The first mission of Haibing is ice situation investigation, ice breaking and maritime search and rescue in ice zones within the waters of the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea. Credit: DefPost.

Due to a massive cold front, conditions on the Bohai Sea off the coast of northern China have deteriorated, forcing military officials to take action.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has deployed Type 272 icebreaker Haibing to the Bohai Sea and the northern waters of the Yellow Sea to perform the 84th ice survey mission, DefPost reported.

According to an official statement, the Haibing will conduct a survey in 28 points in the region, with a total voyage exceeding 1,000 nautical miles for more than 100 hours.

The survey is being carried out in order to obtain real-time data on maritime ice conditions and support the winter icebreaking and disaster relief work, the report said.

Besides obtaining hydrological and meteorological data, the icebreaker will also carry out navigation training in complex sea conditions and sea area transferring training.

Due to the cold front, the ice conditions in the Bohai Sea and the northern part of the Yellow Sea are deteriorating.

As a result, maritime shipping, aquaculture, and offshore oil and gas development have all been greatly affected.

Haibing (meaning Sea Ice in Chinese) is the lead ship of domestically-built Type 272-class of icebreakers operated by the PLA Navy.

Type 272 has more advanced design features in comparison to earlier Chinese icebreakers (the Type 210), such as the incorporation of multifunction displays, and it can withstand Beaufort wind scale of 12 (an international scale of wind force from 0, calm air, to 12, hurricane) when sailing.

Haibing is 337 feet long, 60 feet wide, and displaces 4,860 tons when fully loaded.

It has a range of 7,000 miles and is capable of carrying a large helicopter such as the Chinese Changhe Z-8 (derived from French Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon).

The vessel was laid down in November 2013, launched in March 2015 and entered lively army service on January 1, 2016.

The primary mission of the Haibing is ice investigation, ice breaking and maritime search and rescue in ice zones within the waters of the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea.

The Bohai Sea or Bo Sea, also known as Bohai Gulf, Bo Gulf or Pohai Bay, is a marginal sea approximately 78,000 km in area on the east coast of mainland China.

It is the northwestern and innermost extension of the Yellow Sea, to which it connects to the east via the Bohai Strait. 

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 class, China also has two heavy duty icebreakers, Xue Long (Snow Dragon) and Xue Long 2.

While Xue Long was built in the Ukraine, Xue Long 2 was built in China with Finnish technology — the first ever made in China icebreaker.

While China hopes to build more icebreakers, including a nuclear-powered variant, but it is far behind Russia.

The latter reportedly possesses more than 40 icebreakers and plans to build more, with a goal of 13 heavy-duty icebreakers in operation by 2035.

By contrast, the United States has one aged heavy icebreaker and one medium version in operation.

While there are plans to build six more (including three heavy icebreakers at an estimated total cost of $2.95 billion), funding is largely limited to the first one and it will not be available until 2023 or 2024.

Unlike past fears that the US was on the wrong side of a bomber gap, missile gap, or the dreaded mine-shaft gap, an icebreaker gap does indeed exist.

Sources: DefPost, War on the Rocks, Popular Mechanics, Wikipedia