Quantum sensors and vulnerable submarines

2017-04-03

in Bombs and rockets, Geek stuff, Security

A recent technology quarterly about new quantum innovations, published in The Economist, referred to a disturbing development in quantum sensor technology:

Military types are interested, too. “You can’t shield gravity,” says David Delpy, who leads the Defence Scientific Advisory Council in Britain’s defence ministry. Improved gravity sensors would be able to spot moving masses under water, such as submarines or torpedoes, which could wipe out the deterrent effect of French and British nuclear submarines.

So much of the present nuclear balance of power (such as it is) depends on ballistic missile submarines being essentially invulnerable by virtue of being impossible to locate. Reportedly, almost no crew members about an American boomer (as subs carrying nuclear missiles are known) know the precise location of the ship, and nobody on land has the information.

If states suddenly feel their subs are vulnerable, it risks two big effects. First, it raises tensions in a crisis. If states fear they will lose their seaborne second strike capability, they may be inclined to launch a nuclear attack earlier. Second, if the safest leg of the nuclear triad (along with bombers and land-based missiles) suddenly seems vulnerable, it’s likely they will assemble and deploy more weapons in more locations, wasting money and raising the risk of accidental or unauthorized use.

As with other emerging nuclear-related technologies like hypersonic weapons, it would be better for everyone if we could agree to prohibit sensors that threaten subs. Alas, states are rarely so cooperative or trusting.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 3, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Weapons technology
Who’s afraid of America?

The military playing field is more even than it has been for many years. That is a big problem for the West

. April 4, 2017 at 1:10 am

PUGET SOUND, Wash. (Sept. 28, 2016) The Gold Crew of the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) transits the Hood Canal as the boat returns home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a routine strategic deterrent patrol. Kentucky is one of eight ballistic-missile submarines stationed at the base, providing the most survivable leg of the strategic deterrence triad for the United States. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Amanda R. Gray/Released)160928-N-UD469-034

. July 2, 2018 at 6:13 pm
. August 26, 2018 at 4:59 pm

VISION is useless in murky water. To deal with that deficiency dolphins have evolved sonar. They emit clicks and interpret the echoes to find their prey. But not all marine mammals are so equipped. Seals, for instance, have no sonar, yet that does not stop them finding distant meals as effectively as dolphins can. This puzzled researchers for years, until they discovered that the secret lies in the animals’ whiskers—which they are now trying to copy, to develop novel underwater sensors.

An object moving through water leaves a series of miniature whirlpools in its wake. This trail is called a Karman vortex street. And that is what seals, using their whiskers, follow. As Michael Triantafyllou of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) observes, “You can set a harbour seal loose to follow a towed fish, and even 30 seconds later they will be able to follow the exact track, whether it’s straight or zigzag or circular.”

Dr Triantafyllou and his colleagues at MIT’s Centre for Ocean Engineering are one of several groups studying how seals do this. A rival team, led by Ben Calhoun of the University of Virginia, and involving the University of California, Santa Cruz; the Naval Undersea Warfare Centre Division at Newport, Rhode Island; and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has recently completed a three-year investigation of the matter. Other projects are under way at Jeju National University in South Korea and at Cleveland State University.

Seals can pick up the trail of fish such as herring when blindfolded and wearing earmuffs. Cover their whiskers, though, and supper eludes them. The bases of seal whiskers are rich in nerve cells, making them as sensitive as human fingertips. But that is not all there is to it. Under a microscope, seal whiskers are not circular when sliced through, as might naively be expected. Instead, they have an oval cross-section. Moreover, those whiskers’ surfaces have an elaborate undulating geometry.

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