The China National Nuclear Corporation began taking bids to construct a nuclear-powered icebreaker on Thursday, taking what the state-run Global Times happily described as “a move to prepare for the construction of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.”
The icebreaker would be China’s first nuclear-powered ship, which is of “great significance to China’s development of nuclear-powered vessels,” as the Global Times explains:
The ship’s nuclear power unit is huge and can be applied to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier once updated, so it can be seen as a preparation for the aircraft carrier, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
Nuclear power technology will also be applied to other military vessels, which allows them to travel long distances, and thus protect national security and overseas interests, Song said.
The US and former Soviet Union used their experience with nuclear-powered icebreaker ships to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, he noted.
[…] In February, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) said in a statement that it plans to “speed up the process of making technological breakthroughs in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, new-type nuclear submarines, quiet submarines, maritime unmanned intelligent confrontation systems, maritime three-dimensional offensive and defensive systems, and comprehensive naval warfare electronic information systems.”
The statement has caused heated discussion as this is the first time a State-owned Chinese defense company has openly identified nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
The icebreaker, which will be named Xeulong 2 (which translates to Snow Dragon 2), has been under construction since March, using a design from a Finnish company but constructed entirely in Shanghai. If all goes according to plan, it will be the first scientific vessel that can break ice up to 1.5 meters thick with both its bow and stern, operating in temperatures over 20 degrees below zero.
The Xeulong 1 is China’s only currently operational polar research vessel and icebreaker. China is hoping to launch the Xeulong 2 sometime next year.
China is hard at work on designing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that can compete with American ships. The Chinese navy has been advancing in stages, beginning with a refurbished Russian-built vessel whose design dates back to the Cold War, which currently sails as China’s only fully operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. The first home-build Chinese carrier is currently undergoing sea trials, but it’s not nuclear powered.
Not only can nuclear carriers stay at sea longer, making them less reliant on the convenience of friendly ports to operate, but they can use powerful electromagnetic catapults to launch warplanes. That would be much better than the Liaoning’s approach of running jets off a “ski slope” on the bow to loft them into the air. Electromagnetic catapults allow a plane to get airborne with a heavier load of weapons and fuel.