The first “The Dragon Learns to Dive” column, detailing China’s manned-submersible initiatives, appeared in the November 2009 issue of Proceedings. In the four years since, there have been several important technological developments in the program. This is an update.
China’s first manned submersible was approved in 2002. Originally called the Harmony 7000, she was later given the more traditional name of Jiaolong (“Sea Dragon”). With a depth capability of 23,000 feet, she is the world’s second-deepest diving research submersible. In first place is James Cameron’s one-person, 36,000-feet-capable Deepsea Challenger that dove to 35,787 feet in March 2012.
The Jiaolong was an ambitious program for a nation that had never built a manned submersible and had only modest ocean-technology capabilities. As a result, the decade-long time frame for design, construction, and testing was slower than for similar programs in the West. This was not only to achieve an operational capability; it was also “tuition” for learning how to build such systems in the future.