In an effort reminiscent of the massive Apollo program that landed American astronauts on the moon, the Chinese government recently announced that they’ve brought together the combined resources and brainpower of 20 different research institutes and universities around their nation to do something many believe could be impossible. Like Apollo, this endeavor will require launching new technologies into space, inventing solutions to problems mankind has never faced before, and generally pushing the limits of what even experts in the field believe to be possible. Unlike Apollo, however, China won’t be using their amassed brain trust and budget to look outward toward the vast expanse of space. In fact, instead of looking up at all, China’s new space technology will be tasked with looking down; deeper into the ocean than any current defense technology is capable of doing.

As China, the United States and Russia continue to invest in anti-ship technologies intended to keep one another’s surface fleets at bay in the event a conflict should ever break out, there has been a resurgence of interest in how submarines can be used to offset the area denial bubble advanced long-range anti-ship missiles create. America’s carriers, for instance, could not close to within much more than a thousand miles of Chinese shores without becoming the target of hypersonic weapons no nation currently has the means to intercept or defend against… but theoretically, a submarine could.  America’s Ohio class submarines could (in theory) encroach on Chinese shores and release a barrage of Trident missiles at anti-ship platforms, clearing the path for a massive Ford Class carrier to sail close enough to begin launching air strikes of its own.

In the United States, a number of efforts are already underway to shore up submarine defenses, including drone vessels tasked with policing the depths and sensor arrays that track the movement of marine wildlife to know when large numbers of animals are displaced by the movement of an enemy submarine. Among these submarine detection initiatives, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has what many believe to be the most capable large-scale submarine detection apparatus: a powerful LIDAR system that when mounted on the nose of a spy plane can detect the presence of a submarine at depths reaching 200 meters (around 656 feet).

The LIDAR system works by projecting a powerful laser into the water, which displaces light at a rate in the neighborhood of a 1,000 times more quickly than the air we breathe. Existing satellites are said to be able to produce lasers so powerful, in fact, that they can penetrate up to 100 meters of water, spotting submarines lurking at depths of around 300 feet. As far as most experts contend, that 100 meter from space and 200 meters from DARPA’s best spy planes flying closer to the surface of the water is about the best the technology is capable of… but China isn’t listening to those experts. They’ve recruited an army of their own, and they’ve set a far loftier goal than 200 meters.