Following recent news that Russia has begun construction of a new leader class nuclear-powered icebreaker; William Davies, Associate Aerospace and Defense Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:

“Russia’s announcement shows that the COVID-19 crisis has not slowed its procurement of new icebreakers and the new leader class, when finished, will join Russia’s already significant fleet of 46 icebreakers. Russia is committed to ensuring access to land and resources in the Arctic region and icebreakers are key to ensuring that.

“Currently, Russia leads the world in icebreakers, followed by Canada, who currently possess seven icebreakers. However, the US has reacted to Russia’s dominance by committing to more icebreakers, but its procurement – which will result in three new vessels by 2029 – will still leave them significantly behind Russia.

“Putin has promised to build 13 heavy icebreakers by 2035 with at least nine being nuclear-powered. In contrast, the US is committed to building six new icebreakers to replace the current three aging icebreakers that it has in its inventory.

“Melting sea ice will provide increasing opportunities in the Arctic and Russia is positioning itself to take advantage of these opportunities, with other nations falling behind in icebreaker procurement. The Leader Class (pictured above) has the capability to break through ice up to 4.3 meters thick, and it will join the rest of Russia’s icebreaker fleet in being able to ensure a year-long operation of the northern sea route, which Russia is committed to developing as a trade route between Europe and Asia.”