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Chinese researchers are reportedly on the verge of a breakthrough in underwater propulsion technology. Their design for a laser-powered system promises silent, superfast submarines, potentially revolutionizing naval warfare.

According to a recent paper published in the Chinese academic journal Acta Optica Sinica, the design boasts remarkable efficiency. The system, dubbed “underwater fiber laser-induced plasma detonation wave propulsion,” can generate a thrust of nearly 70,000 newtons – close to the power of a commercial jet engine – using a mere 2 megawatts of laser energy.

This feat is achieved by channeling the laser beams through a network of optical fibers, each as thin as a human hair, which coat the submarine’s hull. The laser pulses then interact with the water, creating two key effects.

First, the laser energy generates thrust by vaporizing seawater, forming a blanket of bubbles around the submarine in a process known as supercavitation. This dramatically reduces water resistance, allowing for significantly faster movement.

Second, the rapid expansion of these bubbles creates a powerful detonation wave, further propelling the vessel forward.

The paper highlights how this research tackles a decades-old challenge: harnessing laser technology for underwater propulsion. By delving into the physics of detonation shock waves and the properties of propulsion media, scientists gained crucial insights for designing and building practical laser propellers.

While independent verification and real-world testing are still needed, this development has the potential to be a game-changer. Imagine submarines gliding through the ocean at unprecedented speeds, virtually undetectable due to the silent nature of laser propulsion. The strategic implications for global naval power dynamics are significant.

However, challenges remain. Developing a reliable and powerful laser source suitable for underwater operation is no small feat. Additionally, the safety implications of such a system and the potential environmental impact of large-scale cavitation need careful consideration.

Only time will tell if China can translate this promising research into operational reality. But one thing is clear: the race for next-generation underwater dominance is heating up, and laser propulsion could be the key to future naval supremacy.