China is working on a dual-purpose laser-equipped satellite. Launched in May this year, Project Guanlan is aimed at gaining Chinese control of oceanic traffic surveillance and acquiring ability to hit at submarines of rival naval forces. Guanlan in Mandarin means “watching the big waves”.
It is an ambitious project as the US and Russia have failed in the past to acquire control over the technology that China is now trying to master. For about a century, the researchers have been trying to develop a device to hit submarines using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology.
Both the US and Russia achieved success in penetrating 100 metres from the surface of the sea. But this is not enough as most of the efficient navies use submarines that operate at the depth of 500 metres.
In recent times, some success has been achieved in NASA funded research projects. A laser device was developed by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was mounted on a spy plane, which could hit targets up to 200-metre depth in sea – still about 300 metres short of the target zone.
Why it is revolutionary
Laser bombardment of a target at 500-metre depth has remained a dream for the advance weapon developing researchers. China is trying to realise this dream. The Chinese device is being developed by the scientists working at the Pilot National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology in Qingdao, Shandong on the eastern coast of China.
The researchers submitted a plan to the Chinese government last year or early this year giving details of how such a device could be developed. Work on the project began in May this year after Xi Jinping government decided to provide funds for the same. This device, once ready, could be mounted on a plane as well as surveillance satellites of China.
The laser bombing of a submarine has been difficult as the intensity of light beams weakens about 1000 times of its strength in atmosphere. Sunrays don’t go more than 200 metres deep in the oceanic water.
Laser rays could be up to a billion times powerful than the sunrays. However, their deviation in water needs to be controlled for accuracy and required penetration through oceanic water.
Once complete, Project Guanlan of China would give the country the power to manipulate oceanic traffic – both civil and military. China may emerge as the data centre for all kinds of marine activity across the globe.
Development of this technology may prove to be a game-changer in geo-strategic one-upmanship competition as the existing radar technology doesn’t provide enough information about movements of ships and submarines.
Why India should be concerned?
Project Guanlan presents a fresh challenge to India’s strategic interests. China is the most formidable neighbour of India sharing nearly 3,000 km border in the north. China has been trying to gain some hold in the waters surrounding India.
The so-called “string of pearls” project of China is aimed at encircling India. China has increased its presence in the Indian Ocean in recent years. It has got its strategic assets in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Djibouti and Pakistan. Growing Chinese influence over the Maldives in recent months has been clearly noticeable.
India conducts majority of its trade through maritime transport. According to the Ministry of Shipping, around 95 per cent of India’s trading by volume and 70 per cent by value is done through maritime transport.
Development of laser device, mountable on surveillance satellite and spy planes, may present a serious challenge to the security interests of India and countries China considers as its rivals.