Chinese torpedoes with nuclear propulsion might be launched in a “swarm” over great distances.

According to reports in the military, Chinese scientists are working on long-range, “disposable,” nuclear-powered torpedoes.

A Beijing research team claims to have finished the conceptual design for a compact, inexpensive nuclear reactor that could propel a swarm of torpedoes across the Pacific Ocean in approximately a week, according to Chinese news reports.

This new torpedo might be mass-produced very easily compared to the Russian “Poseidon” crewless submarine, the first known underwater drone driven by nuclear energy. Furthermore, according to the scientists, the new torpedo could be loaded into a typical torpedo tube and fired in a massive number from almost any submarine or surface vessel.

Each torpedo would launch from a disposable nuclear reactor, cruise at over 30 knots (56 kph or 35 mph) for 200 hours, then be dropped to the seafloor where a conventional weapon attack would be powered by a battery.

nuclear weapon

Chinese nuclear torpedo
It is claimed that the new torpedo can be fired using a typical torpedo tube. Source: iStock/Snaprender
Lead researcher Guo Jian from the China Institute of Atomic Energy asserted that there is a fundamental difference between the design and the Russian “Poseidon” in a paper published this month by the peer-reviewed Journal of Unmanned Undersea Systems, a publication run by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, the country’s largest naval contractor.

“This unmanned underwater vehicle coupled with the nuclear power system can be deployed as a conventional force like an assault nuclear submarine, rather than as a nuclear missile,” he added. “Thanks to its high flexibility and low cost.”

With its onboard two-megaton nuclear warhead, Russia’s “Poseidon” is a theoretically very destructive weapon that could obliterate a coastal city or a bigger area. For comparison, the Hiroshima bomb’s payload is 100 times more powerful.

The use of such a weapon, according to the Chinese researchers, may spark a nuclear conflict that would destroy all life as we know it, making the development much less likely. They claimed that, in contrast to their new torpedo, the “Poseidon” primarily serves as a strategic weapon.

“Small, high-speed, long-range unmanned underwater vehicles that can be employed in reconnaissance, tracking, attack, and strategic strike” are in great demand in China, according to Guo.

These torpedoes, which are nuclear-powered, may have a very long range.
To support these duties, nuclear energy can provide a significant amount of energy; nevertheless, the majority of reactors have complicated architecture and are expensive.
We need to look beyond the box, said Guo, if we’re going to develop a new nuclear power system with “mature and simple technology that is easy to use and maintain, economical, and ideal for mass production.”

nuclear weapon

The project team thus deleted the majority of the reactor’s shielding components for their design, protecting only a few crucial components from radiation. In the reactor core, pricey coatings made of rare earth elements were also replaced with more affordable materials like graphite.

To further cut costs, the experts advise using some readily available commercial components from the global market in place of military-grade items.

Using fuel with a low proportion of uranium, the reactor would generate more than 1.4 megawatts of heat from less than 8.8 lbs (4 kg).

Guo calculated that even if only around 6% of the generated heat would be converted into power to drive the torpedo due to the low efficiency of the cheap components, there would still be more than enough energy for a one-way trip.

“Even if the nuclear-powered device can only be used once, the overall cost will be minimal when the production cost is low enough. This prompts us to simplify and shrink the system, according to the researchers.
They stated that because the small reactor would not emit any radiation, the service workers could handle it as a “clean asset” without the need for protective gear.

How does the torpedo function?
The torpedo would start a chain reaction as soon as it left the launch tube, which would take about 30 minutes (20 times faster than a typical nuclear submarine reactor) to reach a working temperature of 572 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees Celsius). This would cause the torpedo to accelerate to a cruising speed of about 37mph (60 kph).

The reactor may travel over 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers), or roughly the distance between Shanghai and San Francisco, for up to 400 hours, according to the researchers.

They claimed that once the reactor component eventually fell to the bottom of the ocean, it would detach from the torpedo and trigger a safety device that would stop the remaining chain reaction.

nuclear weapon

“The reactor will not experience a critical accident, even if the hull is breached, the interior is filled with water, and the entire body crashes onto the damp sand on the bottom. Safety is guaranteed.
According to Ma Liang, a researcher at the Navy Submarine Academy in Qingdao, Shandong province, who is looking into submarine launch technology, future naval battles will mainly rely on “smart torpedoes.”
She claimed that the torpedoes will be able to identify and hit targets with little to no human aid thanks to AI technology, such as machine learning, in a different study that was published in the same journal on July 13.

Expert torpedoes may set up an ambush on the other side of the ocean, according to Ma, and “strike submarines as they depart a port in home waters that is impossible to approach by manned platforms.”

She asserts that the torpedo swarm may be given orders to carry out various duties, such as reconnaissance and chasing a valuable target, by humans or an autonomous underwater command vehicle.

She continued, “At the moment, this is the most dynamic research technology field.

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