Warp Drive Underwater; The Science of War: Weapons; Exclusive Online Issues; by Steven Ashley; 9 Page(s)
When the Russian submarine K-141 Kursk sank last August, rumors rapidly arose that the mysterious blasts that sent the big boat to the bottom of the Barents Sea were connected to the testing of an ultrahigh-speed torpedo. Several months earlier, when American businessman Edmond Pope was arrested in Moscow on charges of espionage, it was said that he had been trying to buy the plans for an ultrahigh-speed torpedo. Although the details surrounding both the tragic naval accident and the celebrated spy case remain unsettled, evidence does suggest that both incidents revolved around an amazing and little-reported technology that allows naval weapons and vessels to travel submerged at hundreds of miles per hour--in some cases, faster than the speed of sound in water. The swiftest traditional undersea technologies, in contrast, are limited to a maximum of about 80 mph.
Of late, it has become increasingly apparent that the world's major naval powers are developing the means to build entire arsenals of innovative underwater weapons and armadas of undersea watercraft able to operate at unprecedented speeds. This high-velocity capability--a kind of "warp drive" for water--is based on the physical phenomenon of supercavitation. This fluid- mechanical effect occurs when bubbles of water vapor form in the lee of bodies submerged in fast-moving water flows. The trick is to surround an object or vessel with a renewable envelope of gas so that the liquid wets very little of the body's surface, thereby drastically reducing the viscous drag. Supercavitating systems could mean a quantum leap in naval warfare that is analogous in some ways to the move from prop planes to jets or even to rockets and missiles.