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Project Force: Silent killers – 21st century submarines | Technology News

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New designs, new technologies and new weapons are shaping the submarines of the future, which are being manufactured right now, in response to global demand for more potent and flexible designs.

Old Cold War fleets are being replaced and conventional subs – smaller but still useful – that can remain underwater for weeks are being built.

Non-nuclear submarines use combustion engines that need oxygen to work. These are fine on the surface but, submerged, they must rely on battery power to operate. Depending on the battery type, submarines cannot submerge for long and need to resurface to recharge their batteries, putting them in a vulnerable position and open to detection by the enemy.

Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) is a technology which solves that problem and allows a submarine to remain submerged and relatively safe for extended periods – weeks instead of days.

First invented in Sweden in the 1990s, AIP is now used in most non-nuclear submarines by 20 navies.

A U-31 submarine goes for its first check-up run at Kiel Bay, northern Germany, in April 2003 [Heribert Proepper/AP Photo]

Only a few countries can afford to run nuclear-powered submarines. Extremely expensive to produce, the reactors of these submarines allow them to stay submerged almost indefinitely.

They can desalinate water for the crew to drink and produce oxygen from seawater for the crew to breathe. Their range is virtually unlimited, allowing them to travel anywhere in the world’s oceans, loaded with their apocalyptic cargo of nuclear missiles. They remain hidden, a guarantee that if an enemy were to strike the home country in a surprise attack, the sub would be able to deliver a retaliatory blow, a nuclear second strike.

With that in mind, attack subs also prowl the oceans, acting as a line of defence. Fast and sleek, they are designed to sink other subs, especially high-value enemy missile submarines. This endless, deadly game of cat and mouse is played out daily under the surface of the world’s oceans as each side hones the skills needed to destroy the other in the event of war.

The non-nuclear U-31 submarine is seen during a first check-up on the Kiel Bay, northern Germany in April 2003 [Heribert Proepper/AP Photo]

Submarines have unique features that make them deadly, the chief one being their stealth. Able to travel undetected underwater, they can strike without warning, the most powerful among them containing missile arsenals that could single-handedly destroy a continent.

The quieter a sub, the stealthier it is. Sound is everything under the sea and billions have been invested into acoustic properties that will muffle a submarine’s engine, as well as in better hull designs which allow water to flow more quietly over the sub’s surface. These hulls are made of materials designed to absorb sonar waves – a sonic version of underwater radar – rather than reflect them back, making them more readily detectable.

Such technological advances allow subs to remain undetected but constant developments in anti-submarine technology are keeping pace – with new, improved ways to detect submarines, making them vulnerable to destruction.

The Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a Project 877 Paltus diesel-electric submarine, takes part in a naval parade marking Russian Navy Day in Vladivostok, Russia on July 26, 2018 [Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images]

I can hear you

It is getting harder and harder to hide under the ocean. Underwater sensors can now pick up a submarine’s acoustic trail with greater ease. These sensors can be released from helicopters or planes over an area where a sub is suspected of lurking. The sensors pick up the sub’s sound profile and send the information back to the waiting aircraft. Torpedoes are then dropped into the sea with the intention of homing in on the submarine – now stripped of the one thing keeping it safe – and destroying it.

Anti-submarine warfare is as old as submarines themselves, with designers continually inventing new ways to destroy these potent weapons. Sensors are not just dropped from aircraft; surface ships are also equipped with ever more powerful and sensitive sonar suites that can pick the minute sounds that subs, despite their best efforts, end up making. Some countries have strung whole chains of sensors together across likely approach ways.

The atomic submarine USS George Washington, loaded with 16 Polaris missiles, sets sail from Charleston Harbor on its maiden voyage somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean near Charleston, South Carolina, in the US on November 15, 1960. It was the world’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine [Rudolph Faircloth/AP Photo]

During the Cold War, for instance, the United States installed one called SOSUS, or Sound Surveillance System, across what is known as the GIUK gap; the area of the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom. This was and still is the likely approach route for Russian submarines heading from their bases in the Kola Peninsula near Murmansk into the North Atlantic. This impressive system, covering hundreds of kilometres, was able to detect even the best Soviet submarines at the time, providing the US with vital information about their location and direction of travel. The SOSUS nets were extremely effective during the Cold War at picking up submarines moving in and out of the Atlantic.

Russia still uses this route. Last year, it sent 10 submarines through this gap which, while 1,500km wide, is still considered a choke point for naval vessels. In one of the biggest Russian deployments since the end of the Cold War, the exercise was designed to test whether they could be detected by NATO. The resulting detection by Western navies showed Russia that they were still vulnerable to potential destruction.

An aerial view of the K-549 Knyaz Vladimir Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine at the Sevmash shipbuilding enterprise, a subsidiary of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, in the city of Severodvinsk, Russia [Sergei Bobylev/TASS via Getty Images]

Russia has spent billions upgrading its antiquated fleet with new designs that make already quiet submarines even quieter. The new Borei-class subs are faster, more manoeuvrable, with their new pump jet propulsor systems which have replaced traditional propellers, making them even quieter. There are now better missiles which carry multiple warheads, with greater ranges, allowing the subs to hit targets thousands of kilometres away. The Russian Navy plans to build 12 of them, with half going to the Northern Fleet and the other half to the Pacific.

The developments do not stop there. A new class of Russian submarine, the Khabarovsk, will be fitted to carry the giant superfast autonomous nuclear torpedo, Poseidon, in effect an underwater nuclear-powered drone, capable of speeds of up to 180km/h (112mph) and armed with a huge, multi-megaton nuclear warhead. The torpedo’s range is virtually unlimited and is designed to destroy ports, coastal cities and large fleet concentrations.

The Poseidon nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle during the final stage of testing  [TASSTASS via Getty Images]

Future plans

Russia is not the only country upgrading its submarines. France, the UK and the US are all developing and building the next class of missile and attack sub. They can dive deeper to avoid detection and advances in engine design mean they are even quieter and therefore stealthier than previous generations. Many of these designs have already been fielded, while others are near completion.

China and India are also working on their own improved nuclear sub designs in an effort to dominate their own seas and keep up with regional competitors. There can be setbacks. India’s first nuclear-powered missile sub, the INS Arihant, was damaged when a hatch was left open, allowing water to partially flood the sub. The design has since been finalised and a second missile sub, or SSBN, INS Arighat is undergoing trials.

It is not all about nuclear propulsion. Improvements in Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) now allow non-nuclear submarines some of the advantages of their nuclear cousins.

Able to stay submerged for weeks at a time, these cheaper submarines give middle-ranking naval powers an affordable way to enhance their naval firepower, while also using their stealthy abilities to gather intelligence and land special forces teams ashore, their mission flexibility giving their commanders more options.

A Marlin-350 unmanned remotely operated underwater vehicle during an anti-sabotage military drill held by a special unit of the Russian Northern Fleet [Lev Fedoseyev/TASS via Getty Images]

Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), are also starting to make their presence felt. These robot subs can gather intelligence, lay mines and sweep the seas around them for enemy vessels. The US navy is planning a whole range of them, such as Boeing’s Orca, with other navies following suit. Able to operate autonomously, they can stay at sea for months at a time, sending valuable data back to their headquarters while remaining hidden. At least that is the idea. No country has publicly claimed a robotic submersible that was found a few years ago by a Chinese fishing vessel in the South China Sea. It was capable of satellite communications and recording images, and was suspected by the Chinese authorities of being used to spy on Chinese naval activity in the area.

China itself is developing its own fleet of unmanned AI-controlled submarines that, once completed, will be capable of a wide variety of missions. Without having to worry about keeping a human crew safe, these robot subs can be smaller, stay at sea almost indefinitely and operate at greater depths as they can be built differently to withstand the incredible pressures of the very deep sea.

Even minor nuclear power North Korea is researching how to turn small, yet quiet diesel-electric subs into missile carriers for its fledgeling nuclear weapons arsenal. Pyongyang is keen to develop its own invulnerable second strike retaliatory capability, ensuring the survival of the country.

This September 2019 photo made available by the US Coast Guard, shows crew members of the cutter Valiant as they board a self-propelled semi-submersible in international waters. The US Coast Guard says a cutter seized a ‘narco’ submarine carrying cocaine worth a street value of more than $165m while patrolling in the eastern Pacific Ocean [US Coast Guard via AP)

Narco-subs

The advantages of staying undetected are not lost on crime syndicates and a new class of drug-smuggling submarine, or “narco-sub”, is being discovered by the Peruvian and Colombian authorities.

Often built on the banks of remote jungle rivers in South America, narco-subs have increased in size and sophistication allowing larger and larger payloads of drugs to be smuggled undetected.

Initially towed underwater by a surface vessel, they now have their own propulsion systems and can travel further and further, smuggling tonnes of drugs at a time up the coast and also, on occasion, rendezvous with merchant vessels far out to sea, transferring their cargo away from prying eyes. These are not true submarines in the sense that they can dive deep underwater as they stay just below the surface, avoiding the attention of coastguard vessels and naval patrols.

Soldiers stand on a seized submarine in the jungle region of La Loma in Ecuador on July 3, 2010. DEA officials said that the diesel electric-powered submarine was constructed in a remote jungle and captured near a tributary close to the Ecuador-Colombia border and is capable of transporting tonnes of cocaine. Ecuadorean authorities seized the sub before it could make its maiden voyage [AP Photo]

For submarines generally, the future is looking increasingly automated. Submarines will be able to do more with smaller crews or, in many cases, no crews at all.

As detection technology develops, so, too, will the stealthy abilities of subs as opposing navies try to outwit each other. These silent killers are able to watch and report on enemy activity and, in some cases, destroy their targets without anyone detecting their presence.

With enhanced weapons like hypersonic missiles being developed, submarines are growing deadlier with each new generation. While major powers are sticking with nuclear propulsion, other countries are investing in cheaper, yet capable alternatives.

New advances in fuel cells mean that these new, non-nuclear subs can stay underwater for weeks if not months. Developments in sensor technology and design allow them to run with far smaller crews while still increasing the range of missions they can undertake. In short, subs are here to stay and underwater warfare is about to enter a new and important phase.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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WTO can show ‘relevance’ with vaccine waiver, US trade rep says | Coronavirus pandemic News

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For the second day in a row, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai heard criticism from Republican US lawmakers that the intellectual property rights waiver will give critical biopharmaceutical technology to China, Russia and other strategic rivals while failing to increase vaccine supplies.

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Thursday that World Trade Organization negotiations over intellectual property waivers for COVID-19 vaccines are a chance for the deeply divided trade body to make itself relevant to the world’s needs.

Tai, speaking to the House Ways and Means Committee, said she was committed to entering negotiations that take into account concerns from all sides, including drug companies.

“The WTO has not got a record of moving quickly, or getting to yes, across 164 members who must all agree, very often,” Tai said. “This is the opportunity for the WTO to show its relevance for mankind.”

For a second day in a row, Tai heard criticism from Republican lawmakers that the intellectual property rights waiver will give critical biopharmaceutical technology to China, Russia and other strategic rivals while failing to increase vaccine supplies.

Republican Representative Devin Nunes told Tai that he is concerned China is one of the few countries that could quickly manufacture messenger RNA vaccines, a technology partly developed with US tax dollars.

“It really seems like they [China] want to steal this very new technology, especially as it relates to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines,” he said.

Tai said the administration was working to exercise leadership on the issue to try to reach a solution that saves lives and puts the world back on a faster growth track, which will benefit the US.

India and South Africa, the proponents of the original, much broader proposal, are expressing “that they feel extremely vulnerable in not having access to vaccines and not being able to make them either,” Tai said.

On Wednesday, Tai told a Senate hearing that companies making vaccines could be “a hero” by helping the world gain increased access to COVID-19 vaccines.

She declined to discuss details of her consultations with drug companies before announcing the decision to join WTO waiver negotiations last week, but said that some are driven by more than their obligations to shareholders.

“Some of them do see themselves as important actors in the public health ecosystem in the world,” she said.

Tai said that the intellectual property waiver was just one of a number of actions that would be required to increase manufacturing and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Cathie Wood’s ETF assets fall below $40bn, but loyal fans hang on | Financial Markets News

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The founder of Ark Investment Management LLC now controls $39.7bn in her US exchange traded funds, down from more than $60bn at a peak in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

With tech’s recent pummeling, the cash Cathie Wood is managing in her ETF lineup has just dropped below $40 billion — but her loyal fan base is largely hanging on for the ride.

The founder of Ark Investment Management LLC now controls $39.7 billion in her U.S. exchange-traded funds, down from more than $60 billion at a peak in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The firm is now the 11th largest issuer in the U.S., compared with seventh place earlier this year.

A huge portion of the loss is due to the value of her holdings dropping sharply, as speculative tech names with soaring valuations and massive runs come back down to earth. Her flagship ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK) has fallen about 35% from its high. Still, the mass exodus some had anticipated during a period of underperformance hasn’t yet materialized, with traders pulling just $76 million from the fund in April and $301 million so far in May, compared to the $7.1 billion added in the first three months of the year.

“It appears that investors still believe in Cathie Wood’s philosophy and think possibly the pullback is short term,” said Mohit Bajaj, director of ETFs for WallachBeth Capital.

In fact, the firm’s ETFs have still taken in a net $15.3 billion so far in 2021. The eight-product lineup — six actively managed funds and two tracking indexes — has roughly only lost a net $800 million since the end of February.

While retail activity has declined in the broad market, it seems day traders are ready to stick with Ark. About $1.1 billion of the $28 billion added to the family of funds since November can be attributed to retail investors, according to a report from Vanda Research.

“In periods when Ark ETFs have seen large redemptions, retail investors have actually bought the dip, further highlighting the institutional-retail divide,” wrote analysts Ben Onatibia and Giacomo Pierantoni.

Throughout the downturn, Wood has said repeatedly that her strategies haven’t changed and that she invests with a five-year time horizon. She even added to her stakes in Twitter Inc., Roku Inc., Skillz Inc. and Peloton Interactive Inc. last week.

Some are now questioning just how long the funds’ drop will last, especially as dip buyers step in. ARKK rose in early trading before falling 3.3% as of 1 p.m. in New York.

Open interest in bullish call options on ARKK is at an all-time high, and even similarly elevated activity in bearish put contracts has historically come before a bounce, Chris Murphy at Susquehanna International Group wrote in a note.

“It has become oversold on a technical basis,” said Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. “The weak hands have already sold, so we’re now in the ‘wait and see’ mode. If Ark funds can bounce strongly, the all clear flag will be raised.”



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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US stocks bounce back from three-day losing streak | Financial Markets News

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All three major US stock indexes notched solid gains, with the Nasdaq, weighed by Tesla Inc, picking up the rear.

Wall Street ended sharply higher at the close of a broad rally on Thursday, bouncing back from three straight days of selling on upbeat labour market data.

All three major United States stock indexes notched solid gains, with the Nasdaq, weighed by Tesla Inc, picking up the rear. Meanwhile, cyclical shares enjoyed the biggest gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 433.79 points, or 1.29 percent, to 34,021.45; the S&P 500 gained 49.46 points, or 1.22 percent, to 4,112.5; and the Nasdaq Composite Index added 93.31 points, or 0.72 percent, to close at 13,124.99.

Recent economic data has prompted inflation fears as scarcity of both materials and workers threatens to send prices surging in the face of a demand boom.

“If this is a footrace, supply chains are still tying their shoes,” said David Carter, chief investment officer at Lenox Wealth Advisors in New York City. “But they will catch up with demand fairly quickly.”

But on Thursday, investors appeared to be focusing on the glass-half-full side of the demand/supply equation.

This was evidenced by the outperformance of small caps, chips and transports, economically sensitive stocks that stand to gain as the US emerges from the coronavirus pandemic recession.

“Sectors and stocks that were hurt most significantly by yesterday’s selloff rebounded strongly today given that economic growth is expected to remain strong throughout the year and any inflation is likely to be temporary,” Carter added.

New applications for unemployment insurance continue to fall, according to jobless claims data from the US Department of Labor (DOL) that hit a 14-month low.

DOL data also showed producer prices swelled last month, building on the inflation surge narrative of Wednesday’s consumer prices report.

“The inflation boogeyman is back right on cue,” Carter said. “And will continue to spook markets for the coming months.”

But rising prices were widely anticipated, and the US Federal Reserve has provided repeated assurances that it does not foresee those spikes morphing into sustained, long-term inflation.

Energy stocks lost ground, weighed by a drop in crude prices.

Dating app owner Bumble Inc tumbled below its initial public offering price, as investors remained cautious about how quickly users will return to in-person meetings.

Shares of Walt Disney Co oscillated throughout the session ahead of the company’s quarterly results, expected after the closing bell.

Boeing Co advanced after gaining approval from US regulators for a fix of an electrical grounding issue.

Tesla continued its slide after boss Elon Musk doubled down on his sudden rejection of cryptocurrency Bitcoin.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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