China has successfully developed and tested a long-range, long-endurance autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced last week, the South China Morning Post reported. The Sea-Whale 2000 drone completed a nonstop long-range test.
According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the test saw the underwater drone operate for more than 2,000 kilometers over 37 days, demonstrating a capability to undertake long-endurance survey operations.
The testing of the AUV was specifically presented in the context of South China Sea missions. “Sea-Whale 2000’s development is to meet the long-term deep-sea mobile survey needs in the South China Sea,” a statement released by Huang Yan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ robotics institute said, according to the SCMP.
The AUV is able to run “a long-endurance mission for weeks with one launch and can accomplish multiple working mode missions,” the announcement added.
In a released image, the drone appears to be torpedo-shaped. According to the South China Morning Post, the drone is roughly 3 meters long with a weight of some 200 kilograms. The precise distance of its testing recently was 2,011 kilometers. The Chinese Academy of Sciences did not disclose the location of the drone’s test mission. The AUV is reported to be capable of diving to depths of 2,000 meters below sea level.
The Sea Whale 2000 adds to a growing fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles in China’s toolkit. This particular drone appears to be designed to conduct a range of hydrological and environmental survey work.
According to the SCMP, the drone “is equipped with artificial intelligence technology and a wide range of sensors to detect temperature, salinity, current, trace chemicals, underwater visibility and biological activity.”
In addition to the Sea Whale 2000, China has additional AUVs with more specialized military roles, including a new large-displacement autonomous underwater vehicle (LDAUV) its showed the world during the October 1 military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
That AUV, designated the HSU-001, may deploy small payloads, including buoyant or underwater sensors, while also collecting intelligence on possible submarine and surface ship deployments.
Persistent, long-endurance AUVs could play an important role in providing early warning to the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the case of any threats against Chinese ballistic missile submarines, for instance, which are meant to serve as a survivable second strike platform at sea.
AUVs with a surveillance and reconnaissance role could detect enemy submarines that could pose a threat in wartime to Chinese undersea nuclear forces.