Since 1972, the main heavy torpedo of the US Navy has been the 533 mm Mark 48. For half a century, it has undergone several modernizations, remaining a modern weapon that allowed it to fight both surface ships and submarines, as the designers tracked the development of the navy of their main enemy – The Soviet Union, and then Russia. And now preparing to transfer the US Navy a new modification of the torpedo.
Work is being carried out in a high degree of secrecy. But this week, representatives of the US Navy revealed some details of the “modernization” of the torpedo. The media concluded: a new US Navy torpedo could be very dangerous for Russian ships and submarines.
First you need to get acquainted with what the Mark 48 is now, and also to consider its evolution in dotted lines.
The first modification – Mark 48 Mod 1 – was, as they say, a breakdown of the pen. But the main step forward in relation to weapons of this type of previous generations was taken. The torpedo has become universal – a dual-purpose, that is, to attack both surface ships and surface boats. Initially, it was thermal, not electric. In the first modification, a gas turbine engine was used as a power plant, which was soon replaced by a piston engine operating on a unitary fuel Otto-II and delivering 500 horsepower.
The Mark 48 Mod 1 guidance system on the target included an active-passive sonar homing system (CCH). It was also possible to control the movement of the torpedo on a cable up to 18 km long. But commands along it were transmitted in one direction – from a submarine that launched a torpedo to a torpedo control system.
Mark 48 Mod 3, which appeared in 1976, made significant changes. As mentioned above, a new engine has appeared. In the telecontrol channel, that is, by cable, it became possible for the boat to receive information from a torpedo for more accurate guidance.
Gradually, from modification to modification, the speed and range increased, as well as the maximum working depth of the torpedo. Of course, the capabilities of sonar SSNs were also moving forward – sensitivity, detection range, selectivity, noise immunity.
Currently, the United States Navy operates two modifications – the 6th (1998) and the 7th (2008). In the first of them, the propulsion system and the electronic part were substantially modified. Processor performance and memory have been improved. This made it possible to more accurately process the information taken from the sonar SSN and, accordingly, to obtain more accurate data about the target being attacked – size, distance, speed and direction of movement.
The noise of the torpedo was also reduced due to the damping of the engine components and the use of a more advanced propulsion device – two coaxial screws rotating in opposite directions were replaced by a water jet.
The main direction of modernization of the torpedo to the 7th modification was the improvement of its operation in the shallow coastal areas, where sonar is complicated by the repeated reflection of acoustic waves from the bottom and other obstacles. A CBASS (Digital Broadband Advanced Sonar System) was used with digital beamforming directivity and new software.
The developer, Lockheed Martin, calls the Mark 48 Mod 7 the best torpedo in the world. Moreover, all its characteristics (even speed) are classified. Therefore, we can only use open data on the torpedo Mark 48 Mod 6.
Length – 5.79 m, caliber – 533 mm, weight – 1663 kg. The maximum speed is 55 knots (Mark 48 Mod 5 has 60 knots). Range – 50 km at a creeping speed, 35 km at maximum speed. Remote control (by cable) – 18 km. The target capture range of the sonar target is 3500 m. The working depth, according to various estimates, is from 800 m to 1000 m. The weight of the warhead is about 300 kg.
Toward the target, the torpedo moves at maximum speed. When approaching the target capture distance of the sonar sonar speed, the speed decreases to 35–40 knots (according to various estimates) and the search for the target begins when the torpedo is moved by a “snake”. After hijacking the target, the maximum speed mode is switched back on.
But at the same time, the torpedo, having lost the target, has the opportunity to repeat the attack, going into free search mode. That is, the principle of “shot and forgot.”
So what else can Americans do with the Mark 48 when, in 2008, they seemingly received the “best in the world” torpedo?
It is reported that the work carried out by Lockheed Martin is aimed at increasing stealth, improving the homing process, eliminating unmasking factors of the hydroacoustic system, reducing noise and increasing the specific power of the power plant. It is also supposed to increase the damaging effect of the warhead of the torpedo.
At the same time, the estimated cost of a promising torpedo was previously indicated – $ 3.7 million. It is understandable that Lockheed Martin, as usual, will increase this figure by at least one and a half times. This is clear if only because the Mark 48 Mod 5 costs 3.5 million. And this is at the prices of the end of the 80s!
Admittedly, a promising modification is, indeed, a formidable weapon. And the Americans strongly emphasize this, saying that it will give the US Navy a critical combat advantage. This is a very serious statement. Of course, an advantage is assumed over the fleets of Russia and China.
So what can Russia oppose to this, which for almost the entire post-Soviet period could not decide in any way, which torpedoes should be chosen as the main strike weapons – electric or thermal?
We had a thermal “thick” torpedo – 65–76A “Kit” («Whale» in Russian), which significantly surpassed the Mark 48 in terms of energy performance. It was adopted for service in the 70s. It had two calibers – 533 mm and 650 mm. It was capable of hitting enemy submarines at a distance of up to 100 km, that is, its carrier, a submarine, was not required to enter the enemy anti-submarine defense zone. Speed reached 70 knots.
In 2002, the demolition of the “Kit” led to the death of the boat “Kursk” – this is the main and official version of the accident. The Navy command decided to put a bold cross on the thermal torpedoes in connection with their “extreme danger”. All torpedoes were withdrawn from service and the development of new thermal ones was stopped. In the absence of high-quality batteries in the country, they began to develop the direction of electric torpedoes. However, in terms of performance, they could not match the Mark 48.
But more recently, 4 years ago, the thermal universal deep-sea homing torpedo of the UGST «Phizick» («Physicist») finally appeared. Two years later, its more advanced modification «Futlyar» («Case») was adopted.
In range and speed, this torpedo is comparable to the American. And even slightly surpasses it. Speed from 60 to 65 knots, range – 50−55 km. The working depth is much less – 400 m. The telecontrol cable is longer – 25 km. Mover is also a water jet. And the warhead is also 300 pounds.
Searching for a goal when moving along a “snake” and free “hunting” in the event of a loss of a goal – all this also exists.
Little is known about sonar CCH. But what is known is sad. The target detection range is 2500 m versus 3500 m for the existing American torpedo. How much a promising modification will have is unknown, but, of course, not less, but more.
How does the Futlyar behave in shallow water? How small is he? What are the computing capabilities of its processor? What is noise immunity? What is the selectivity of sonar SSN? Nothing is known about this. But it can be assumed, on the basis of not too high sensitivity, that our designers need to reach more than one year here for the Lockheed-Martin product.
However, it should be said that the «Phizik» and «Futlyar» significantly outperform the torpedoes that existed before them. That is, this is an undoubted step forward. It is they who are arming Russian main and most advanced submarines – the strategic submarine missile carrier «Borey» and the multipurpose nuclear submarine «Yasen».