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Unusual carbon underwater drones are being developed in China: what are their advantages

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jul11,2024

Unusual carbon fiber underwater drones are being developed in China: what are their advantages

Chinese scientists from the Harbin Research Institute have presented an ultra-durable carbon fiber body for large-scale production of underwater drones. The details were reported by SCMP media.

According to the researchers, the carbon body can easily withstand the enormous pressure at a depth of 6,000 meters. This project challenges the belief that carbon fiber cannot be used underwater, potentially giving China an edge in the drone arms race in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.

Carbon has attracted scientists for its excellent properties, such as low density, high strength, high degree of elasticity, fatigue resistance, corrosion resistance and structural flexibility. At the same time, in the US, carbon fiber is considered unsuitable for use in the underwater industry. The world's first carbon fiber manned submersible, the Titan, operated by US private company OceanGate, was destroyed by the enormous water pressure during its 4,000m dive to the Titanic wreck site, killing all five people on board. aboard. Many representatives of the industry associate this tragedy with the weakness of carbon: under enormous pressure, water can penetrate into the gaps between the fibers, and repeated ascents and descents can lead to cracking and deformation of the hull.

The strong Chinese-made carbon fiber body has a wall thickness of about 3 cm — it is a quarter of the thickness of the walls of “Titan”. However, it easily withstood 77 megapascals (MPa) of water pressure during laboratory tests, more than double the pressure that the Titan's hull withstood during laboratory tests at the University of Washington, the researchers said. According to Chinese scientists, the carbon fiber hull can withstand a pressure of 90 MPa, which is equivalent to a depth of 9,000 meters. However, for safety reasons, the operating depth was set at 6,000 meters, which corresponds to a pressure of 60 MPa.

The outer layer of the durable carbon fiber body is a thin 1 mm waterproof coating. The researchers said the coating provides a degree of protection and does not allow for leaks, damage, interfacial delamination, cracking or other problems during normal use. The hull will be able to withstand impacts while remaining intact.

The front and rear parts of the durable carbon fiber body are made of T4 titanium alloy. Because it has to withstand the varying pressure of seawater from 0 to 6,000 meters, the designers took into account fatigue issues, such as pressure and temperature fluctuations in the joints between the carbon fiber and the titanium alloy. So far, the team has already created a carbon fiber drone suitable for operating at a depth of less than 200 meters. With a thickness of only 3 mm and a diameter of 1 meter, it can be used in shallow water.

Both China and the US plan to deploy large numbers of unmanned weapons in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. The victory of one of the parties will depend on the characteristics and number of drones. According to a report published last month by the Washington-based think tank Center for a New American Security, drone battles in the Taiwan Strait will be significantly different from the situation on the Ukrainian front, since underwater drones are more difficult to destroy than aerial ones.

Some experts believe that, having established production of carbon drone cases, China will gain an advantage. It is also worth considering the factor of lower prices for carbon fiber produced in the PRC. For example, in the Chinese market, the price of a carbon bicycle is $410, while a few years ago such a bicycle cost $4,100.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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