China’s next big push will take it very far north (and very far south)—and to do that, they’ll need to expand their icebreaker fleet.
To that end, China commissioned its latest icebreaker, Haibing 722 on January 5th, three years after construction. The icebreaker will be assigned to the Chinese Navy’s Northern Fleet and patrol the Bohai Sea.
Haibing 722 is 337 feet long, 60 feet wide, and fully loaded displaces 4,860 tons. It can resist Force 12 winds and has a range of 7,000 miles. The icebreaker has a landing pad suitable for a Changhe Z-8 transport helicopter.
Haibing 722 is the first of a new class of icebreakers and part of a broader effort by the People’s Liberation Army Navy to pursue China’s interest in arctic and antarctic waters. Although China has no territory bordering the icy northern and southern waters, as a global economic power its interests lie in both.
As the polar ice caps melt new shipping routes may open up in the arctic regions, allowing Chinese goods to more quickly reach Europe and North America. The presence of new, ice-free water also opens up the possibility of exploiting resources previously unreachable, including fishing grounds, undersea petroleum and gas reserves, and minerals on the ocean floor.
In addition to the Haibing 722 class, China also has one heavy duty icebreaker, Xue Long (“Snow Dragon”). While Xue Long was built in the Ukraine, a second,
even more capable heavy icebreaker is being built in China with Finnish technology. The new, unnamed ship is expected to be completed this year.
The United States currently has one heavy icebreaker, Polar Star, and would like to purchase at least one more heavy.