China on the Brink of Laser-Propelled Supersonic Silent Submarine Development

Recently, the Hong Kong media outlet South China Morning Post reported that Chinese scientists are close to achieving laser propulsion technology for ultra-fast, silent submarines.

Observers in Hong Kong pointed out that Chinese scientists have made a breakthrough in the development of next-generation nuclear submarine technology. They have found a significant method to enhance the efficiency of laser propulsion systems, which could potentially drive underwater vessels in the future.

The new technology is capable of generating nearly 70,000 Newtons of thrust, almost equivalent to the thrust of commercial jet engines. It utilizes a 2-megawatt laser power emitted through fiber optic coatings on the submarine’s surface, with each fiber finer than a human hair.

The breakthrough in laser propulsion technology aligns with China’s future naval strategy.

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, submarine innovation is not only crucial for national security but also pivotal for global military equilibrium.

Recently, Chinese scientists achieved a major breakthrough in laser propulsion technology for submarines. This achievement not only demonstrates China’s robust capabilities in high-tech domains but also lays the technological groundwork for supersonic submarine operations in the future.

Associate Professor Ge Yang and his team at Harbin Engineering University developed a technology called “Underwater Fiber Laser-Induced Plasma Hydrodynamic Propulsion.” This technology can generate nearly 70,000 Newtons of thrust, almost equivalent to the power of commercial jet engines, using a 2-megawatt laser power emitted through fiber optic coatings on the submarine’s surface.

These fibers, finer than human hair, exhibit an unprecedented level of efficiency previously deemed unattainable.

This technology harnesses laser pulses not only to generate thrust but also to instantaneously vaporize seawater, creating bubbles covering the submarine’s surface—a phenomenon known as “super cavitation,” which significantly reduces water resistance.

Theoretically, this development could enable submarines to travel at speeds exceeding the speed of sound without producing mechanical noise vibrations that would typically expose their positions.

From a broader perspective, this futuristic technology holds extensive applications in areas such as stealth propulsion for submarines.

Professor Ge Yang’s project team is based at Harbin Engineering University, the birthplace of China’s first submarine. This large institution located in the heavy industrial manufacturing hub of Northeast China has been closely linked to the technological leaps of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in recent years.

While the concept of underwater laser propulsion was first proposed by Japanese scientists 20 years ago, technological limitations prevented the generation of effective thrust in specific directions.

Subsequently, several countries, including China, invested heavily in research, attempting to solve this issue by applying shockwave forces to small metallic spheres or other materials. These particles, serving as working media, would rapidly depart, exerting force on the submarine in the opposite direction according to Newton’s third law.

However, until recently, all efforts were futile due to extremely low efficiency (1 watt of laser power could only generate one millionth of a Newton of thrust) and lacked practical value.

Ge Yang and his team achieved a three to four orders of magnitude improvement in efficiency by designing and improving laser engines to convert laser energy into thrust, marking China’s leading position in the global research community.

Moreover, while the global research community generally believed that adding constraining devices would cause significant energy loss, Chinese scientists successfully addressed the energy loss issue by adding gun-like devices at the fiber ends.

By adjusting the shape and internal structure of these gun-like devices and transitioning the gun-fiber interface to a U-shape, energy transmission efficiency was significantly optimized.

These technological breakthroughs not only reflect China’s profound research and development capabilities in aerospace and defense but also may have far-reaching implications for future naval warfare tactics.

Although applying this technology to nuclear submarines still faces many challenges such as thermal dissipation of fiber optics, durability in high-power and high-salinity environments, this disruptive technology aligns with the current global industrial revolution trend shifting from mechanical propulsion to pure electric propulsion.

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