In a previous post, we touched on the subject of anti-surface torpedo tubes in surface ships. Yes, many ships today have torpedo tubes but the majority are intended for anti-submarine use and utilize lightweight torpedoes. The US Navy’s standard surface ship torpedo armament is the Mk32 triple tube launcher with Mk46/50/54 lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes. These torpedoes may or may not have an anti-surface ship mode but they are not ship killers. The ship killing torpedo in the US Navy is the Mk48 ADCAP (Advanced CAPability) heavy torpedo and even this is intended primarily as an anti-submarine weapon.
Mk 48 Mk54 Mk50 Mk46
Range, yds 35000 ? 16000 12000
Speed, kts 55 (63?) 40+ 50+ 45
Diameter, in/mm 21/533 12.75/324 12.75/324 12.75/324
Length 29’2” 8’11” 9’6” 8’6”
Weight, lbs 3450 608 800 508
Warhead, lbs 650 95 100 95
Cost $2.4M(FY88) $0.8M(FY14) $1M(FY02)
For comparison, here are a couple of the main Russian Torpedoes.
Type 65 Type 53 UGST (2)
Range, miles 62@35mph 25
Speed, kts 50 26-45
Diameter, in/mm 25.6/650 21/533
Length 30 24’
Weight, lbs 10450 3800
Warhead, lbs 990-1225 801
The Mk46 was designed for open ocean, deep water anti-submarine use and had problems in shallow water. The Mk50 was developed as the replacement for the Mk46 but encountered problems. The Mk54 was developed to rectify the problems identified in the Mk50 but does, itself, suffer from shortcomings against shallow water non-nuclear submarines. A Mk54 Block Upgrade (BUG) program was initiated to address the problems but DOT&E still assessed the torpedo as not operationally effective in its intended role in a 2014 Annual Report and reiterated that assessment in the 2016 Annual Report despite additional upgrade efforts.
According to Polmar (1),
surface ships had anti-ship torpedo tubes until the
late 1950’s. During the 1960’s the Mk48
was intended to be fitted to surface ships for long range, wire guided ASW use
but that never occurred. US
Polmar also notes that a dedicated anti-surface torpedo was proposed by the Navy in the mid-1980’s (1). The torpedo was envisioned as a low cost ($200K in then year dollars vs. $2.43M per Mk48 in FY88), no frills alternative to the Mk48. The program was cancelled in the late 1980’s.
As a brief historical reminder of the use of anti-surface torpedoes on surface ships, here’s a list of the post-WWII ships that have had large, anti-surface-capable torpedo tubes installed.
- Garcia/Brooke Class FFG 2x 21” fixed, stern tubes, Mk37 Torpedo
- Sherman Class DD 4x 21” tubes
- Mitscher Class DL 4x 21” tubes
- Gearing Class DD 10x 21” tubes, twin trainable quintuple mounts, Mk15 Torpedo
That brings us to today. The US Navy has no surface anti-ship torpedo capability and only a marginally effective submarine launched anti-ship torpedo, the Mk48.
The next question, and the main point of this post, is, does the US Navy need a surface anti-ship torpedo launch capability?
To better frame the question, consider that currently the Burke class DDG probably cannot sink a large ship such as a tanker or large cargo vessel. If the
attempted a blockade and wanted to sink enemy
merchant shipping, the Navy’s surface ships would be hard pressed to accomplish
the task. Small 5” guns are incapable of
sinking a ship bigger than a patrol boat and Harpoon or Standard missiles in
anti-ship mode will only damage superstructure, not sink a sizable ship. Smaller ships such as the LCS which would be
expected to perform most of the blockade and merchant shipping attacks have
zero ability to sink a large ship. A
heavy weight anti-ship torpedo would go a long way toward providing a credible
anti-ship capability. US
Thus, the main argument for a surface anti-ship torpedo capability is lethality. Compare the warhead weight of the Mk48 (650 lbs) versus the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (276 lbs) which is, apparently, going to be the Navy’s standard anti-ship weapon for smaller ships. The difference is significant and, while simply comparing warhead weights is fraught with irrelevance, it nonetheless gives some idea of explosive power and concomitant lethality. Clearly, a heavy torpedo packs a much more potent explosive punch. Add to that the fact that torpedoes explode on or under the hull and let water in while missiles let air in, and the lethality of torpedoes is accentuated. Smaller ships such as the LCS would gain a huge increase in lethality by mounting heavy anti-ship torpedoes.
The Mk48 warhead is lighter than the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (1000 lbs) which may become a standard anti- ship missile for larger ships. Again, though, the underwater location and nature of a torpedo explosion magnifies its explosive effectiveness. Thus, even a Burke equipped with the LRASM could benefit from a heavy anti-ship torpedo. We should also note that the vertical launch version of the LRASM may or may not ever happen and, if it does happen, takes away VLS cells from the ship’s main purpose which is anti-air warfare.
Another argument for torpedoes is their inherent survivability. Currently, there are no effective active countermeasures to destroy attacking torpedoes and it is debatable how effective acoustic decoys, such as the US Nixie, will be given the Russian development of wake-homing torpedoes. Unlike anti-ship missiles which are susceptible to electronic countermeasures (ECM), decoys, anti-air missiles, and close-in weapon systems and, therefore, need to be launched in large numbers to ensure sufficient hits, torpedoes can be used in relatively smaller numbers since they are largely immune to countermeasures.
On the other hand, one of the drawbacks to anti-ship torpedoes in the past has been the limited range, at least compared to anti-ship missiles. The standard WWII Mk15 torpedo, for example, had a maximum range of around 8 miles. That kind of range is unsuitable for today’s long range, over the horizon type of warfare where anti-ship strike ranges need to be 20-100+ miles. However, modern torpedoes have greatly increased ranges that bring them in to the low end of anti-ship missile ranges. For example, while the actual range of the Mk48 is unknown, the often cited range is around 20 miles. The Mk48 upgrades have increased the fuel load and improved the propulsion so it is reasonable to assume that the range has significantly increased. 30 miles? 60 miles? Who knows? The point is that the torpedoes’ range is beginning to approach, for example, the Harpoon range of 60 miles.
Certainly, modern torpedoes outrange the ship’s onboard sensors which makes them effective to the limit of the ship’s sensors.
Speed is another drawback. Torpedoes are very slow compared to anti-ship missiles. A fast torpedo has a speed of 50-60 kts versus even slow anti-ship missiles which have high subsonic speeds. Thus, the travel time from the launching ship to the target allows for a great deal of movement by the target which complicates the targeting probability of success. Further, the long travel time allows the enemy the opportunity to strike the launch platform before the torpedoes arrive. Even if the torpedoes arrive and sink their targets, the launching ships may be destroyed in the interim!
Some of the arguments against torpedoes are valid due to the limitations of US torpedoes whose design and development has languished for decades compared to the advances in Russian torpedoes. If the
were to develop a completely new anti-ship torpedo,
many of the limitations would be eliminated or reduced. US
Consider these improvements to torpedo performance.
Range. Range could be 60-90 miles, matching the low to mid range for anti-ship missiles. The old Russian Type 65-76 had a range of 60+ miles at 35 mph (2). The German Navy’s current DM2A4 Seehecht (export designation "SeaHake mod 4") has a reported range of 87 miles (2) with GPS waypoint capability and carries a warhead of 572 lbs.
Speed. Speed could be 60+ kts.
’s VA-111 Shkval is the extreme example of high
speed, reportedly capable of 200+ kts via supercavitation although the high
speed comes at the cost of a reduced range of about 9 miles. The US Mk48 is capable of around 60 kts. Russia
Guidance. Currently, the
has no wake homing torpedo but there is no technical
reason why we could easily develop one.
Thus, a new torpedo could use multiple modes of guidance including passive
and active acoustic, wake homing, and GPS/Inertial. Wire guidance is probably not feasible for a
surface ship due to the ship’s maneuvering and near surface turbulence but it’s
worth looking at. US
|WWII Destroyer Torpedo Tubes - Time To Return To The Past?|
A modern, new design, anti-ship torpedo could offer a lethality option for surface ships that is currently lacking. Heavy torpedoes would not negatively impact VLS inventories although deck space and/or internal volume would have to be allocated. Such a weapon would offer a relatively low cost increase in tactical options to the ship commander and ought to be part of every surface ship’s standard armament.
(1)“The Naval Institute Guide To The Ships And Aircraft Of The U.S. Fleet”, 16th ed., Norman Polmar, Naval Institute Press, 1997, p.465-469
(2)Submarine Matters blog,