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Russia and Iran Have ‘Supercavitating Torpedoes’. The U.S. Navy? Nope.

Kazen Submarine
Kazen Submarine. Image: Russian Military.

Both Iran and Russia claim to have supercavitating torpedoes—but what are they?

Supercavitation

Supercavitating torpedos are rocket-propelled and ride inside an air bubble through the waves. The bubble they fly though is produced by internally-stored gas that is ejected out the front of the torpedo, creating a bubble “pocket” that envelops the torpedo almost completely.

By riding in a bubble, supercavitating torpedos experience significantly less drag and can attain phenomenally high speeds—hundreds of miles per hour—underwater. For comparison, “traditional” torpedos like the United States’ Mark 46 and Mark 48 torpedoes travel roughly between 30 to 40 miles per hour.

While simply traveling through a bubble in a straight line is fairly straightforward, maneuvering is much more complex. In an interview for Popular Science, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research said that steering is difficult, “when you turn, the bubble distorts because it is no longer symmetrical,” he said. “So you have to compensate for that by putting more bubbles to one side.” This is accomplished by ejecting more gas toward the outside of the turn. Easy to say, but hard to do.

Controlling depth is also no walk in the park. The deeper a torpedo dives, the more pressure it is subjected to by the ocean—and the smaller the bubble envelope gets. In order to compensate for this, additional gas needs to be injected inside the bubble to help the torpedo rise.

With the basics in mind, here are Iran and Russia’s nearly identical supercavitating torpedoes.

Iran’s Hoot

Iran test-fired their “Hoot” supercavitating torpedo several times, most recently in 2017. The Hoot is said to have a range of six miles. The missile test occurred in the busy Strait of Hormuz, where most of the world’s oil traffic passes through.

A Federation of American Scientists report quoted an Iranian Naval Forces official, saying the Hoot is “capable of destroying the largest warships and any other vessel on the surface or beneath the water, and split it into two parts.”

Though Iran denies any foreign assistance, the Hoot is likely based on the Soviet Union-developed Shkval supercavitating torpedo, and can travel at 360 kilometers per hour, or about 230 miles per hour.

Documentation surfaced that contradicted Iran’s claim that the torpedo is entirely indigenous—which would be logical. A vast amount of Iran’s military equipment is foreign-designed, from both the United States and the Soviet Union.

Russia’s VA-111 Shkval

Russian inherited a huge amount of weapon systems from the Soviet Union. One of these systems is a supercavitating torpedo—the world’s first.

The Shkval was developed over 40 years ago—in the late 1970s. The Shval is launched from conventional 533 millimeter torpedo tubes, but is propelled to speed by a solid-fuel rocket engine to 370 kilometers per hour—or about 230 miles per hour.

The Shkval seems to have solved the challenge of steering. A nozzle is affixed to the front of the torpedo that appears to be able to pivot, possibly indicating onboard compressed gas can be pointed in different directions to aid in turns.

Bombs Away

Supercavitating torpedo technology is complex, especially mastering turns. Defending against supercavitating torpedos would be incredibly difficult. But, if this technology could be mastered, it may revolutionize naval warfare.

Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. WALTER A ADAMS

    June 26, 2021 at 10:49 am

    The best defense is Invisibility.
    The second best defense is distance, cause the force directed at you to expend itself before it contacts you.
    The U.S. is getting pretty good at the first, but, we’d best work overtime at the second in case we aren’t as Invisible as we think we are.
    ……………….
    A shot in the Dark – Does an EMP propagate thru the water?
    This Super Torpedo is surely chock full of electronics.
    Modern U.S. warships are powerhouses of Electricity.
    Aren’t we at least working on directed EMPs?
    Could we shoot a powerful enough EMP at a torpedo to wreck its guidance?
    I don’t know – looking for an answer.

  2. Brian Foley

    June 26, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    Christ Almighty when does it stop ? When are writers going to stop with all the “We’re doomed” BS. Cavitating Torpedoes…so what ? The problems for the Russians and the Iranians far outnumber any advantages. The first question that arises….”Why not just sink the submarine that has the super dooper whammer ding torpedoes ? Our submarine forces outclass and outnumber anyone else’s, so let’s just track the SOBs and sink them if it come down to a fight. Does anyone really believe that the US Navy can’t take on the Iranians…and win ? So, lighten up….there’s no doubt that somewhere someone has something that could do harm to our ships…but you can’t have something to combat everything all the time…so you develop tactics to counter the bad guys….but let’s stop wringing our hands and all this wailing and moaning.

  3. Mark Matis

    June 26, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Maybe we can bring back the Mark 14 torpedoes from the early days of WW II!

  4. Lepke Buchalter

    June 26, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    The mark 14 was in US inventory until about 1980.

    I wonder how well the torpedo’s sonar works within the bubble?
    And the torpedo has got to be noisy. My guess is the sub that fires it doesn’t survive.

  5. Jim Schroder

    June 26, 2021 at 10:20 pm

    Lepke is correct that the combination of the rocket propulsion and the enclosing bubble makes the use of onboard sonar near impossible. Wire guidance from either the sub or a secondary section with sonar is the only practical way to guide it. That in itself has issues when the torpedo is traveling at 230 mph with a rocket exhaust at its rear end.

    In essence the torpedo is “dumb” but fast. if out (either aiming or during travel) by just 1.5 degrees, it will completely miss even a Super-Carrier at 5 miles.

    I note that over the last 40 years the Soviets/Russians never designed another super cavitating torpedo. There is a reason for that.

    With all that said, there is potentially a way to get around this lack of self guidance with an alternate design, but I won’t get into it on line. Also there are alternate applications for super-cavitating weapons. As such, they should not be ruled out.

  6. Kevin

    June 27, 2021 at 1:58 am

    I’d think that if this torpedo is suubjected to a force that would distort the air around it, it would be impossible for it to hit anything. Perhaps a pulse of intense acouustical waves(sound), oscillating in a random pattern, would render it useless as a weapon. I could think of a variety of counfer-measures which would render such a tenuous propulsion system, useless.

  7. Mikehorn

    June 27, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Like any weapon, this has strengths and weaknesses. Speed is its only strength. Range is a huge weakness. They’d have to play to strengths. I would never use this from a submarine unless the boat was so quiet you can guarantee getting under 6 miles from the major target. Any boat that good is going to be hugely expensive and a high value target itself.

    I’d mate this torpedo with mines, something like the America CAPTOR mine that had a torpedo as its warhead, not just dumb explosives. If Iran or Russia could produce and deploy effective mines with this weapon, it could be devastating.

  8. Tony

    June 27, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    This story makes American liberals happy.

  9. steve

    June 27, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    There is a fundamental physics issue here. Fluids such as water are incompressible meaning if the bubbles do not move the water out of the way the torpedo effectively his a “solid” wall at 200 mph.

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