Next month Oxford engineers will start investigating what kind of composite materials would make for stronger, stealthier and more durable submarines.
Composites are already being used in warships because they can be made stronger and lighter than metal parts and are less susceptible to corrosion. They have also been shown to resist the forces unleashed in an explosion better than metal.
The Oxford team will begin their EPSRC-funded project by testing how composites submerged in water respond to a shockwave generated by a metal projectile. High-speed cameras will capture how the materials deform under the pressure.
Testing and modelling is vital to determine what the best structure for a submarine composite would be – many composites, for instance, are made out of a ‘sandwich’ of different materials – as well as how composites fare after being submerged in water for a long time.
Vito Tagarielli, one of the Oxford team led by Nik Petrinic, told The Engineer: ‘We hope to reduce the weight of the submarine so there is less inertia and it can have higher acceleration and easier manoeuvrability.’
‘[Also] If a submarine is made of composite it makes it invisible to modern sea mines that detonate when they recognise a specific magnetic or acoustic signature.’
The project runs for five years and involves a host of industrial partners alongside the Ministry of Defence.