Russians Building Missile Armed Arctic Patrol Vessel


Concept image issued by the Russian Ministry of Defence of the Project 23550 ice-class patrol ships for the Russian Navy. Source: Russian MoD

Janes360 is reporting that the Russian Ministry of Defense has awarded contracts for two new ice class patrol vessels that are reportedly capable of operating in ice up to 1.5 meters thick (approx. 5 feet).

The class is described (in Russian) by the MoD as being “without analogues in the world”, and combining “the qualities of tug, ice-breaker, and patrol boat”.

To me it looks an awful lot like the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel Svalbard or Canada’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship that is based on the Svalbard’s design.

Jane’s notes, “A concept image released by the MoD showed the vessel armed with a medium-calibre main gun on the foredeck (likely an A-190 100 mm naval gun), a helicopter deck and hangar, and two aft payload bays each fitted with a containerised missile launch system (akin to the Club-K system offered for export) armed with four erectable launch tubes – presumably for either Club anti-ship or Kalibr-NK land-attack missiles. Although billed as patrol boats, this level of armament makes them better armed than many corvettes.”

If these are in fact containerized missile systems, then they may simply be optional equipment, added to the conceptual image to give the ship a bit more swagger, and we may never actually see this. If you are breaking ice for a vessel following close behind, you may not want missiles with their warheads and high energy fuel located near the stern where a collision with a vessel following too close might rupture a missile and start a fire.

It does suggest that a few spaces for containers could turn almost any ship into a potential missile platform.

44 thoughts on “Russians Building Missile Armed Arctic Patrol Vessel

  1. According to the schematics (, the diesel-electric propulsion system consists of two medium-speed diesel engines and two ABB Azipod VI1600L propulsion units (“or equivalent”). Considering the current political climate and sanctions, I doubt western propulsion system suppliers (ABB, Steerprop, Rolls-Royce, Schottel) would provide equipment for a ship that is clearly an armed naval vessel. Russia claims that they have domestic propulsion unit production (e.g. the Project 21180 naval icebreaker is said to receive Russian-made “Azipod-type” propulsion units), but there’s not much information available and all commercial operators tend to rely on non-Russian equipment (at least until someone tells them to switch to domestically-produced equipment regardless of costs and quality issues).

    Also, the “continuous” icebreaking capability is said to be 1.0 m, meaning that the 1.5 m figure probably refers to the level of structural strengthening and operation in the presence of thicker ice. This corresponds to the requirements of the Russian ice class “Icebreaker6”, which is the lowest “true” icebreaker class (for comparison, the new nuclear-powered icebreakers are built to ice class “Icebreaker9”).

  2. From the German Navy Blog, 28 July, “The Russian Navy will create a special group of icebreakers for the protection of the Arctic coast … new diesel-electric icebreaker „Ilya Muromets“ could go into mass production, armed with artillery and missiles”

    According to DefenseNews.

    “The Ilya Muromets is an 85-meter (280-feet) long electric-diesel powered icebreaker with a deadweight of 6,000 tons and is designed to help the deployment of the navy in icy conditions as well as escort or tow other ships.

    “It can cut through ice of up to one meter thick and travel the entire 5,600 kilometer (3,500 mile) length of the Northern Passage, according to the defense ministry”

    • It should be noted that with that 1 m icebreaking capability, Ilya Muromets cannot operate year-round on the NSR without escort. Additionally, without additional strengthening, the presumed RMRS Icebreaker6 ice class is only good for up to 1.5 m thick ice.

      I really don’t like the way the media cites Russian press releases word-to-word. Ilya Muromets cannot have a 6,000-ton deadweight because, based on the main dimensions, that’s likely the vessel’s displacement. Furthermore, without additional information the advertised ~3,000 nmi range is not much of a feat. Of course, the Muromets being a naval vessel, the Russians haven’t given out more detailed specs which could be used to further analyze the capabilities of the vessel class.

      The contra-rotating propeller propulsion is pretty interesting, though. I believe this is the highest ice class application of this type of propulsion so far.

      • Found the spec for Project 21180 (in Russian) online. The main dimensions are the following:
        – length: 85 m
        – beam: 19.2 m
        – draft: 6.6 m
        – depth: 9.2 m
        – RS class notation: KM* Icebreaker6 [1] AUT1 ICS FF3WS EPP HELIDECK Special Purpose Ship

        General Arrangements:

        Looks pretty normal auxiliary icebreaker to me (not that one has been built in recent years) with layout similar to offshore supply vessels.

  3. from the German Navy blog, Marine Rorum, 26 Oct. . “Admiralty Shipyards (St. Petersburg) has „started construction“ of two new Project 23550 Arctic patrol ships … deliveries in 2019 and 2020.”

    • Turns out the ice-strengthened azimuth propulsion units shown in the sketch of Project 23550 is not defined as “dual use goods” and therefore is not under the 2014 sanctions against Russia. So, I guess there’s nothing stopping the ships from being built as shown in the drawings, with the European ABB Azipod propulsion units.

      I also spotted a list of icebreakers under construction in Russia or for Russia (RMRS ice class in parenthesis; 6 is smallest and bigger is better):
      – 3 x Project 22220 60 MW nuclear-powered icebreaker (Icebreaker9)
      – 1 x Project 22600 25 MW diesel-electric icebreaker (Icebreaker8)
      – 2 x IBSV01 22 MW diesel-electric icebreaker (Icebreaker8)
      – 1 x Project 21900M 18 MW diesel-electric icebreaker (Icebreaker7)
      – 1 x ARC124 12 MW diesel-electric icebreaker (Icebreaker7)
      – 1 x 13 MW diesel-electric PSV (Icebreaker6)*
      – 3 x 13 MW diesel-electric SBV (Icebreaker6)*
      – 1 x Project 21180 7 MW diesel-electric icebreaker (Icebreaker6)
      (* under construction in Finland)

      By American classification, one could say that the first type is “heavy”, the next three “medium” and the rest “light”. All but “Icebreaker6” have minimum requirements for icebreaking capability.

      The new patrol vessels have, as far as I know, a lower “Arc” ice class, so they are not “true” icebreakers but ice-capable or icebreaking vessels.

    • I’m surprised at the rate at which the project is moving forward, considering Russia’s economic problems as well as issues with current domestic icebreaker projects. I hope they won’t end up siphoning resources from the other projects.

  4. This from the German Navy blog, Marine Forum, 19 April. Admiralty Shipyards (St. Petersburg) lays the keel for first of (initially) two Project 23550 Arctic Patrol Ships, „Ivan Papanin“ …… construction of 2nd ship „Nikolay Zubov“ to start later this year

    • I just noticed they reverted back to conventional shaftline propulsion. The original concept had Azipods which would have considerably improved the icebreaking capability.

    • Despite all the talk, the design is not that different from the Canadian AOPS with the exception of more aggressive weapons suite and perhaps slightly higher propulsion power. Arc6 is somewhat equivalent to Polar Class 4, but icebreaking capability of “1 m if moving continuously” makes is just as much a “slush-breaker” than its Canadian counterpart. It’s far from real icebreakers, but of course as an ice-strengthened vessel can operate under their escort.

      However, as I’ve stated before, the article is outdated when it comes to propulsion: the builder’s model showed conventional shaftlines (a’la AOPS) instead of Azipods (a’la KV Svalbard). This is quite important as the propulsion system selection has a significant effect on the performance of the vessel.


    “The ship will be able to break the ice much faster than traditional icebreakers, almost with the speed of a destroyer, the expert added.”

    Who benefits from spewing out this kind of disinformation that is easy to prove wrong? The science of icebreaking is pretty well understood and the ship has all the standard features of an icebreaking hull, nothing revolutionary.

    Also, not too long ago there was a lot of concern about “the first Russian Navy icebreaker in 45 years” and yet:

    “However, the Ilya Muromets does not possess any weapons and, does not differ from the civilian icebreakers.”

    • Tups, re, ““The ship will be able to break the ice much faster than traditional icebreakers, almost with the speed of a destroyer, the expert added.””

      Maybe he is saying it can break ice as fast as a destroyer.

      These seem a replacement for the Ivan Susanin class.

      Adding cruise missiles in containers is relatively easy, but the real Russian offensive power in the Arctic is their long range aircraft and submarines.

      In regard to arming US icebreakers, yes we could give them offensive cruise missiles and they would add to the USN’s distributed lethality concept but that alone would not answer other reasons to arm icebreakers.

      —They may need to do law enforcement
      —They need to be able to defend themselves in wartime so that they can carry out essential logistical missions. They are a very rare resource and we cannot afford to loose even one.

  6. When I saw the first sketches for Project 23550, the ship was fitted with two ABB Azipod VI1600 propulsion units which can be rated up to 7.5 megawatts each. While the final vessel design has traditional shaftlines and rudders, I’d be surprised if the propulsion power has increased from about 15 megawatts. This would require more installed power in form of additional generating sets and at least the initial sketches didn’t show much “unassigned space” in the hull, not to mention bigger fuel tanks etc. Also, there’s a limit for how much power you can put to the water through a single shaft without increasing the propeller diameter.

    Another factor is the hull form. It’s possible to design a 20 m wide vessel that can break up to 1.7 m thick level ice in a continuous motion with a propulsion power of just 13 megawatts, but that requires a highly efficient icebreaker bow. The builder’s model indicates that the bow of the Project 23550 vessel is quite long, resulting in smaller waterline opening angles and thus lower icebreaking capability due to higher ice resistance. The stem angle is also quite moderate. Without knowing more about the details, I’d say the published icebreaking capability – 1 m in continuous motion – is realistic. However, “continuous motion” is typically used for speeds of only about 2-3 knots. The other presented figure (“They may be able to break the ice to a depth of 1.5 meters”) seems to refer to the level of structural strengthening.

    I have to say I really enjoy your insight and analysis on coast guard and naval operations in general and particularly the future USCG icebreakers. As a civilian ship designer, I don’t have much experience on the operational side of things, not to mention the potential future needs due to changes in the world politics etc., so I find it very educational.

      • Thanks.

        I just found some additional info regarding the power plant installed on the Project 23550 vessels (source: The four main generators are driven by 16-cylinder high-speed diesel engines of Russian origin with an output of 3,500 kW each. In addition, the vessels will have two 1,000 kW auxiliary diesel generators. The article stated that the main generators will provide power for propulsion motors while the auxiliary generators will supply hotel functions, indicating that the latter cannot be run in parallel with the main power plant to provide extra power for propulsion. However, I’d expect the ship to be designed like most modern diesel-electric vessels where the electricity produced by the (typically more fuel-efficient) main generators can be used for hotel functions. Anyway, the ships have 4 x 3,500 kW = 14,000 kW of diesel power available for propulsion. I don’t know what kind of overall efficiency the Russian-produced electrical system can provide, but assuming industry standards that would indicate a propulsion (shaft) power of about 13,000 kW or so for the electric propulsion motors. That’d be in line with the 2-3 knots in 1 m level ice icebreaking capability I mentioned above, especially considering that due to relatively high open water speed requirement (18 knots) the propeller design cannot be optimized to produce high thrust at low speeds (as it can be done in icebreakers).

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  8. This from the German Navy blog “Marine Forum”:

    “Multi-purpose Project 23550 Arctic Ocean Patrol Vessel „Ivan Papanin“ to be launched in 2019 and delivered in 2020; construction of 2nd ship „Nikolaj Zubov“ to begin in 2019 with delivery in 2022 (rmks: one year behind schedule announced in later 2016) “

  9. To keep things in perspective.

    These small icebreakers are not changing the balance of power in the Arctic. The Russians already have far more dangerous systems in the Arctic.

    Still our icebreakers are rare and potentially important vessels that need to be capable of defending themselves if the environment warrants it.

    I think we are going to see a land rush at some point when the Antarctic Treaty expires.

  10. The construction of the first Project 23550 icebreaking patrol vessel is progressing:

    Can’t really say much behind all that scaffolding. Looks like there’s a second vessel under construction behind this one; it’s either the sister ship or one of the trawlers the same yard is building.

  11. The lead ship was launched today:

    According to the article, “her hull is strong enough to deal with ice up to 50 cm thick”. However, I think that’s a typo; to my knowledge, the ship’s ice class is Russian “Arc6” which, if I recall correctly, used to mean the hull would have to be strong enough for 150 cm (5 ft) of ice (though that’s not the same as the ship’s actual ice-going capability).

    • …and the launching is immediately followed by an announcement that two somewhat similar ships will be built for the Border Service:

      “Two Project 23550 patrol icebreakers will be built for the Russian Coast Guard (division of the Federal Security Service, FSB), director of Admiralteyskie Verfi shipyard Aleksandr Buzakov told Mil.Press Today after launching ceremony of the project’s lead ship. The ships will be constructed at Vyborg Shipyard, specified Buzakov. He added that the icebreakers for FSB will differ from the lead ship of the project, Ivan Papanin.”

      • Chuck, that’s correct. However, Project 23550 is more “warship-like” (not just the armament, but also general shape etc.) than the more icebreaker/tuglike Ivan Susanin class. Sign of the times?

      • Tups, unfortunately probably true. Will be interesting to see if they actually mount the cruise missiles. An Ivan Susanin came to San Francisco when the Coast Guard had its 200th Anniversary in 1990. Was a very simple ship. Not very warship like in its outfit in that its firefighting equipment was minimal. Firecontrol for the 76mm was on the bridge and the firecontrol for the 30mm guns was crude, but the guns themselves seemed well maintained.

  12. Some new photos and a good summary of capabilities and characteristics.

    The vessel has a total displacement of about 9,000 tons; a length of about 114 meters; a width of about 20 meters and a draft of about 6.0 meters. Its maximum speed is 18 knots; economic speed of 10 knots; crew / additional crew of about 60/50 people. The endurance is 70 days at sea. Arctic ship category: Arc7.

    In terms of weapon systems and equipment, Project 23550 vessels are fitted with a 76-mm AK-176MA main gun; portable air defense systems; helipad and helicopter hangar able to accommodate a Ka-27 class helicopter and unmanned aerial vehicles; two Raptor high-speed assault boats of the Raptor type and one Project 23321 hovercraft. Last but certainly not least, the vessel can be fitted with a containerized version of the Kalibr-NK missile system.

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    • My understand is that the first two will go to the Russian Navy whereas the Border Guard will get the third (and possibly fourth) one built at another shipyard.

      • The way I read it, it sounded like the they were all going to their Coast Guard, but the reporter may have misunderstood. The Ivan Susanin class that these seem to be replacing was used by both their Navy and their coast guard counterpart.

  14. The keel laying ceremony for the third Project 23550 ice-class patrol ship was held last week in Vyborg. The website is in Russian but includes photographs of the model in border guard livery:

    Looks like they are dropping the missiles for the FSB variant but retaining the 76 mm deck gun and two 30 mm CIWS.

  15. Pingback: “Russia Launches Project 23550 Patrol Ship ‘Purga’” –Naval News | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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