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Super-stealth sub powered by fuel cell

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Riding a stealth hybrid sub
  • The U212A is an ultra-advanced non-nuclear sub developed for the German Navy
  • Powered by a revolutionary hydrogen fuel cell, it is almost totally silent
  • Without the need for combustible fuel, the sub can remain submerged for weeks at time

CNN's global series i-List takes you to a different country each month. In February, we visit Germany and look at changes shaping the country's economy, culture and social fabric.

Eckernfoerde, Germany (CNN) -- It is almost totally silent, radiates virtually no heat and is constructed entirely from non-magnetic metals.

Meet the U212A -- an ultra-advanced non-nuclear sub developed by German naval shipyard Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft, who claim it to be "the peak of German submarine technology."

And few would argue. The super-stealth vessel is the first of its kind to be powered by a revolutionary hydrogen fuel cell that lets it cruise the deep blue without giving off noise or exhaust heat.

That's important, because according to Bernd Arjes, a captain in the German Navy, silence keeps submariners alive.

"We operate in coastal waters around Europe and this submarine is specially designed for finding submarines. If you want to find other submarines of course you have to be quiet," he said.

With this latest technology, he added, "the boat is virtually undetectable."

If you want to find other submarines of course you have to be quiet.
--Bernd Arjes, German Navy Captain

But being indistinguishable is not the only thing that sets the U212A apart. Unlike conventional subs, which need air to combust diesel, the fuel cell doesn't require oxygen to operate.

This means it can remain submerged for many weeks -- holding its breath many times longer than its gas-guzzling cousins.

You'd expect a boat like this to pack a punch, and you'd be right.

The 212A is armed with 12 heavyweight wire guided torpedoes, each capable of destroying a war ship or disabling an aircraft carrier.

"An aircraft carrier might not break with one torpedo but probably gets hit at the rudder or something. And then he probably can't maneuver into the wind to use his aircraft," said Arjes.

Germany, which has no nuclear weapons or nuclear-powered ships of its own, is the world's third largest exporter of defense goods.

HDW began developing the technology for the U212A in 1994, with the first vessels reaching market in 2003.

Export editions have already been sold to the navies of Greece, Portugal and South Korea.

But sub-aquatic sailors around the world should think twice before getting too excited over this new toy.

With a high degree of self-automation, the sub requires only a small crew and there is extraordinarily little in the way of creature comforts for those few on board.

And so it seems that even with all this state-of-the-art technology, a submariners life still remains one of confined living quarters and shared bunks.

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