Navy to Evaluate Solar Power for Submarines

April 1, 2024
The nation’s defense goes “green” by reducing use of diesel and nuclear fuel in submarines.

This article is part of the April 1st series in the Humor section of our Series Library.

The U.S. Navy has announced that it will evaluate transitioning submarines to using solar panels as their primary power source over the next few decades. “We’re very aware of the need to go green,” said a spokesperson, “and this is a good place to do it,” adding that “the present nuclear sources are effective but does create nuclear waste.” Diesel submarines, which are used for shorter-duration near-shore patrols, will also be outfitted.

The subs will tow a large solar array, even when just below the surface (see figure). The array will contain AI-driven control surface to maintain orientation despite challenging sea conditions. If they have to dive deeper, the array will fold into a streamlined half-cylinder shape that will automatically be stowed on top of the hull, even under combat conditions. The same control surface will add to stability when submerged.

While the large solar array will degrade both surface and submerged performance, the Navy feels the tradeoff is worthwhile. “Climate change is an existential issue, and we are hopeful our enemies will appreciate that we are helping to do our part to mitigate it through the use of renewable energy, even when they are attacking us or we are attacking them.”

Solar Sub Simulation

Simulation and modeling for the new submarines will begin in 2024, with the first of the new “solar subs” expected to launch by 2034. If the program is successful, it will be extended to diesel submarines still used for shorter patrols. However, those subs have very different priorities and requirements for range and maximum dive depth. As an added benefit, the removal of the primary diesel power plant will ensure they’re acoustically quiet.

The first solar-powered sub designs will be attack subs armed with torpedoes. Ballistic-missile subs (“boomers”) and cruise-missile subs will be done in a second design phase, as their structures are more complicated due to the presence of top-side missile-launch tubes.

Read more articles in our April 1st series in the Humor section of our Series Library.

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