Russian 'Rocket' Torpedo Arms Chinese Subs
Charles R. Smith
Tuesday, April 24, 2001
Russia has developed new submarine-launched torpedos that travel at incredible speeds – perhaps as fast as the speed of sound underwater.
Scientific American reports in its May edition that these supersophisticated weapons have been linked to the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk
last August, and even to the arrest and imprisonment of Edmond Pope.
Pope, an American businessman, was charged by Russian authorities with spying, specifically that he had sought to buy plans for the "ultrahigh-speed
The magazine reports that "evidence does suggest that both incidents revolved around an amazing and little-reported technology that allows naval
weapons and vessels to travel submerged at hundreds of miles per hour – in some cases, faster than the speed of sound in water. The swiftest
traditional undersea technologies, in contrast, are limited to a maximum of about 80 mph."
The new technology that allows for these incredible speeds is "is based on the physical phenomenon of supercavitation."
According to Scientific American, the new generation of torpedos, some believed capabale of carrying nuclear warheads, are surrounded by a "renewable
envelope of gas so that the liquid wets very little of the body's surface, thereby drastically reducing the viscous drag" on the torpedo.
The new technology "could mean a quantum leap in naval warfare that is analogous in some ways to the move from prop planes to jets or even to rockets
In 1997 Russia announced that it had developed a high-speed unguided underwater torpedo, which has no equivalent in the West.
Code-named the Shkval or "Squall," the Russian torpedo reportedly travels so fast that no U.S. defense can stop it.
In late 2000, after the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, new reports began circulating that the Chinese navy had bought the Shkval torpedo.
The modern Russian weapon in Chinese navy hands has sent alarm bells ringing through the halls of the Pentagon.
"China purchased the Shkval rocket torpedo," stated Richard Fisher, a defense analyst and senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.
"The Shkval was designed to give Soviet subs with less capable sonar the ability to kill U.S. submarines before U.S. wire-guided anti-sub torpedoes
could reach their target. The Chinese navy would certainly want to have this kind of advantage over U.S. subs in the future. At the speed that it
travels, the Shkval could literally punch a hole in most U.S. ships, with little need for an explosive warhead."
"This torpedo travels at a speed of 200 knots, or five to six times the speed of a normal torpedo, and is especially suited for attacking large ships
such as aircraft carriers," stated Fisher.
The report that China purchased some 40 Shkval torpedoes from Russia in 1998 has been confirmed by U.S. intelligence sources. Pentagon officials also
confirmed that a Chinese naval officer was on board the ill-fated Russian submarine Kursk to observe firings of the Shkval.
The Shkval rocket first came to light in the Western press in April 2000 when Russian FSB security services charged American businessman Edward Pope
with spying for the U.S. According to Russian intelligence sources, Pope obtained detailed information on the rocket-powered torpedo.
The 6,000-pound Shkval rocket torpedo has a range of about 7,500 yards and can fly through the water at more than 230 miles an hour. The
solid-rocket-propelled "torpedo" achieves this high speed by producing a high-pressure stream of bubbles from its nose and skin, which coats the
weapon in a thin layer of gas. The Shkval flies underwater inside a giant "envelope" of gas bubbles in a process called "supercavitation."
The Russian Pacific Fleet held the first tests of the Shkval torpedo in the spring of 1998. In early 1999, Russia began marketing a conventionally
armed version of the Shkval high-speed underwater rocket at the IDEX 99 exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
There are no evident countermeasures to the Shkval and, according to weapons experts, its deployment by Russian and Chinese naval forces has placed
the U.S. Navy at a considerable disadvantage.
"We have no equivalent, its velocity would make evasive action exceedingly difficult, and it is likely that we have no defense against it," stated
Jack Spencer, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
According to the Jamestown Foundation's Richard Fisher, China is acquiring a fleet of blue-water submarines armed with the deadly Shkval. In a recent
defense report, Fisher noted the Chinese navy is arming itself with a deadly combination of silent submarines, supersonic nuclear tipped Stealth
missiles and Shkval rocket torpedoes. Fisher warned that the new Chinese navy is capable of operating far from Asian shores.
"There are reports that the Chinese navy's current subs do not have tubes large enough to fire the Shkval. The Chinese navy has completed the
acquisition of four Russian Kilo-class conventional submarines. The Kilo 636 is said to be nearly as quiet as the early version of the U.S. Los
Angeles class nuclear submarine," noted Fisher.
"This very high speed torpedo would provide the PLA with the technology to build their own version, and this is a looming threat," stated Fisher.
"The next few years may also see China produce a new class of nuclear-powered submarine, the Type 093. Again benefiting from Russian technology."
The Chinese Type 093-class nuclear attack submarines are similar to Russian Victor III class first produced at the Leningrad yards in the 1970s. Each
Chinese Type 093 weighs more than 5,000 tons and is over a football field in length. The Chinese type 093 submarines are armed with eight 21-inch
torpedo tubes that are large enough to fire the super-fast Shkval.