Construction begins on Russian Navy’s first Arctic patrol ship

By Ryan Uljua, High North News - April 28, 2017

Almost a year after the Russian Ministry of Defense announced its plans to acquire a new class of icebreaking Arctic patrol vessels, the keel of the first “Project 23550” multipurpose Arctic patrol ship has been laid.

The keel laying ceremony took place on April 19 at JSC Admiralty Shipyards, the St. Petersburg shipyard that was awarded the contract to build the first two Project 23550 patrol vessels. The first of the two ships, dubbed the Ivan Papanin, is named after the noted Soviet polar explorer-scientist and is scheduled to begin sea trials sometime in 2019.

The ceremony in St. Petersburg was attended by several VIPs, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Korolev. At the ceremony, Korolev called the Project 23550 “a unique, multi-functional ship that is very necessary for the fleet.”

An artist's concept of the Project 23550 ship. (Illustration Russian Ministry of Defense via High North News)
An artist’s concept of the Project 23550 ship. (Illustration Russian Ministry of Defense via High North News)

Korolev’s sentiments echo earlier statements from the Ministry of Defense that place a premium on the Project 23550’s versatility. For example, the range of missions the ships will be expected to carry out include Arctic sovereignty patrols, resource monitoring, escorting, detaining, and towing ships, participating in rescue operations, and responding to emergencies such a fires aboard ships and offshore oil and gas platforms.

Once completed, the ships will be 114 meters long, 18 meters wide, and have a crew of 49 with space for almost 50 additional personnel. The patrol ships will boast 15,000 kW in power, versatile azipod thrusters, and the ability to operate in summer ice up to 1.5-1.7 meters (4.9-5.6 feet) thick.

A more powerful sibling on the way?

The keel of the second Project 23550 ship, dubbed the Nikolai Zubov, is slated to be laid down in late 2017 or early 2018 at Admiralty Shipyards. In his remarks at the keep laying ceremony, Navy commander Korolev gave some early indications that the second ship in the Project 23550 class may differ from the lead ship.

According to Korolev, who previously served as the first Commander of the Arctic Joint Strategic Command from 2014 to 2016, the armaments on the Nikolai Zubov will differ from those of the Ivan Papanin.

It is not yet known whether the second Project 23550 will boast more or less firepower than the lead ship, the Ivan Papanin. The statement was notable because the Ivan Papanin is already expected to be far more heavily armed than comparable polar patrol vessels of other Arctic states. The Ivan Papanin is designed to equip a powerful A-190 100 mm foredeck gun as well as a stern-mounted weapons module containing up to eight “Kalibr”-type anti-ship and/or land-attack cruise missiles.

It is not yet clear when the armaments of the second Project 23550 will be announced.

The Russian Navy currently expects to take delivery of both Arctic patrol ships by late 2020.