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The “Shkval” was originally designed in the 1960s as a means to quickly attack nuclear missile submarines of NATO, launching a nuclear warhead at speeds never before seen.

Imagine the sudden revelation of a weapon that can suddenly go six times faster than its predecessors. The shock of such a revolutionary system would transform a complete war field since the possible adversaries rushed to deploy countermeasures to a new weapon against which they are defenceless. While a break in the high-powered competition delayed the impact of this new technology, the so-called “super-cavitating torpedo” could be about to take the world by storm.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union placed a heavy dependence on its submarine fleet to deny the United States’ advantage in naval forces. The United States Navy not only had the task of helping to protect the flow of reinforcements in Europe in the case of World War III but it also directly threatened the Soviet Union and would have hunted and sunk its submarine ballistic missiles. At first, the USSR used large quantities of electric-diesel submarines, then more advanced nuclear attack submarines, to reduce the odds.

One of the most innovative submarine weapons developed by the Soviet Union was the Shkval VA-111 supercavitation torpedo (“Squall”). Highly classified, Shkval was virtually unknown before the end of the Cold War and only became common knowledge in the mid-1990s. Powered by a rocket engine, it was capable of amazing speeds of up to 200 knots per hour. But in a world where physics ensured that most ships and submarine weapons reached 50 knots, how did the Russian engineers achieve such a breakthrough in speed?

Traditionally, torpedoes use thrusters or pumps for propulsion. Shkval, on the other hand, uses a rocket engine. That alone is enough to make it fast, but travelling through the water creates significant drug problems. The solution: remove the water from the path of the torpedo. But how, exactly, does water get from the path of an object in the middle of an ocean?

The solution: vaporize liquid water in a gas.

Shkval solves this problem by diverting the escape of the hot rocket from his nose, which turns the water in front of him into steam. As the torpedo advances, it continues to vaporize the water in front of it, creating a thin bubble of gas. Travelling through the gas, the torpedo finds much less drag, which allows it to move at speeds of up to 200 knots. This process is known as supercavitation.

The trick to maintaining supercavitation is to keep the torpedo locked in the gas bubble. This makes turning maneuvers complicated since a course change will force a part of the torpedo out of the bubble, which will cause a sudden drag at 230 miles per hour. The early versions of Shkval apparently had a very primitive guidance system, and the attacks would have been fairly direct torpedo races.

Considering that the warhead had been nuclear, it probably would have been good enough to destroy the target. It is clear that the Soviet Union believes that there were times when the speed of the torpedo was more important than maneuverability.

Shkval was originally designed in the 1960s as a means to quickly attack nuclear missile submarines of NATO, launching a nuclear warhead at speeds never before seen. The torpedo has a standard torpedo diameter of 533 millimetres and carries a warhead of 460 pounds. It has a maximum range of 7,500 yards. Shkval began mass production in 1978 and entered service with the Soviet Navy that year.

Like any weapon, there are drawbacks. On the one hand, the gas bubble and the rocket motor are very noisy. Any submarine that launches a super-cavitating torpedo will instantly give its approximate position. That said, such a fast weapon could possibly destroy the enemy before it has time to act on the information since suddenly the enemy has an enemy submarine and a 200-knot torpedo to deal with.

Another drawback of a super-cavitating torpedo is the inability to use traditional guidance systems. The gas bubble and the rocket motor produce enough noise to deafen the active and passive sonar guidance systems incorporated in the torpedo. The first versions of the Shkval apparently were not guided, changing the orientation by speed. A newer version of the torpedo uses a compromise method, using supercavitation to run toward the target area, and then slow down to find its target.

Is there a future for the super-cavitating torpedo? The United States has been working on these types of weapons since 1997, apparently without a deployable weapon. In fact, the United States Navy is currently in the process of upgrading the venerable submarine torpedo Mark 48 for service in the immediate future. On the other hand, the requirements of the Navy were much greater than Shkval’s capabilities, including changes, identification and goal orientation.


Meanwhile, Russian submarines are the only submarines in the world equipped with super-cavitating torpedoes, modernized versions of Shval armed with a conventional warhead. The Russian industry also offers an export version, Shkval E, for sales abroad. Iran claims to have a super-cavitating torpedo of its own called Hoot, which is supposed to be a reverse engineering Shkval.

In 2004, the German defence contractor Diehl-BGT announced the Barracuda, a torpedo technology demonstrator designed to travel up to 194 knots. Barracuda was destined to launch from submarines and surface vessels, and test models could travel on straight and curved roads. However, the program apparently never resulted in a commercial weapon.

A noisy but effective weapon, Shkval breaks the paradigm of underwater warfare. A 200-knot torpedo is a very attractive capability and, as naval competition heats up both in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, we may see more navies adopting super cavitational designs and adjusting their underwater tactics accordingly. Underwater warfare is about to become much more noisy and deadly.



Source: ES News Front Info