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Updated 8:47 AM EST, Fri, Mar 05, 2021

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Russia's Replacement for Failed ‘Shkval Supercavitating Torpedo’ will Likely be a Failure, Too

Underwater missile

(Photo : Russian Navy) Russia's Shkval supercavitating torpedo.

Russia has gone ahead with its plans to produce a new "supercavitating torpedo" despite five decades of history proving the technology behind this torpedo doesn't work as advertised.

Russia's attraction to a torpedo technology even the U.S. Navy has avoided developing is based mostly on bragging rights. It's only supercavitating torpedo -- the VA-111 Shkval ("Squall") -- can allegedly reach underwater speeds in excess of 200 knots (370 km/h), making it by far the fastest torpedo in the world.

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In comparison, the Mark 48 Advanced Capability heavyweight torpedo, has a top speed of only 55 knots (102 km/h). The Mark 48 is the fastest U.S. Navy torpedo currently in operational use.

The secret to the Shkval's amazing speed is its design. It's basically a rocket powered underwater missile powered by a rocket motor.

Exhaust gases emitted by this rocket engine are vented to the nose of the missile instead of to the rear as is traditional in air breathing rockets.

These extremely hot exhaust gases vaporize water in front of the torpedo and create a mass of high pressure air bubbles around the torpedo. The result is the Shkval "flies" through an underwater pocket of air unimpeded by friction and water resistance.

Missile-like speed, however, is the Shkval's only redeeming feature. Most everything else about this torpedo disqualifies it for widespread use in submarines and surface warships.

The Shkval's chief disadvantages are it's too noisy and it can't be guided. The former drawback means the submarine or warship firing a Shkval instantly gives away its position to its victim, allowing the latter to take countermeasures.

The latter means Shkval can't be equipped with devices that home in on its target since the high pressure air bubbles impede any guidance system. In essence, Shkval is a massive 2,700 kg bullet that can only travel in a straight line.

Shkval was originally designed in the 1960s and entered service with the Soviet Union's navy in 1978. Only Russia and Iran field supercavitating torpedoes. The Iranian version named "Hoot" is a reverse engineered version of the Shkval.

Shkval can deliver its 210 kg high explosive warhead out to a maximum range of 6,900 meters. The U.S. Navy's Mark 48 is armed with a 290 kg warhead it can deploy to a range in excess of 8,000 meters.

In October 2016, Russia announced that Shkval will be replaced by a new supercavitating torpedo called Khishchnik ("Predator").

Not much information has been revealed about Khishchnik other than this torpedo is being designed by the Elektropribor design bureau, which specializes in aviation technology.

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