The U.S. Navy has successfully tested
an accessory (the "LongShot® Wing Adapter Kit") for its lightweight Mk 54 torpedo,
which allows a maritime patrol aircraft to launch the torpedo from high
altitude. The test was at 8,000 feet, but it could be higher. The kit has
pop-out wings, so the high-altitude torpedo can still be stored inside the
aircraft bomb bay. When dropped, the wings pop out, an onboard computer uses
GPS and tiny electric motors, to operate the wings and fins to guide the
torpedo to a preprogrammed location, at which point the glide kit falls away as
the torpedo enters the water, and starts searching for the submarine. The glide
kit can also be used with air dropped naval mines, or even dumb bombs (in which
case, it is another version of JDAM). It took contractor Lockheed Martin a
year, and three million dollars, to develop the system.
Normally, aircraft or helicopters have to come down
to a few hundred feet altitude to launch torpedoes. That takes time, and makes
you vulnerable to anti-aircraft weapons. Some subs have systems that can
release a small anti-aircraft missile (similar to the U.S. Stinger) while
submerged, when they pick up the sound of a low flying aircraft or helicopter.
By staying at a higher altitude, the sub won't know it is being tracked, and
that makes it more vulnerable to the torpedo attack. Finally, the U.S. Navys
new maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8, is a jet, and does not operate as
effectively at low altitudes as the current prop driven P-3. Same with the jet
propelled UAVs the navy is developing for maritime patrol work.