The U.S. Navy is now engineering a new, longer range and more lethal submarine-launched heavyweight Mk 48 that can better destroy enemy ships, subs and incoming weapons at longer ranges, service officials said.
Many details of the new weapon, which include newer propulsion mechanisms and multiple kinds of warheads, are secret and not publicly available. However, senior Navy leaders have previously talked to Scout Warrior about the development of the weapon in a general sense.
Naturally, having a functional and more high-tech lethal torpedo affords the Navy an opportunity to hit enemies at further standoff ranges and better compete with more fully emerging undersea rivals such as Russia and China.
Progress with new torpedo technologies is happening alongside a concurrent effort to upgrade the existing arsenal and re-start production of the Mk 48, which had been on hiatus for several years.
A MK 48 ADCAP torpedo is unloaded from the fast-attack submarine USS Annapolis by Sailors from the Submarine Base New London weapons department during a snowstorm.
Navy officials did add that some of the improvements to the torpedo relate to letting more water into the bottom of the torpedo as opposed to letting air out the top.
The earlier version, the Mk 48 Mod 6, has been operational since 1997 – and the more recent Mod 7 has been in service since 2006.
Lockheed has been working on upgrades to the Mk 48 torpedo Mod 6 and Mod 7 – which consists of adjustments to the guidance control box, broadband sonar acoustic receiver and amplifier components.
Lockheed developers told Scout Warrior last year that Lockheed is now delivering 20-upgrade kits per month to the Navy.
Part of the effort, which involves a five-year deal between the Navy and Lockheed, includes upgrading existing Mod 6 torpedoes to Mod 7 as well as buying brand new Mod 7 guidance control sections.
The new Mod 7 is also resistant to advanced enemy countermeasures.
Modifications to the weapon improves the acoustic receiver, replaces the guidance-and-control hardware with updated technology, increases memory, and improves processor throughput to handle the expanded software demands required to improve torpedo performance against evolving threats, according to Navy information on the weapon.
The Mod also provides a significant reduction in torpedo radiated-noise signatures, a Navy statement said.
Alongside Lockheed's work to upgrade the guidance technology on the torpedo, the Navy is also preparing to to build new Mk 48s.
Upgrades to the guidance control section in includes the integration of a system called Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System, or CBASS – electronics to go into the nose of the weapon as part of the guidance section, Lockheed developers explained.
This technology provides streamlined targeting and allows the torpedo to transmit and receive over a wider frequency band, Lockheed engineers said.
The new technology involves adjustments to the electronic circuitry in order to make the acoustic signals that are received from the system that allow the torpedo to better operate in its undersea environment.
Upgrades also consist of movement to what's called an "Otto fuel propulsion system," Lockheed officials added.
US Navy torpedo retrievers secure a Mark 48 to the deck of their boat (Photo US Navy)
Lockheed will deliver about 250 torpedoes over the next five years. The Mk 48, which is a heavy weapon launched under the surface, is quite different than surface launched, lightweight Mk 54 torpoes fired from helicopters, aircraft and surface ships.
The Navy's Mk 48 torpedo is also in service with Australia, Canada, Brazil and The Netherlands.
A Mk 48 torpedo is 21 inches in diameter and weighs 3,520 pounds; it can destroy targets at ranges out to five miles and travels at speeds greater than 28 knots. The weapon can operate at depths greater than 1,200 feet and fires a 650-pound high-explosive warhead.