Monday, March 25, 2019

"China to Use First Atomic Icebreaker as Test for Future Nuclear Aircraft Carriers"

But loyal and long-suffering reader already knew that.*
That bank-shot humblebrag aside, this is a first rate look at what China is up to and condenses into one cogent little package what Climateer took three meandering posts to get to.

From High North News:

The country’s first atomic icebreaker will rival Russia’s largest nuclear icebreakers in size. China will become only the second country to operate such a vessel and it will pave the way for the country’s first nuclear aircraft carriers.
A nuclear icebreaker will further enhance China’s ability to navigate the Arctic Ocean even during winter. With a displacement of more than 30,000 tons the proposed vessel will be just slightly smaller than Russia’s newest and largest icebreakers of the Arktika class.

China’s plans to build a nuclear icebreaker are just the latest step in its efforts to pursue a more active role in the Arctic. The country released its first-ever Arctic policy in early 2018 followed by the launch of its second conventional icebreaker in September. About two dozen Chinese vessels transited Russia’s Northern Sea Route in the last five years, more than any other country except Russia. It is also a large investor in Novatek’s Yamal LNG, a major natural gas project.

“This will now give the Chinese the ability to go anywhere at any time. The size of the icebreaker, if indeed reports are accurate, means China will have a capability that will rival Russia’s icebreakers,” explains Rob Huebert, associate professor at the University of Calgary and a senior research fellow with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

Icebreaker paves way for aircraft carrier
But there is another, more long-term and strategic aspect to building this icebreaker. China will be able to draw valuable lessons from designing, constructing, and operating a nuclear icebreaker. “The use of a nuclear icebreaker can be understood as laying the foundation for the future acquisition of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers,” states Aki Tonami, Arctic researcher and Professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

In original project documents the vessel is described as an “experimental ship platform,” hinting at its role as a test vehicle for nuclear propulsion. Currently, China operates two conventional aircraft carriers but in its great-power competition with the United States nuclear-powered carriers will be indispensable.

A powerful nuclear icebreaker
Earlier this week China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) invited bids to construct the new vessel. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) also published a tender notice for the project in June 2018 related to the small reactor technology, which will be used to power the vessel.
“China has rapidly increased its ability to build ice-class vessels thanks to advances in steel manufacturing. Building a nuclear icebreaker, for which bids were restricted only to companies from mainland China, would be a way to put that expertise to work while further refining it,” explains Mia Bennett assistant professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong and editor of Cryopolitics.

The proposed icebreaker will be powered by two 25 MW pressurized water reactors. The vessel will be capable of traveling into the Arctic during winter and open up polar waterways. Its top speed is designated at 11.5 knots, about 22 km/h. The specific purpose and operational role of the vessel remain unknown but it is described as a “comprehensive support ship.”

The vessel will be 152 meters long by 30 meters wide, with a maximum draft of 18 meters and displace 30,069 tons. These specifications place it among the largest icebreakers ever constructed....MUCH MORE
China Launches Its First Domestically Built Icebreaker
...Again, this is just a little guy, 1.5 meters capability is nothing in the world of icebreakers.
The Venta Maersk that just became the first container ship to transit Russia's Northern Sea Route can get through 2-3 feet of ice and Teekay's new LNG carrier, the Eduard Toll, was breaking through 1.8 meters of ice on its inaugural  run from Yamal in January.

The thing that is impressive about the Xue Long 2 is that the Chinese built it themselves.
As noted in the outro from the nuclear-powered ship, the strategy is similar to the one they used to pursue their aircraft carrier dreams.

Here's the short version of the time the Chinese bought their first aircraft carrier from Ukraine....
The Ukrainians wouldn't sell if the big boat were going to be used for military purposes.
So the Chinese said ""
"That's it, we're only going to use it as a floating casino, Chinese people like to gamble, come on lucky 8, that's the ticket!"
I can't wait to see what's cookin' in the icebreaker laboratories.
After reverse engineering everything on the casino, Xinhua announced in December 2015: "China building second aircraft carrier".based on the Varyag plans.

They will use the experience gained building that ship to build their second Chinese-made carrier (third total) which will be built to an entirely new plan.
Same thing with the icebreakers.  The new one refines construction expertise for the next homemade ship and away they go,
"China’s Polar Strategy: An Emerging Gray Zone?"
"China opens bids for first nuclear-powered icebreaker"
Back in March we intro'd "U.S. Navy Releases Proposal Request for Coast Guard’s New Heavy Polar Icebreaker" with:
If the U.S. were serious the request-for-proposal would be for six ships and they would have been started five to ten years ago.
China, a non-polar nation already has a small fleet of light and medium icebreakers and is rumored to have plans for a new medium with a 3-3.5 meter-thick-ice capability as a stepping-stone to a couple heavy icebreakers by the mid-to-late 2020's. They are serious about their Polar Silk Road.*
It appears the rumors were true....... On the other hand, if you read Xinhua's translation of January's "Full text: China's Arctic Policy" you'll note they call themselves a ‘Near-Arctic state’.
This is to counter people like me using the 'non-polar' or 'non-Arctic' phrasing.

Additionally China is couching their interest in terms of research:
States from outside the Arctic region do not have territorial sovereignty in the Arctic, but they do have rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines in the high seas and other relevant sea areas in the Arctic Ocean, and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area, pursuant to treaties such as UNCLOS and general international law. In addition, Contracting Parties to the Spitsbergen Treaty enjoy the liberty of access and entry to certain areas of the Arctic, the right under conditions of equality and, in accordance with law, to the exercise and practice of scientific research, production and commercial activities such as hunting, fishing, and mining in these areas....
and is dedicating 1100 square feet of space on the latest planned icebreaker to laboratories.

...Even "near-equatorial" Singapore wants to get into the act, albeit by way of the Russian icebreakers.
I suppose it's only a matter of time before right-on-the-equator Brazil or Gabon declare themselves "next-to-near arctic states"

It's a small world after all.