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.

22 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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