Chinese Make Advances in Developing Supersonic Submarine

Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014 10:40 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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Chinese researchers have advanced technology for a supersonic submarine that could travel from Shanghai to San Francisco in less than two hours, reports the South China Morning Post.

Li Fengchen, a professor of fluid machinery and engineering at the Harbin Institute of Technology's Complex Flow and Heat Transfer Lab, told the paper that the groundbreaking research holds incredible potential.

"Our method is different from any other approach, such as vector propulsion," Li told the paper. "By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier."

Traditional submarines have been unable to reach excessive speeds because water produces more friction, or drag, on an object than air. This technology would reduce that friction by placing the vessel inside an air "bubble" that would allow it to facilitate greater speeds.

The new developments advance technology that dates back to the days of the Cold War when the Soviet Union developed "supercavitation," which uses cavitation effects to create a large bubble of gas inside a liquid. The cavity (or bubble) reduces the drag on the object, allowing it to move at greater speed.

Shakval, the Russian's first supercavitation torpedo, could travel at 370 kilometers per hour or more, which is considerably faster than traditional submarines.

The technology could also have applications beyond military purposes, said Li.

"If a swimsuit can create and hold many tiny bubbles in water, it can significantly reduce the water drag; swimming in water could be as effortless as flying in the sky," he said.

In 1997, scientists with the U.S. Navy utilized the same technology to test a supercavitating projectile that reached 5,082 feet per second, becoming the first underwater projectile to exceed Mach 1, according to Popular Science.

Applications have also been explored with hovercraft and counter-mine applications, according to Defense Update.

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