A silent submarine drive that has no moving parts and provides propulsion through the water using magnets and electricity could become a reality thanks to the Underwater Magnetohydrodynamic Pumping Principles (PUMP) program launched by DARPA. This is similar to the plot of Sean Connery’s 1990 thriller “The Hunt for Red October.
DARPA is working on a silent MHD drive that will allow submarines to remain hidden from hunters and will be a great help in intelligence and reconnaissance missions by removing the interfering boat horn.
Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) is a very simple principle that creates a very simple propulsion mechanism. In an MHD drive, a fluid such as air or water is given an electrical charge and then it is accelerated by an electromagnetic field, creating thrust. Essentially, an MHD drive consists of a hollow tube with electrodes at one end and magnetic coils around it. Since there are no shafts, gears, propellers, turbines, or nozzles in the device, it produces very little noise, and even a small amount of it can be attributed to natural sources.
However, this technology has not been used for more than 60 years, except for a couple of experimental surface boats. First, the electromagnetic coils must be extremely powerful, and make them light enough and efficient enough to install on a submarine. Second, the electrodes must withstand a lot of wear and tear due to corrosion, hydrolysis, and erosion caused by the interaction of magnetic fields, electric current, and salt water.
To overcome these problems, DARPA has established its 42-month PUMP program, which will use several approaches to solve these problems to create a practical military MHD drive. One approach is to use new materials to create electrodes that will be more resistant to corrosion and hydrolysis. Another approach is to develop stronger magnets that will be lighter and more efficient on submarines.
Such a silent submarine drive would make a huge difference in submarine warfare. It would allow submarines to remain hidden from hunters and would also be a great help in reconnaissance and survey missions by removing the interfering sound of the boat as its sonar collects data.