How China Could Trick (and Sink) the U.S. Navy With Ultraquiet Submarines

Word has it  that Chinas Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) has staged a breakthrough in submarine propulsion. At any rate, thats the word from marine engineer  Rear Admiral Ma Weiming , a specialist in electromagnetic systems. Admiral Ma recently reported on state-run CCTV that shipwrights are installing shaftless rim-driven pumpjets in Chinas next-generation nuclear submarines, meaning attack or ballistic-missile boats. ( Click here  for a laymans description of pumpjet technology.) Ma crowed that Chinese engineers are now way ahead of the United States, which has also been developing similar technology.

If Admiral Ma is playing it straightrather than hyping promising but yet-to-be-proven gadgetrythen the PLA Navy is poised to overcome a technological and tactical defect that has plagued it since its founding. American submariners long lampooned Soviet and Chinese nuclear boats for being noisy and easy to detect. PLA Navy boats remained backward long after the Cold War. Ultraquiet propulsion, though, would put an end to unquestioned U.S. acoustic supremacy, opening up new operational and strategic vistas before the PLA Navy while ushering in a deadlier phase of U.S.-China strategic competition.

The rim-driven pumpjet is an electrically driven propulsor that simplifies and thus quiets an engineering plant. Older technology typically uses gears to connect the elements of a drive train. Steam spins the innards of high-speed turbines. Turbines spin far too fast for any mai....

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