Saturday, April 11, 1998

Concrete submarines and other scientific marvels

You think I'm kidding about the concrete submarine, don't you? No no no. Today's London Sunday Times, besides going over every piddling detail of the failed Irish peace accord (just thought I'd be the first to use that phrase), has been dominated by the Wonders of Science and the Horrors of Medicine.

First, a couple of items that don't fit into my theme: a Japanese POW who has been in Siberia since 1945 went back home this week. Evidently, no one ever bothered trying to find them after the last (in theory) batch was released in 1956.

China has been developing a practice of investigative journalism, at least in Guangdong province. The up-side: sometimes their stories get people executed, like an official who hit-and-ran, thinking he could get away with it. Woodward and Bernstein, eat your hearts out.

In the twenty or so years after WW II, Sweden, previously known for sterilizing the retarded, also had an official but illegal program of lobotomizing mental patients, including children, without getting relatives' permission. Maybe 4,500.

South Africa has its first white witch doctor.

The first transplant of a genetically manipulated pig heart into a human will occur in Israel. Yes, yes, I know, but evidently it is kosher.

A British company is selling a motorcycle capable of going 225 mph. They won't say why.

A popular science book is reviewed in the Times, called "Why Is Sex Fun?"

Russian nuclear power plants. The Y2K bug. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Bored Saudi princesses, stuck in palaces but whose bills are paid by the taxpayers (and there are 5,000 princes and princesses!), have found an escape: internet chat rooms. Of course Saudi Arabia has no internet provider, so they dial up London or the US, so it's a bit pricey.

I promised concrete submarines, here they are:

The Sunday Times
Sunday April 12 1998 NEWS: BRITAIN

Russia makes waves with concrete sub
by Hugh McManners

IT floats like a brick but stings like a bee. The Russian navy is developing a concrete submarine that is designed to master the waves by sitting on the ocean floor.

The heavier-than-water submarines will lie at hitherto impossible depths and attack surface vessels with vertically fired torpedoes. Their concrete hulls and silent propulsion systems will make them invisible to sonar, while their angle of fire from the sea bed will allow them to cover swathes of ocean above.

Defence sources say they believe the Russians are close to perfecting the c-subs, as they are known in industry circles, and may already have launched test vessels. The craft, which are based on 30-year-old designs for underwater aircraft, could revolutionise marine warfare.

The most robust of conventional submarines can only submerge to 1,800 feet because of the high water pressure exerted on their steel hulls. They are also buoyant and submerge themselves only by filling their internal tanks with water.

C-subs, however, will descend to the deepest ocean beds under their own weight where they will operate as silent predators. External "listening pods" will detect the movement of surface craft and target them with torpedoes.

The c-subs move like jet aircraft, with wings that create "lift" when the vessels move forward. The jets can be rotated to provide lift from the sea floor using swivelling nozzles similar to those on Harrier jump jets.

The battery-powered engines are modelled on gas turbines, sucking in water at the front before forcing it out at the back under high pressure, creating thrust. The batteries will be stored in the concrete hull: unlike conventional submarines there is no weight limit, so large numbers of cells can be carried.

The c-subs will use a minimal crew, who will operate in cabins the size of a minibus. The craft would be expected to hunt in "wolf packs", rather like the German U-boats during the second world war, using the most advanced weapons technology available.

Sources at Dera, Britain's military research establishment, say the Russians have also made and tested a torpedo which can travel three times faster than the Royal Navy's weapons.

Codenamed Shkval, the torpedo uses drag reduction technology to travel at 200 knots (230mph), making it virtually undetectable and giving ships under attack no time to take evasive action. The drag reduction is achieved by using engine power to aerate the water in front of the torpedo so that it flies through air bubbles rather than water. This greatly reduces the drag of the water, enabling extremely high speeds.

This technology could be applied to the concrete submarines themselves, allowing them to break the 60-knot speed barrier of conventional undersea vessels.

The idea for concrete submarines that fly like aircraft was developed and patented by Heinz Lipschutz, a German marine engineer, between 1957 and the late 1980s. He said he repeatedly tried to interest the Royal Navy in the concept, but instead was disappointed to see his ideas developed by German and Russian naval architects.

Julian Nettlefold, editor of Battlespace, the international defence electronics newsletter, said Britain was in danger of becoming outgunned underwater. "Other countries such as Germany, Russia and America are pushing ahead with research into this exciting concept. With these craft being potentially so cheap to make, there is the danger of countries such as Iran and Libya using them to threaten American carrier groups, or to barricade certain ocean routes," he said.

"It's a shame that Britain has failed to take this idea seriously."

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