Saturday, February 22, 2020

Russia’s New Icebreaker Suffers New Indignities Even Before Going into Service

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – Even before its atomic power plant has been installed – that isn’t yet ready – one of the two electric engines on Russia’s new and much ballyhooed icebreaker, the Arktika, which is supposed to play a key role in opening the Northern Sea Route, failed and may have to be replaced.

            The Russian government has set up a commission to try to establish what has gone wrong and what needs to be done, but Moscow has not been able to hide this failure because the ship can’t go into service as planned unless both engines and the nuclear power plant are working, something that is not now the case (

            In many respects, this case is emblematic of a fundamental problem with Russian construction projects in general and military-industrial ones like this ship in particular: a rush to announce that the project is completed well before it is in fact ready and then a scurrying about to find someone or something to blame for any delay. 

            In this case, the ship was sent for tests without the atomic power plant it is supposed to have and that will be required if the Arktika is to perform as it is intended and the electric motors that drive the ship’s propellers were not fully tested but installed anyway, thus creating a public relations and practical disaster.

            Moscow’s Kommersant reports that those close to the project say that “in the best case scenario,” the ship might be ready in the fall but not this spring as scheduled. That will force Moscow to continue to use ships it had planned to retire and may even reduce Russia’s ability to fully service the Northern Sea Route for the next several years.

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