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WASHINGTON – Using what can be termed a new, old submarine technology, the Russians have developed a hydrogen-fueled power plant for submarines that not only could be a substitute for nuclear-powered energy sources, but will give emerging countries such as Iran a submarine capable of remaining submerged for longer periods and extend its blue water capability, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The new Russian submarine is called the B-90 Sarov, which is really a test sub using a hydrogen-fueled power plant which would be similar to German submarines U-212 and U-214.

The advantage to this technology is that some of Russia’s traditional diesel-electric subs use batteries to supply the electric motor. When the battery needs to be recharged, the submarine must surface and start diesel engines to recharge the batteries. This makes the submarine vulnerable. With hydrogen-fueled engines, the electric motors are supplied by hydrogen fuel cells.

This new Russian engine is what is referred to as “air-independent propulsion,” which increases the submarine’s submersible time, is quieter and could compete with the German diesel submarines, some of which Israel possesses.

Fuel cells are electrochemical conversion devices that combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce water, electricity and heat. They’re already in use in some automotive and space applications.

While slow, AIP submarines will be useful for their long-endurance and quietness. They will not become the primary form of propulsion to either diesel or nuclear power. Yet, they will be good for coastal defense and littoral regions, especially in smaller submarines.

Dr. Edward C. Whitman, science editor of Undersea Warfare Magazine, sees fuel cells possibly doubling or tripling their capabilities in the next few years, which will give greater tactical flexibility due to their small size and inherent stealth nature.

“The novel operational paradigms (that) AIP submarines introduce to undersea warfare will make these new boats a dangerous threat to submariners accustomed to nuclear – or conventionally diesel-powered adversaries,” Whitman said. “The submarine force needs to understand this threat – where it’s been, where it’s going, what it means, and how to counter it.”

Smaller navies are expected to stay with diesel-electric submarines for their coastal defenses and AIP technologies used to power those submarines will become more popular as their technologies improve.

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