A German manufacturer, Atlas, has started production of a new version of its
DM2A torpedo, for use in submarines and
surface ships. The DM2A4 is a 1.4 ton weapon that is the first to use fiber
optic wire guidance. This makes the wire guidance immune to any electronic
interference. The DM2A4 has a max range of 50 kilometers and a top speed of 90 kilometers an hour. At longer ranges, lower speed (about 60
kilometers an hour) are used. The DM2A4 has improved countermeasures and
sensors. It can detect ships by detecting metal, or the wake of a surface ship.
Usually, it is driven, via the wire guidance, to the general vicinity of the
target, where the torpedoes sensors can take over to hit the target ship. The
DM2A4 can also be used as an UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicle) for reconnaissance,
and then recovered. The DM2A4 is intended for use in non-nuclear subs, mainly
the German made Type 214 boats. The DM2A4 is very similar, and may be superior
to, the U.S. Mk48 torpedo. This is a 1.6 ton weapon, also 533mm (21 inches) in
diameter, and is used in all American nuclear subs, as well as in Australia's
diesel-electric boats. A new model (Mk48-7) is in the works, which will
probably match the capabilities of the DM2A4. However, the exact capabilities
of modern torpedoes are classified, lest potential targets use the information
to develop better countermeasures.
over 10,000 torpedoes have been manufactured since the end of World War II,
torpedoes hardly ever get used. Submarines have only fired torpedoes in combat
twice since World War II. Once in 1971, when a Pakistani (a French thousand ton
Daphne class diesel-electric) sub fired three, and sank one Indian frigate and
damaged another. The third torpedo failed to detonate. The second occurrence
was in 1982, when a British Churchill class (4,900 ton) nuclear sub sank an
Argentinean cruiser using three World War II type torpedoes. No one has yet
used a modern, wire-guided torpedo to sink anything. For torpedoes, that's
first modern torpedoes appeared in the late 19th century, it was 25 years
before one was used in combat. No lightweight torpedoes (for aircraft) have
been used since World War II, but thousands have been built, maintained for a
decade or more, then scrapped as improved models became available.
past 63 years, far more torpedoes have
been expended for training and testing. But the appearance of new generations
of torpedoes, and more subs, kept the torpedo manufacturers busy. Since the end
of the Cold War, and the sharp drop in submarine construction, and increase in
submarine retirement, the torpedo market has not done well. The main problem is
that, even in normal times, most torpedoes get scraped, after two decades or so
of sitting in a submarine, or a storage area of an aircraft carrier or naval
air base (for lightweight torpedoes carried by helicopters and aircraft).
are basically robotic miniature submarines. These were the original guided
missiles, although for the first sixty years, the guidance system just strove
to keep the torpedo moving in a straight line. Running on batteries, modern
ones can use a combination of their own sensors, or sensors aboard the sub that
fired them, to find a target. In the latter case, the torpedo communicates with
the sub via a thin wire. These "wire guided torpedoes" are very
common, because they allow the sub to control the torpedo, if need be.
By the end of World War II, homing (usually on the
noise of a ships propeller, but also the wakes of ships) torpedoes entered use.
These features became standard after World War II, although high-end torpedoes
now have their own sonars.
torpedo makers have had a particularly rough time of it, as the Russian sub
fleet suffered the most cuts when the Cold War ended. Then, and now, the
Russians had developed two innovative torpedoes. One was the oversize 650mm
(25.5-inch) torpedoes, which was designed to take down a U.S. aircraft carrier
with one shot. Only a few Russian submarine classes can handle these oversize
torpedoes. This is not a new idea, using something larger than the most common
diameter (533mm, or 21 inch). During
World War II, Japan frequently used, for its surface ships, a 610mm (24 inch)
"Long Lance" model. This torpedo was designed to take down enemy
ships, including battleships, with one hit.
Russian development was the rocket propelled torpedo. This, however, suffers
from steering difficulties (thus it is less effective against fast moving
targets) and short range (12-15 kilometers). But the high speed (360 kilometers
an hour) means that these Shkval torpedoes will reach their target in about two
Russia has a
wide variety of more common 533mm torpedoes, and has been selling some of them
to China since (and before) 1991. But China has been developing its own torpedo
manufacturing capabilities, aided by vigorous espionage activities, which have
obtained much torpedo technology from the West, as well as Russia.
torpedoes are 533mm in diameter, about twenty feet long and weigh about 1.5
tons. These have two modes of operation. High speed mode will propel them at
80-120 kilometers an hour, but for short distances (20-40 kilometers). At
slower speeds (50-90 kilometers), the range is more than doubled (70-100
torpedoes are smaller (324mm in diameter, ten feet long) and lighter (a third
of a ton). They tend of have hundred pound warheads, versus 500 pound or larger
for 533mm torpedoes.
powerful batteries and electronics have been the main areas of improvement over
the last decade. That, and the evolution of torpedoes into UUVs (unmanned
underwater vehicles.) Just as UAVs have transformed air operations, UUVs are
providing users with more control of the underwater space. After more than a century of development,
torpedoes proved to be the perfect jumping off platform for developing robotic
underwater vehicles. Some of these will operate from subs, launched, and even
recovered, via torpedo tubes. But most UUVs are used by surface ships, aircraft
and land based operations.