August 31, 2011: Another good example of mass media screwing up a story on the military recently appeared in Australia. Fairfax, the largest media group in Australia ran a late August story asserting that the Australian Navy had mishandled the acquisition of new anti-submarine torpedo from France, and had to hire translators to turn the French and Italian user and technical manuals into English. The Defense Ministry quickly responded and pointed out that the Fairfax reporters had misunderstood the situation. The contract to purchase the torpedoes stipulated that all documents be in English. This is standard for such purchases, and has been for a long time. The Fairfax reporters should have known that. The Defense Ministry was hiring translators to handle additional data, not covered by the MU90 purchase, on some of the 200 test launches of the torpedo. This would save the Australian Navy a lot of money as some of their own test launches could be skipped, if the French and Italian tests covered the same situations. But the documents on most of those tests were in the language of the navy conducting them (French or Italian.) The reports were classified, but the two navies were willing to share them, although it was understood that Australia would have to handle translations. This has been standard practice for decades, but the Fairfax reporters didn’t dig that deep. This sort of facile military reporting has become increasingly common. It goes beyond calling all warships (except carriers and subs) “battleships” (a class of ship that went out of wide use half a century ago) or calling self-propelled artillery (or even infantry fighting vehicles) “tanks” simply because they all have turrets (but very different uses). The bad reporting extends to many other basic items of equipment, training, leadership, tactics and casualties.
The article also tried to portray the MU90 torpedo as a disaster, which it isn’t. The MU90 lightweight torpedo passed its acceptance tests four years ago, and was soon being used by French and Italian naval units. Design and manufacturing of the MU90 was a French-Italian effort, and there were already orders for nearly a thousand of the MU90s when it entered service. The 304 kg (669 pound), three meter (9.4 foot) long, 322mm (12.7 inch) torpedo will be replacing a lot of the thousands of elderly U.S. Mk46 lightweight torpedoes still in use.
The MU90 has a maximum speed of over 90 kilometers an hour (with a max range of 12 kilometers), and a minimum speed of 52 kilometers an hour (for a max range of 25 kilometers). It can operate at depths of over a thousand meters (3,100 feet). Lightweight torpedoes are mainly for use by helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft, although surface ships often use them as well. The MU90 apparently did a very good job with being stealthy (not alerting the target sub that it was coming), and being good at defeating countermeasures. The MU90 uses sonar and an acoustic sensor for finding its target, and its warhead can penetrate the hulls of all subs currently in service.