Can Chinese underwater drones help track foreign submarines?
A Chinese research expedition claims to have made major breakthroughs operating Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) collecting hydrographic information with potentially significant military application for submarine operations. While the original Chinese report hints at some possible advances in underwater data transmission, most subsequent reporting exaggerates the UUVs’ potential tactical utility as tools against foreign submarines.
Xinhua reported that scientists aboard the research vessel Kexue are operating 12 UUVs simultaneously for the next month collecting hydrographic data like salinity, temperature, turbidity, and current information that is being transmitted back in real-time. While details are sparse, two advances are implied, in operating multiple UUVs in coordination, and in underwater data transmission relaying the information they collect to data centers in real-time.
The South China Morning Post provided some amplifying details on the Kexue’s work. The UUVs, called Haiyis, are a type of buoyancy glider. Buoyancy gliders have been in use for years to collect hydrographic data for both civil and military uses. Unlike most UUVs that operate like small submarines, they do not rely on powered propulsion. Instead, buoyancy controls cause the glider to cyclically rise and sink, and as it does, the flow of water over the glider’s “wings” propel it forward.