A few days ago, I came across an article titled “New Chinese Supersonic Submarine could travel from China to San Francisco in less than 2 hours” or something like that. It sounded ridiculous. I read the news reports and found them to be highly fanatical and full of imagination. The statements of the scientists have been over interpreted. This is yet another case of the mainstream media cooking up a 7 course meal using a piece of bread. What follows, is my decoding and analysis of the actual report and the separation of the fact from fiction.
Shkval is an underwater high speed torpedo developed by Russia during the Cold War. It had an unusually high speed of more than 375 km/hr which made it 4 times as fast when compared to other torpedoes. But its speed made sure than a lot of sacrifices had to be made. It could travel only in a straight line for a short distance at this high speed. It was impossible to guide or control the torpedo once it was fired. It was developed mainly as a terror weapon for creating psychological advantage and had little practical value. The submarine had to get very close to the target to fire the Shkval and even then, the target could easily evade it.
The main source reports
The super-fast technology was developed by scientists at the Harbin Institute of Technology, and would allow underwater submarines or torpedoes to exceed the equivalent speed of sound under water – about 3,600 miles per hour.
This is a far cry from reality. The Chinese scientists would probably have developed the technology which could potentially allow torpedoes to travel at speeds of 500-800 km/hr for very short distances only. This would be attained by scale models in lab conditions or just based on theoretical calculations. This also would not have much practical use unless a hundred other disadvantages were removed.
The term ‘supersonic’ used here itself is highly debatable. It is not known whether they are referring to supersonic speeds in air or water as the technology creates an air film in water. The speed of sound in air is around 1200 km/hr and the speed of sound in water is 4 times greater at 5400 km/hr. 1200 sounds like a feasible number which could be achieved in the next 30 years, but 5400 km/hr is a ridiculously high speed for an underwater vehicle or torpedo.
“Our method is different from any other approach, such as vector propulsion,” Li told SCMP. “By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier.”
He says they can make cruising controls easier. But most of this is still experimental and decades away from entering production. This would be just a minor improvement in the existing technology. It’s just not possible to take a major leap in technology and solve all problems. They are still in the thinking stage of the project.
Despite the claims of progress, Li added that there are still significant hurdles scientists have to overcome, such as creating precise steering controls and an engine strong enough to power the whole operation.
This one statement of his blows everything away. The major challenges that face high speed underwater weapons and submarines are creating precise steering and string engines. By saying indirectly that the main objective itself has not been achieved, it proves that the Chinese are just looking for attention with claims of futuristic technology. The whole claim that Supersonic submarine travel is possible is now meaningless. Unless they develop extraordinary engines and out of the world controls, their claims will be based purely on theoretical calculations.
Theoretically, time travel is possible, but practically it isn’t. The same goes for these claims. The Chinese never reveal anything they are developing. Now that they have made such tall claims about a supposedly secret project, we can confirm that it’s just fuel for the media. The Americans and Russians would be years ahead of them. I have also seen scientists from many countries making similar tall claims about the technology they are developing, to the media. The reason they do it is because they know that their products will either never materialize or be failures and want as much public attention as possible. A similar logic can be applied here. Keep dreaming Mr Li.
If you have anything to add to my analysis, do share it in the comments section below.
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