Rosatomflot Contracts Zvezda Shipyard to Build World’s Largest Icebreaker

On April 23, Rosatom subsidiary Rosatomflot contracted the state-owned Zvezda Shipyard to build the Project 10510 Leader class of nuclear-powered icebreakers, which will have a displacement of 55,000 tons, approximately twice as large is the current Arktika class.  The Arktika class icebreakers are currently the world’s largest. The vessels are designed to be able to break ice thicker than four meters, allowing them to operate year-round in the most difficult conditions along the Northern Sea Route (NSR).  The NSR is the maritime passage linking Europe to East Asia via Arctic waters along Russia’s northern coast that Moscow is intent on developing as a significant new strategic asset that it hopes might one day compete with the Suez Canal.
Rosatom has already secured $2 billion in state funding for the first vessel, demonstrating the continued commitment of Russian authorities to establishing the infrastructure necessary for year-round commercial and military passage along the route. The decision to award the contract to Zvezda follows a political battle during the contract negotiation process for a series of ice-capable LNG carriers to service the Yamal LNG project. One faction argued that Zvezda, as a strategic national asset, should receive the orders. The other faction highlighted the cost savings that would come from contracting them from more efficient South Korean shipyards. Ultimately, the order was divided between the two shipyards. Notably, China State Construction and Engineering Corporation secured a contract to expand capacity at the Zvezda Shipyard in 2019.
The first Leader-class icebreaker, however, is not due to enter service until 2027. The engine failure suffered by Russia’s latest Arktika nuclear icebreaker during February sea trials, which may delay its commissioning by up to a year, highlights the challenges facing Russia’s development of icebreaker capability, an important component of the Kremlin’s efforts to achieve the year-round operability of the NSR. Significant other funding has also been made available to develop the land-based infrastructure that will also be needed to support usage of the route.