PLA Navy eyes China’s deep-sea underwater glider after successful test shows it rivals US vessel

A fleet of underwater gliders developed by professor Yu Jiancheng’s team. Photo: Xinhua


Chinese military’s interest piqued after Haiyi-7000 makes it 5,751 metres down world’s deepest ocean trench

Chinese researchers have just carried out the first test of what they believe will be the world’s deepest-reaching underwater glider – challenging the record held by a vessel now in use by the US Navy.

The Haiyi-7000 – carried on board the maiden voyage of China’s submersible mother ship, Tansuo-1 – was deployed above the Mariana Trench, in the western Pacific, an ocean trench with the greatest known ocean depth of 11,034 metres from late June to early August.

It was able to glide down to a depth of 5,751 metres and its progress has greatly interested the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

“We could have gone deeper, but we did not want to push it to the limit too early,” said Professor Yu Jiancheng, the lead scientist of the Haiyi project, in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post.

The idea of creating an underwater glider emerged during the early years of the cold war – the period of military and political tension between Western and Soviet bloc powers from 1945 to 1990.

The US took the lead in research for decades, and Washington and its allies banned the export of underwater gliders to China, fearing that the technology would be used to serve Beijing’s military purposes.

But Yu said it was this ban that encouraged the Chinese government to allocate resources to develop the technology itself.

Similar things had happened in other high-tech sectors, Yu said.

After Washington banned American technology company Intel from selling high-performance chips to China, Beijing built the world’s most powerful supercomputer TaihuLight using domestically produced central processing.

The US also banned China from the International Space Station, but now China is building its own space station.

A submersible glider works by drawing free power from the natural buoyance of water to move around without an engine or motor.

It can cruise noiselessly beneath the surface of an entire ocean without human intervention for days, months, or a year – all the while collecting data for scientific research and monitoring environment in vast areas.

When necessary,an underwater glider could also switch into action against a designated target, such as submarine.

It can be let loose individually, or as part of a group of hundreds like a pack of wolves roaming over a steppe for prey.

At the moment, the cost of an underwater glider was about 100 million yuan (HK$116 million) on the international market, but Yu said he expected the price would drop sharply once mass production started.

With improved technology, the vessel would also be able to carry a greater variety of sensors – perhaps even weapons with the capability of damaging or destroying a military target.

“An underwater glider comes with a structure that is much less sophisticated than that of a car,” Yu said.

“We are aiming for something that can cross the Pacific Ocean,” Yu said.

Full article: PLA Navy eyes China’s deep-sea underwater glider after successful test shows it rivals US vessel (South China Morning Post)

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