WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Submarine engines are noisy, for a hole host of reasons, but China’s latest engine is the quietest in the world and it could revolutionise underwater warfare
In the 1990’s film The Hunt For Red October, by Tom Clancy, Sean Connery plays the role of a Russian Admiral who steals a revolutionary new Soviet submarine that uses a radical new Caterpillar drive, an ultra-quiet engine that uses water pumps and electrical propulsion to elude it’s American foes. And now Chinese state media are reporting that they’re out fitting their latest nuclear submarines with something that sounds strikingly similar.
Earlier this month, Chinese state TV channel CCTV 13 broadcast an interview with a top Chinese naval engineer, Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, who in the past has been credited with leading a variety of Chinese military projects including the development of China’s latest electromagnetic catapults and railguns, and in it he said that the PLAN, the Chinese navy, will be fitting its newest nuclear attack submarines with an all electric “shaftless rim-driven pumpjet” – a revolutionary and silent propulsion system.
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If the new engine does find its way onto China’s latest submarines then it’s likely that it’s going to be first installed on their Type 095 nuclear attack submarines (SSN), a couple of which are under construction as we speak, however, as both China, Russia and the US all pursue supersonic and hypersonic submarines it’s not clear if the technology could be translated to those new platforms.
The new rim driven pumpjet has a ring shaped electrical motor inside the pumpjet shroud, which turns a “vane” rotor, a rotor that has the fan blades attached to a rotating band that’s built onto the cylinders interior rather than the propeller shaft itself, inside the pumpjet cavity to create thrust.
Previous submarine pumpjets, for example, are what we call “Shrouded propellers” and they consist of a tubular nozzle that covers a conventional propeller, but by removing the shaft of the propeller the number of moving parts decreases, helping to reduce noise and reclaim hull space. That said though, civilian rim driven pumpjet manufacturers also claim the new type of engines are easier to maintain and produce less cavitation than their traditional counterparts, and this makes them more reliable and even quieter still.
The latest announcement by the Chinese media, who also recently announced that they’ve created the world’s first Quantum Radar, which, if true would render US stealth obsolete overnight, is significant for a few reasons.
Firstly it looks like the Chinese are increasingly open about some of their military programs, and, again, if the new announcement is true then they may have just enhanced the stealth and survivability of their submarine fleet, and, by extension, the credibility of their second strike nuclear capability, and secondly it looks like they may have stolen a march on France, Russia, the UK and the US who all plan on installing their own rim driven pumpjet engines into their own submarines from 2030 onwards.