passed its sea trials in the Baltic Sea. It has a diesel-electric power plant which enables the icebreaker to reach a speed of up to 16 nautical miles per hour and break ice of up to almost seven feet thick. It has unique maneuvering capabilities. It can make a 360-degree turn in just one minute.
Andrei Vilkitsky will be added to the Gazpromneft fleet. It will serve the Novoportovskoye oil and gas condensate field. Hydrocarbons mined there are transported along the Northern Sea Route. As the Arctic region melts, more and more of the world's countries are paying attention to this transportation corridor. The volume of traffic is growing every year.
Where it smells like money, Washington goes there. This year, the US Senate demanded that the secretary of defense develop a strategy for the Arctic. «Russia is the boss there and we need to keep it at all costs». Having assessed their possibilities, the Americans came to the conclusion that they cannot do that. It became known that America has canceled its Arctic exercises, so to not be embarrassed in front of the competitor.
My colleague Tatiana Belova joins us.
— Tatiana, what's going on with their icebreaker fleet? Are there any problems?
— Vadim, you see, they don't have one. Another scandal broke out in the US after a former commander of the US Coast Guard sincerely talked to the press. Admiral Paul Zukunft was the head of the Coast Guard until last summer. He told journalists many interesting things. It turns out that there are only two working vessels left in the icebreaker fleet, except for two low-powered scientific ships. Only one of them is capable of working in thick ice. Zukunft told how the National Security Council suggested to him to conduct a so-called free navigation exercise. Meaning, to send an icebreaker to the Northern Sea Route. The admiral had to refuse.
«I responded that the ship was 40 years old, we take parts from other ships so that this one could stay afloat. I cannot guarantee that if we try to conduct a free navigation exercise on the Polar Star, there won't be any catastrophic problems. I'll have to call Russians so that they could save us».
The vessel he was talking about, let me stress that it's the US's best icebreaker, is the Polar Star. The diesel monster was launched in 1976, it can break ice of up to almost 7 feet thick. During a period of 2007-2012, the vessel was decommissioned. They tried to modernize it. Apparently, it didn't work out. It's well-known that the crew members call the ship «a rusty bucket». The Polar Star breaks down constantly. For instance, during its last mission to the Antarctic McMurdo Station, there were several serious accidents on the vessel, including the engine room flooding. The icebreaker is so old, that one can't find new parts to it. According to Paul Zukunft, sometimes after such break-downs, the crew had to order used parts on internet platforms.
The US Coast Guard's second icebreaker is a diesel, the Healy. It's younger than the Polar Star. It's going to turn 20 next year, but its capabilities are even more modest. It can break ice of up to 4.5 feet thick. Thus, including scientific vessels, the US has five icebreakers.
And to compare, here's the Russian icebreaker fleet: 54 vessels. Aside from that, Russia is the only country to possess icebreakers with nuclear power plants. No one in the USA likes that kind of situation.
Andrey Korobkov, Tennessee University Professor: «Russia has a great advantage in the icebreaker fleet, in ship management experience. In this region. And the Americans have talked about this many times, they think that they're lagging behind. It gets them very irritated when they see Putin going down underwater in a bathyscaphe in this region, see the Russian flag planted at the north pole».
I have to say that the US is going to renew their icebreaker fleet. But keeping up with other Arctic powers seems to be impossible. The first new vessel of this type is expected to be in the water in 2023. By that time, even China will have three Arctic icebreakers.
And the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet will add up four brand new icebreakers by 2023. The most powerful of them, the Leader, will easily break ice of up to 13 feet thick. It will break ice of almost 7 feet thick with no effort at speed of 12 knots.