China tests new laser built to track submarines
Chinese scientists say they have successfully tested a laser device that can detect underwater targets at depths never seen before.
The technology may in the future be adapted to track submarines.
Researchers from the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics said the laser could highlight objects at 160 metres below the ocean – twice as deep as current technology.
"It is the first time [to have reached that depth] … with potential for further improvement," the institute said on its website.
The aircraft-mounted laser system was tested over the South China Sea in April and the results made public this month.
It could be a potential game changer in submarine warfare providing the Chinese military the means to detect a submarine before it entered the country's territorial waters.
But defence technology expert Marcus Hellyer cautioned it was too early to judge its potential.
"Stealth is everything with submarines. If you take away stealth, they become irrelevant," he told Nine.com.au.
He said because such a laser device draws on a huge power supply over a relatively small area developing it to monitor a large tract of sea was a major hurdle.
"Scale is important. It may be able to be deployed at a maritime choke point such as a harbour but the open ocean is huge," Dr Hellyer, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said.
Australia's current submarines, the Collins class, are reported to have a diving depth of 180 metres below sea level. However given its official depth remains classified, it may be able to go much deeper.
The South China Morning Post reported that the Shanghai researchers were part of China's 'Guanlan' – or Sea Watcher - project. It aims to develop a laser satellite that fires a beam to penetrate 500 metres below the sea surface.
Earlier this year, the Australian federal government signed a $50 billion agreement with French shipbuilder Naval Group for the Royal Australian Navy's fleet of new Attack-class submarines.
But some defence analysts have warned when the first vessel hits the water in about 2050, it will face a new generation of anti-submarine devices that risk making it obsolete