The chubby, fish-like Qianlong-2 submersible is lowered from its mother vessel prior to a dive in the Indian Ocean. Photo: Xinhua

The Chinese unmanned submersible Qianlong-2 has been descending to new depths in the Indian Ocean, wrapping up five dives during its journey on the second section of the country’s 49th ocean expedition. The AUV is capable of diving to 4,500 meters below the surface.

Qianlong, meaning “diving dragon” in Mandarin, is capable of operating without monitoring from its mother vessel while carrying multiple-acquisition sensor modules including seabed cameras and magnetic surveyors to map terrain in three dimensions as well as geomagnetic features of the seabed, according Xinhua.

Measuring 3.5 meters in length, 1.3 meters in height and 70 centimeters in width, the Qianlong-2 cruised 325 kilometers during its 141 hours underwater in the second section of the expedition, which ended on Monday.

The Qianlong-2 can dive to 4,500 meters beneath the sea surface. Photo: Xinhua

Its mission was to detect basalt and marine organisms, polymetallic sulfide deposits and other deep-sea mineral resources in the investigation area of about 300 square kilometers in the southwest Indian Ocean.

“The Qianlong-2 is so automated that its mother vessel can sail somewhere else for other missions and come back later and collect the submersible from water,” said lead engineer Tao Chunhui.

The Qianlong-2 had its maiden dive in October 2014, also in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, the China Oceanic Administration said all the surveys were carried out in high seas in the Indian Ocean, stressing the scientific significance of the young ocean and its unique maritime geomorphic profile and abundance of resources.

An image of the Indian Ocean seabed taken by a camera on the Qianlong-2. Photo: Xinhua

In January, China and Pakistan conducted a joint multi-disciplinary investigation of the Makran Trench in the northern Indian Ocean.

Yet New Delhi has been keeping a wary eye on the increased presence of Chinese vessels, submarines and submersibles, either military or for scientific research, in the vast sea that is a strategic buffer and a new front of geopolitical rivalry.

The fact that Chinese ships plying Indian Ocean routes so far from their home ports and bases in displays of blue-water capabilities is a source of consternation for India, as its own naval and research ships can barely limp into far-flung international waters by comparison.

New Delhi has lodged a number of complaints with Beijing about the latter’s perceived breaches of its marine territory and interests.

The first sea trial of the Qianlong-3, an upgraded variant, is scheduled for April.

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