Imagine a supersonic submarine or torpedo travelling from Shanghai to San Francisco in no more than two hours—not in the movies, but in real life. Various reports said China is close to creating that.
Scientists at Complex Flow and Heat Transfer Lab in Harbin Institute of Technology has come up with a groundbreaking technology that would develop the complex air "bubble" that is needed by the submarine or torpedo to be able to travel underwater at very high speeds.
"We are very excited by its potential," professor Li Fengchen said.
The traditional submarine can’t travel as fast as the aircraft because, as opposed to air, water produces more friction or drag on an object.
The cold war, however, witnessed the development of a supercavitation technology by the Soviet Union military, which included an air bubble where a submerged vessel was enveloped to prevent problems resulting to water drag or friction.
Shakval was Soviet’s first supercavitation torpedo that boasted of a speed of 370 kilometers per hour or even more, said to be much faster than other conventional submarines.
Yet two major issues beset such technology. To produce and sustain the air bubble, there is a need to launch the submerged vessel at high speed, approaching 100 kilometers per hour. It is also very difficult, if not impossible, to drive the submerged vessel through traditional mechanisms, such as a rudder that is within the bubble, without having any direct contact with the water.
Because of such issues, the technology was limited to unmanned vessels. Almost all these submarines or torpedoes were discharged in a straight line because of its limited ability to make a turn.
Fengchen claimed the Chinese scientists were able to discover a pioneering way of resolving both issues.
When the supercavitation vessel is underwater, it would continually "shower a special liquid membrane" on its surface that would be worn off by water. The membrane could help with the navigation because various friction levels could be generated on several parts of the vessel. This could considerably minimize the water friction or drag on such vessel at low speeds.
The vessel would also enter a supercavitation state following a speed reaching to 75 kilometers per hour or more.
Fengchen said they can considerably minimize the challenges in launching the vessel and produce easier cruising control. He didn’t discount the fact, however, that several problems are yet to be resolved, such as the need for a strong rocket engine for underwater to provide a longer range for the vessel.
The supercavitation technology will not only be limited to military purposes, but to underwater transport for civilians and for water sports as well in the future.
Other than Russia, the U.S., Iran and Germany have been building vessels and weapons based on supercavitation technology, according to the SCMP report.