China’s Underwater Gliders Mix Science and Military Applications

As China’s economy grows, it is extending its influence around the world. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) posted this chart showing Chinese global development projects in 2021.  China is extending its technological reach both into outer space—witness its Moon and Mars rovers—and under the sea into the depths of the oceans. These winged, torpedo-like submersibles, called “gliders”, are being deployed by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in droves to collect information about the marine environment. Traveling underwater in a vertical sawtooth pattern, the gliders use onboard sensors to measure characteristics of the ocean such as temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and current speed at different depths to generate water column profiles. Today, Chinese underwater gliders operate throughout the Indo-Pacific, from the Bay of Bengal to the Bering Sea, from high seas to sovereign waters.

China’s scientific and military applications work hand-in-hand. The data gathered by the gliders indirectly bolsters the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) by expanding its tactical understanding of the ocean environment. The glider is shown with a vector sensing probe mounted on its nose. Also shown are its deepwater vector sensor and a sample view of Chinese mother ships that deploy the submersibles. How might the PLAN use acoustic gliders? According to PLAN researchers working on the project, they would “complete tasks such as autonomous detection, tracking, attribute discrimination, and sending back information on moving targets in sensitive waters or areas of denial (拒止区域).” See the “Gliders with Ears” report from the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) for details.

Thanks to CDR David Place (USN/Ret), davidplace47[at]gmail[dot]com, and Robin E. Alexander, President ATC, alexander technical[at]gmail[dot]com, for their assistance with this report, the background for which appeared in their  #22 - 4 - 24 MARCH 2022 edition of the UNMANNED SYSTEMS NEWS (USN).

David distributes the USN, a free, comprehensive newsletter in PDF format every week or two, as well as serial news flashes, from which this NREF news update was sourced. To be included in his distribution, simply send a subscribe request to davidplace47[at]gmail[dot]com.