Deputy Undersecretary Of B.S.
An article in The American Spectator by Jed Babbin, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, seems to be implying that we would want to develop supercavitating torpedos, like the Russian Shkval. I'm not sure what a "Deputy Undersecretary" does, except maybe boss around the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary, but hopefully he wasn't in charge of procurement.
I understand that he's trying to get people to recognize that we have to spend more money on upgrading our fleet and its weapons, which is a laudable goal, but this isn't the way to go about it. I've written about these super-fast torpedoes before (especially the "new" Iranian one) and the fact is that they're militarily useless. [Note: If you're an Iranian Revolutionary Guard procurement officer reading this, we're really scared of your rocket torpedo, and really hope you don't go and blow your entire weapons budget buying them -- that would frighten us.]
Here's what Babbin says about the Shkval:
"Water is about 1,000 times denser than air, and an object moving through it has to work that much harder to move the same distance at the same speed. Submarines, on a good day, can hit perhaps forty miles per hour. Standard Russian torpedoes can do as much as sixty, and can catch everything we have. Our torpedoes are slower, simply because we haven’t chosen to spend the money to develop something faster, far less something like a supercavitating weapon. But the Russians now have the advantage of a torpedo that can travel almost five times faster than ours. It’s the world’s first supercavitating weapon. It will take us years to catch up..."
Why would we want to "catch up"? Beyond a certain speed, a faster torpedo just means it's more likely to miss its target -- unless you're counting on a contact weapon, which is what a non-nuclear version of the Shkval would have to be. As I'll discuss, that's not a big issue for submarines. He goes on:
"The Russians have taken supercavitation out of the lab and put it to sea in the rocket-powered torpedo they call "Shkval" (squall). It’s huge -- about 27 feet long -- and has a range of over four miles. The Shkval reportedly can reach speeds of more than 250 miles an hour. It goes so fast that it doesn’t need its warhead to destroy most targets. The equation is now much simpler for any new fast Russian sub fitted to launch the Shkval. If an American sub shoots a torpedo at you, you fire a Shkval right back at him. And then you can outmaneuver -- or even outrun -- the relatively slow American torpedo. If you can get within range of an American aircraft carrier, you can be sure of a kill, because there’s no way the big ship is going to dodge so fast a torpedo, and it has no other defense. We won’t have subs protecting other ships with our own supercavitating torpedoes for the simple reason that we don’t have any."
Unadulterated bullshit. Actually, he never actually claims that the Shkval could hit an opposing submarine, although he implies it. The Shkval seems to be unguided -- it goes (approximately) down one bearing. How hard is it to hit a submarine with an unguided weapon? Let's do a little math:
At one mile, one degree of bearing is equal to about 35 yards; at 4 miles, the supposed range of the Shkval, it's 140 yards. An attack submarine is about 120 yards long, so let's say, for simplicity, that it's one degree in length. Note that this is only if the sub is broad to the target; if it's facing the target, it's much narrower. OK, that's not too bad; you just have to predict where the submarine will be the time it takes the torpedo to traverse the distance from your sub to the target. At 250 knots, it'll go 4 nm in about a minute. But, a submarine going even 10 knots will cover it's own length in about 20 seconds; it makes it harder, but still doable. Here's the tough part: depth. A 33' diameter submarine at four miles is about 1/4 of a degree tall; you've got to have the depth pretty much exact, which is very hard to do (remember, this is probably a contact weapon.) All in all, the odds of a Shkval hitting an alerted submarine are fairly close to zero. Next, we come to the weirdest part of the article:
"In August 2000 the Kursk -- a new Russian nuclear submarine -- sank after two explosions on board. Underwater cameras showed that the Kursk was missing most of its bow. In all probability, the Kursk was sunk testing the Shkval. The first explosion was most likely an accidental ignition of the Shkval’s rocket motor. The second one could have been the rocket bursting the torpedo tube and the hull, or detonation of the warhead, either one powerful enough to blow the bow off the Kursk
Kursk missing most of her bow? The bow was removed by divers as part of the salvage operation. While most experts think it was the hydrogen peroxide-fuelled torpedoes that exploded to kill the Kursk, I suppose it's possible that it was a failed Shkval launch. Still, in an article that seems to be trying to get the U.S. to build a similar weapon, "destroys launch platform" normally isn't one of the attributes you're looking for in a new weapons system.
So, while I applaud Babbin's goal of trying to get people to invest more money in naval technology, I urge him to use more actual facts next time.