December 5, 2008: Iran recently
announced that it was producing a new, high speed, torpedo, called the
"Hoot." This torpedo was tested last Summer. It was two years ago
that Iran first announced it had successfully tested a new, high-speed torpedo,
one that could move through the water at speeds of up to 100 meters a second.
This is four times as fast as conventional torpedoes, and is thus nearly "unavoidable" by its
The new Iranian weapon is apparently
based upon Russia's VA-111 Shkval (Squall) torpedo. The Shkval is a high-speed
supercavitating rocket-propelled torpedo originally designed to be a
rapid-reaction defense against US submarines. Basically an underwater missile,
the solid-rocket propelled torpedo achieves its speed by producing an envelope
of supercavitating bubbles from its nose and skin, which coat the entire weapon
surface in a thin layer of gas. This drastically reduces metal-to-water
friction. The torpedo leaves the tube at nearly a hundred kilometers an hour,
then lights its rocket motor. In tests in the 1990s the Shkval reportedly had
an 80 percent kill probability at a range about seven kilometers, although
steerability was reportedly limited.
The reliability of such
rocket-propelled torpedoes remains uncertain. The much publicized loss of the
Russian submarine "Kursk" eight years ago was, according to some
sources, likely due to an accidental rocket motor start of such a torpedo while
still aboard the boat.
Iran's possession and successful
testing of this weapon is troublesome for several reasons. One is Iran's
increasing belligerence, especially towards nuclear-armed Israel (which is
estimated to have at least 200 nuclear weapons and the missiles and submarines
to deliver them) as well as an almost equal antipathy towards the US. Another
reason to worry is Russia's apparent intent to continue close economic ties
with Iran and the resulting transfer of its technology to this Islamic state
run by fanatics and others who are apparently just plain nuts.
However, there is also the matter of
credibility and capability. For decades, Iran has continually boasted of new,
Iranian designed and manufactured weapons, only to have the rather more somber
truth leak out later. Iran's weapons design capabilities are primitive, but the
government has some excellent publicists, who always manage to grab some
headlines initially, before anyone can question the basic facts behind these amazing
new weapons. Take, for example, the new wonder torpedo. The Russians have not
had any success convincing the world's navy that their rocket propelled torpedo
is a real threat. For one thing, the attacking sub has to get relatively close
(within seven kilometers) to use it. Modern anti-submarine tactics focus on
preventing subs from getting that close. For that reason, the Russians
themselves tout the VA-111 Shkval torpedo as a specialized anti-submarine
weapon for Russian subs being stalked by other subs. This is also questionable,
because Shkval is essentially unguided.
You have to turn the firing sub and line it up so that the Shkval, on leaving the torpedo tube and
lighting off its rocket motor, will be aimed directly at the distant target. Do
the math, and you will see that there is little margin for error, or chance of
success, with such a weapon. If the Iranians bought the Shkval technology from Russia, they got the
bad end of the deal.