Tom Clancey and Alex Baldwin introduced the public to breakthrough technology in submarine power in "The Hunt for Red October." Beijing now claims it has made Clancey's imaginary sub a reality.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) claims to have developed new electrically-powered pump-jet propulsor that would theoretically be much quieter than any current generation Western submarine propulsion system.
Unlike a conventional propulsor design—which is turned by a mechanical drive shaft—China’s rim-driven system is powered by an electrical motor embedded in the propulsor’s shroud.
“A rim-driven pump-jet has a ring-shaped electrical motor inside the pump-jet shroud, which turns the vane rotor inside the pump-jet cavity to create thrust,” as South China Morning Post reporter Minnie Chan described the system.
Theoretically, without a drive-shaft, a submarine should be much quieter, and thus much more difficult to detect. Additionally, the Chinese are claiming that the new propulsor could reduce cavitation, which would also significantly help to improve a submarine’s acoustical signature performance.
This is the sort of story that's guaranteed to spark jeers and derision from many who cannot imagine America ever being surpassed by any nation, China included, when it comes to bleeding edge military technology. China? Pshaw. And yet a succession of top American military commanders have been warning that China is fast closing the technology gap with the U.S.
China knows what most Westerners don't. It's not essential that they achieve superiority in spending or technology or force deployment. Establishing superiority or dominance in just one or two technologies can be enough, especially if they play to America's weaknesses, its strategic vulnerabilities.
Yes America spends vastly more than any other nation on its military forces. But for all those trillions of dollars it gets a really lousy bang for its buck. When was the last time America's omnipotent military scored a real victory? You have to go back to its invasions of Panama (1989) and Grenada (1983). There are a lot of people raising kids and voting today who were not born when American forces stormed the beaches of Grenada. I'll bet most of them haven't heard of the place and fewer yet could find it on a map. But since Panama, American forces haven't brought stable peace to any place they've attacked. Think Afghanistan.
History has repeatedly recorded what befalls nations that come to consider themselves invincible. That sort of hubris usually leads to unexpectedly bad outcomes. Yet it seems we can't help ourselves. Look at the gushing response so many have to 20-year old stealth technology. Even Aviation Week practically swoons over the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters as the U.S. military feeds them horseshit by the shovel load. The reality is that no one will ever know if these warplanes are really unstoppable until they're used in anger against the adversaries that the U.S. had in mind when it ordered them - China and Russia.
It seems only prudent to accept the possibility that China could introduce game-changing technology and tactics that will alter the balance of military power, perhaps for good.