The Indian Navy must finalise its torpedo requirements as new generation torpedoes are now beginning to emerge
Torpedoes are self‐propelled, underwater projectiles that can be launched from ships and aircraft and are designed to detonate on contact or in close proximity to a target. The Indian Navy deploys its torpedoes from maritime patrol aircraft, embarked helicopters and surface/sub-surface platforms.
In addition to larger calibre guns and missile systems on-board a warship, torpedoes provide a lethal option to engage surface and sub-surface targets and are considered as the main Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) weapon by modern navies. For submarines that need to stay hidden, state-of-the-art torpedoes are a must, in a region that is rapidly proliferating with advanced submarines.
The Indian Navy has been hobbled in its efforts to upgrade its torpedo arsenal. Its fleet of P-75 Scorpene class submarines are said to be still without their main torpedo armament. The navy is now inducting indigenously developed alternatives and also has access to new-generation torpedoes available on the market for import.
State-owned defence firm Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) is now manufacturing two new torpedoes developed in partnership with the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). The Torpedo Advanced Light (TAL) and Heavy Weight Torpedo Varunastra, are already in service, with the navy having placed substantial orders for the former. Varunastra has been designed and developed by NSTL, Visakhapatnam and BDL is the Production Agency. DRDO has also developed the Advanced Light Weight Torpedo (ALWT) which is an anti-submarine torpedo launched from ship, helicopter or from a fixed wing aircraft.
The 1.5 tonne Varunastra carries a 250kg warhead and is a ship launched, electrically propelled underwater weapon, equipped with an advanced automatic and remote-controlled guidance system. The new torpedoes have also proven to be accurate, and the navy is said to be extremely pleased with BDL’s product support. BDL launched manufacture of the Varunastra under technological guidance of DRDO in 2020 and later received a contract worth Rs 1,188 crore for supply of 63 of them torpedoes. Deliveries to the Indian Navy commenced in November 2020.
These new Indian torpedoes are also attracting interest from export customers due to their highly competitive cost as compared to other foreign alternatives. Amongst the countries showing interest for TAL is Malaysia. It is now being offered for export to countries in the APAC region and the Middle East. The Myanmar Navy had also placed orders for the TAL in 2017 and additional orders are in the pipeline, with BDL having completed deliveries from the first order a few years ago. The electrically propelled self-homing TAL can be launched from ships and helicopters. It has all digital control and guidance systems and has a high-power sea water activated battery. It carries a 220kg warhead, can operate up to depths of 450m and perform pre-programmed search patterns.
The DRDO is also developing a supersonic missile assisted torpedo system, which was successfully launched from Wheeler Island in Odisha in December, last year. DRDO calls it a ‘next generation missile-based stand-off torpedo delivery system’ which has been designed to enhance ASW capability far beyond conventional torpedo range. The canister-based missile system carries a torpedo, parachute delivery system and release mechanisms. During the recently conducted tests, the missile was launched from a ground mobile launcher and features indigenously developed two stage solid propulsion, electro-mechanical actuators and precision inertial navigation systems.
The most advanced torpedo in service with the Indian Navy is the Raytheon Technologies MK 54 all up round lightweight torpedo which is carried on its Boeing P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA). The torpedo adds a critical capability to these long-range ASW, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, which are capable of broad-area, maritime and littoral operations. The MK 54 programme leverages the most modern torpedo technologies from the MK 50 and MK 48 ADCAP (advanced capability) programmes. It also utilises the proven MK 46 warhead and propulsion subsystems, according to Raytheon. It will also be integrated on the navy’s new MH-60R maritime helicopters, as the MK 54 is the primary weapon for the helicopter’s ASW mission.
In April 2020, the US State Department approved a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to India for 16 MK 54 All Up Round Lightweight Torpedoes (LWT) and three MK 54 exercise torpedoes (MK 54 LWT Kit procurement required) and related equipment for an estimated cost of $63 million. This translated into an October 2021 order worth Rs423 crore for MK54 torpedoes along with expendable Chaff and Flares for navy P-8I aircraft.
Atlas Elektronik continues to offer its SeaHake mod4 fibre-optic wire-guided heavy-weight torpedo to meet Indian requirements. The SeaHake mod4 features an electric motor with very low self-noise for propulsion and offers high speed and long range combined with exceptional stealth characteristics. It has a digital sonar system with a conformal array that can identify multiple targets while identifying and suppressing jammers and decoys. The SeaHake mod4 has a 533 mm (21 inch) standard calibre used for heavyweight torpedoes worldwide.
While naval underwater weapons are in service with all of the world’s major navies, due to the high-complexity and cost of developing such weapons, as few as only five to seven countries are capable of designing and manufacturing such weapons. Russia has exported more than 100 surface ships and submarines, which carry naval underwater weapons.
It is now offering several newly developed torpedoes, including 533 mm torpedoes and 324 mm small torpedoes on the world market. The Russian Project 677E Amur-1650 diesel-electric which is being offered for an Indian submarine requirement is capable of firing torpedoes with ranges of up to 50 kilometres. Kilo Class diesel-electric submarines in service with the Indian Navy are armed with six torpedo tubes with a calibre of 533 mm.
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