Russia's Shkval Rocket Powered Torpedo

Russian Rocket Torpedo

Head On Russian Shkval Rocket Torpedo
Photo Source: Public Domain

As time goes by, our weapons just keep getting deadlier A very good example of this is the rocket powered torpedo. The rocket powered torpedo seems to have been invented in Russia, I say seems to have been, because if we invented it, we would never know, that is just how secret these things are here. We probably didn't invent this, because we seemed to have a spy that was trying to get the plans secretly from people in the Russian government. He was an American businessman and the Russians charged him with spying. The charge was that he was trying to buy plans for the ultrahigh-speed torpedo. So what is this super fast torpedo all about and how does it work?

Before I get into that, I would like to tell you that the science for making this torpedo able to travel up to hundreds of miles per hour underwater and maybe faster, is based on supercavitation. The scientific explanation for cavitation is the formation of vapor bubbles of a flowing liquid in a region where the pressure of the liquid falls below its vapor pressure. You know it better, as the turbulence produced by a propeller. Basically propellers cavitate when they are turning and beating through the water and some cause more cavitation than others. This is how submarines are tracked, because this action can be picked up on sonar. Until now, it seems that no one thought about harnessing this phenomena and using it in such a way as to enable undersea devices to travel at fantastic speeds that rival those of planes. Here is the part that is truly amazing. It may soon be possible for undersea craft to travel at these speeds. Can you imagine a surface ship that is trying to avoid a submarine that can literally travel at hundreds of miles per hour.

The first models of the torpedo had an estimated speed of 200 knots. A knot is 1.151 miles per hour. this means that the first torpedoes of this type could travel at 230 miles per hour. While this is far from the speed of sound, it is still 4 to 5 times faster than anything we had. The range of these torpedoes was said to be a little over 4.25 miles. From this distance this torpedo can reach its target in a little over one minute, not giving much time for defense. You have to remember that it might not be spotted immediately after firing, or it could be fired from a closer range. Add to that the fact that not only submarines would carry this torpedo. It could be dropped from planes or fired from surface ships.

The torpedo is powered by a solid rocket engine. When the rocket fires, bubbles are produced under high pressure from the nose of the weapon and this coats the weapon with a thin layer of gas, allowing it to propel itself inside an envelope of gas bubbles and this is basically caused by the supercavitation. There is a version of this weapon that has a homing device that allows it to travel at these super speeds then slow down to find its target. There will be no more missed shots as in prior years. This is a very dangerous weapon indeed. It is so deadly that no warhead is even needed. It is said that at the speeds that it travels, it can punch through the hull of any ship made. In this configuration this makes the only explosive part of the device the solid rocket motor, which is pretty stable.

When the weapon was introduced there were absolutely no counter measures that could be used to protect a ship from it, or so it was said. The torpedoes have been sold to China, meaning that at least two countries have the means to destroy any American battle group, if the torpedo is as effective as advertised. It is said that there was a Chinese officer aboard the Kursk when it went down and that he was there to observe the test of the torpedo. The Kursk was a famous Russian submarine that sank under mysterious circumstances. The Russian torpedo is designated as the VA-111 Shkval. While the torpedo was announced in the early 1990s, it is said to have been operational since the 1970s. The Russians are working on a model of this torpedo that will travel 300 knots and the speed at which it travels is expected to keep increasing. There are at least three different versions of this torpedo that we know about:

VA-111 - The original version
Shkval 2 - It is believed to be guided and have a longer range, perhaps 13,000 meters. or over 8 miles.
Shkval E - a dumber version for world sale to countries such as Iran

I think that we can assume that the United States either has a defense against these rocket torpedoes now, or is close to having one. If that was not the case, why would we be continuing our carrier program, or even our submarine program, if we knew that we couldn't protect these ships? There are patents in existence that describe systems for protecting against rocket powered torpedoes. They range from protective sheaths that fit around the ship and are inflatable and filled with gas to fast acting defensive systems that launch protective devices. What we have to remember is that throughout history, countries have been in this position many times and have always come up with a defense against new weapons and I am sure that we will also, if we have not already.

By the way the speed of sound in water is about 6 times greater than that in air, so one of these torpedoes would have to travel about 3,500 miles per hour to be undetectable because of the silence. We have decided not to use these types of torpedoes, except for very special missions. An American Mark 48 sub launched torpedo has an admitted range of 30 miles and its admitted speed of 60 knots might be more like 80 for 90 knots and it is wire guided so that it can have course correction in flight. The so called improved Shkval that can acquire a target by slowing down is making itself vulnerable by giving up its only advantage its speed, while it searches. In truth our navy is not very worried about it.

As I said before our defenses are not sitting still. The US Navy has been working on several ways to protect ships from the Shkval. One way is a pressure wave generator that will send a huge pressure wave at any attacking torpedo and explode it. Another is a dart that CAN actually travel faster than sound in water and is aimed and shot at a torpedo by a sonar cannon. These are only two defenses that we know of, but there must be many more classified systems.

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