China develops low-cost torpedo with disposable nuclear reactor

BEIJING ($1=6.76 Chinese Yuans) — Chinese scientists are developing a concept for cheap, fast, small, and disposable nuclear-powered torpedoes that can be fired from a conventional torpedo tube, turning any submarine into a conventional nuclear force rather than a nuclear missile carrier.

Threat to Taiwan: China builds own terrifying apocalypse torpedo
Photo credit: Defense Express

The concept of the torpedo is to use a single-use nuclear reactor to ensure a speed of over 30 knots or 35 mph and the ability to search, track and attack targets within 200 hours underwater, then eject the single-use nuclear reactor into the ocean [sea]. If during these 200 hours the torpedo has failed to reach or hit the target and after the nuclear reactor has been discarded, it continues to move and draws energy from an integrated battery, turning it into a non-nuclear torpedo [conventional torpedo].

Information about the new Chinese development first appeared in an article in the Journal of Unmanned Undersea Systems, and according to the article, Chinese engineers have already completed the conceptual design of the new torpedo. This Monday [July 18th], the South China Morning Post [SCMP] also presented the idea to the public.

Known Torpedo data

At this time, however, neither of the two sources cited above provide specific information on exactly what targets this torpedo will attack, nor their characteristics or size. Some experts have been quick to compare the new Chinese torpedo with the Russian Poseidon nuclear torpedo, but even at first glance, there is a huge difference between them. The most important difference: Poseidon uses a dirty nuclear warhead that can not only hit a coastal target but cause damage by contaminating or infecting the specific region for decades, while the Chinese torpedo uses a conventional warhead. It is for this reason that experts believe that it will primarily be an attacking torpedo, which must overcome a specific target now, without future consequences, as well as inflict less damage.

Chinese Type 039 sub with 533 mm torpedoes going to combat drills
Photo credit:

Known features

Here are the other distinguishing features of the Chinese torpedo compared to other known torpedoes at the moment:

  • the new Chinese torpedo will be cheaper than the ones we know so far. This will be achieved through the use of a one-shot nuclear reactor, using graphite as a coating instead of the rare earth elements needed for the coatings inside the reactor core; some protective materials from the reactor have been removed, leaving only the critical elements protected.
  • the torpedo is designed to travel 400 hours underwater and travel a distance of 6,200 miles – the distance from Shanghai to San Francisco.
  • After the separation of the nuclear reactor, and the fall to the bottom of the torpedo, even if some components on the hull or the hull of the torpedo itself breaks and fills with water, sand, and debris, the most important components are designed not to suffer an accident, but to continue to work.
  • The chain reaction in the torpedo will not start immediately after it is fired from the submarine’s torpedo tube, but at least 30 minutes after, thus ensuring the safety of the crew and all underwater weaponry.


According to Chinese engineers, the torpedo is designed to be launched from different types and numbers of platforms – something that China currently has no problem with as it increases its fleet every year, and at a rapid pace.

There are also many unknowns so far. For example: at one point the Chinese say that the torpedo will run for 200 hours, and the next for 400. Does this mean that the difference of 200 hours is only for the battery, after the separation of the disposable nuclear reactor?

They also do not make clear exactly how the torpedo’s heat will be reduced, how it will be converted into energy, and how safe the torpedo and the nuclear reactor itself are after they are blown to the bottom. Whatever the guarantee, a used nuclear reactor at the bottom becomes nuclear waste, and this can raise many questions, problems, and unforeseen environmental catastrophes.

There is no information on whether the new Chinese torpedo will use artificial intelligence, if so: who will be in charge of it, will the torpedo select the target by itself, will it be able to move in a swarm and interact with other submarines, or with each other in the swarm and etc.

China has a nuclear submarine with extended-range missiles
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In general, the statement of the concept design that has been completed for this low-cost torpedo is only a statement at this stage. In the past, Chinese engineers have allowed themselves to publish little technical information about a given technology, but not in this particular case.

New Chinese underwater drones

However, there is great concern about the development of these types of weapons in China. Last year, Ambassador Robert Wood, the US envoy to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, suggested that China was looking at the types of nuclear-powered underwater drones and nuclear-powered cruise missiles being developed by Russia, according to the Associated Press.

Wood said China has not yet developed or been able to weaponize the technology, “if they were to develop … these types of weapons and air systems, it has the potential to change the strategic stability environment dynamically.”

Threat to Taiwan

Last year, on November 1, as we reported, specialists from the People’s Liberation Army of China conducted a unique test – they detonated a powerful non-nuclear charge underwater to simulate the destruction of a port with a closed harbor. The Chinese are working on a “miracle weapon” that will help destroy aircraft carriers and US naval bases, as the agency says.

This test was conducted as part of the development of weapons that will help destroy enemy naval bases and aircraft carriers. This was reported by the Chinese portal Global Times. It is noted that before this underwater explosion, about 1,000 sensors were installed, which performed all possible measurements for scientific modeling of subsequent underwater explosions.

China will launch the eighth destroyer from Project 055. Mass production or problems?
Photo credit: Business Insider

The Chinese claim that they managed to “erase from the face of the earth” all the coastal infrastructure of the port where the test took place in one underwater explosion. However, what kind of port it was – Chinese resources do not disclose. The Chinese say that such developments are directly aimed at deterring the United States during the coming war at sea.


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