Navy Planning Torpedo Restart, Would Be Modular Design With Multiple Payloads

October 29, 2015 10:43 AM

A MK-46 exercise torpedo is launched from the deck of Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) in 2007. US Navy Photo
A MK-46 exercise torpedo is launched from the deck of Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) in 2007. US Navy Photo
The Navy hopes to restart its heavyweight torpedo program after a more than 15-year hiatus in production, but those plans could be hampered by a long-term continuing resolution.

Director of Undersea Warfare Rear Adm. Charles Richard left no doubt about his need for the program: “I have to go get that line started,” he said last week at the annual Naval Submarine League symposium.

Program Executive Office for Submarines Executive Director George Drakeley said at the same event that the submarine community is currently limited to the Mk 54 lightweight torpedo, the Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo and the Tomahawk missile.

“That’s really not that great, that’s not a good state of affairs,” he said.
“Now there’s a number of programs in the [research and development] area that I can’t discuss here, but we are looking at other weapons – but I say to the community we need to do a better job giving the warfighter more weapons here.”

And that limited selection of weapons is aging, he said. Discussing the Mk 48 Mod 7, the newest of the torpedoes, Drakeley said, “we refurbish these, we use them a lot, we fire them for training and then bring them back and refurb and reuse, but they’re getting old. And though when you look at the picture of it it looks like it’s kind of a modular weapon, we really have only been upgrading the forward part with the sonars and the electronics. So in the torpedo restart, we are going to be making this a truly modular design that you can pull out a section and plug in different payloads or different propulsion systems or different fuel supplies, and so as you’re developing the payloads you ought to be thinking about how you integrate with the modular Mk 48 some new capabilities and the like.”

But Richard said the ability to get that modular, plug-and-play torpedo off the ground could be hurt by the budget. The Navy is currently operating under a continuing resolution, which funds the government at last year’s levels until December. Congress appears to have reached a two-year budget deal to provide some relief from the Budget Control Act spending levels, but it is unclear if Congress will be able to pass a line-by-line spending bill by December or if the continuing resolution will be extended.

“That’s a body blow in terms of my ability to get the resources and get them into the hands of those program managers so that we can go and make torpedoes. That’s next to impossible under a continuing resolution,” Richard said.
“So I’ve got to start making torpedoes.”

“And then what I have to do is I have to come up with an entirely new array of schwackage options that I can go give the fleet,” he said, echoing Drakeley’s call for additional payloads.
“That includes both undersea, that’s with the heavyweight torpedo capabilities, as well as an expanded missile portfolio. High on my expanded portfolio list is we have to figure out how to go get back in the anti-surface ship missile business. And then behind that, large and small diameter UUVs.”

Director of Naval Reactors Adm. Frank Caldwell said at the same event last week that the Navy is pursuing adding anti-ship missiles back to its sub fleet to bring it in line with the rest of the world’s fleets.

“For this audience, I’ll tell you we are considering that and we are taking some some steps to delivering that kind of capability to our submarine force and I can’t really say anymore than that,” he said.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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