How risky for the US is Russian ‘gas-bubble-maker’ Shkval torpedo

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Imagine the havoc wreaked by torpedoes that move at a mind-boggling speed of 230 miles per hour! Iran and Russia reportedly possess such supercavitating torpedoes, a game-changing weapon that can target submarines and surface ships with unprecedented speed. 

Photo credit: Twitter

But how menacing are these torpedoes really? Doubts linger about their guidance system’s ability to accurately hit moving targets. And it’s unclear exactly how many such torpedoes these nations have at their disposal. Nevertheless, the potential threat cannot be dismissed lightly. Iran could use them against US surface ships in the Strait of Hormuz and other Middle East regions. Russia, on the other hand, might pose a threat to US platforms in the Black Sea and numerous other global locations. 

While Russia and Iran frequently mention their supercavitating torpedoes in press releases, they’re also notorious for exaggerating their weaponry’s capabilities. So, the true magnitude of the threat remains shrouded in mystery. Yet, the Pentagon is probably not taking this lightly. The US, naturally, aims to maintain its undersea dominance and would not risk putting its submarines and surface ships in grave danger.

The million-dollar question is whether these torpedoes can be detected by sonar and if so, can they be intercepted? They might just be too fast for submarines or surface ships to evade. Could variable depth sonar systems, undersea unmanned nodes for long-range detection, electronic warfare, or other countermeasures be the answer? These are the pressing questions we’re faced with, as numerous uncertainties and variables remain to be explored.

Unveiling the mysteries of supercavitating torpedoes

Russia’s VA-111 Shkval, a supercavitating torpedo, has made headlines with its reported speed of 230 mph – a staggering four times faster than most traditional torpedoes which clock in at a mere 28 to 48 mph. This substantial speed gap is an alarming development, potentially increasing the risk to US Navy vessels and submarines trying to evade detection. 

According to the essay, “The Shkval is launched from a standard 533-mm torpedo tube and can dive up to 328 ft [100 m]. Starting at 50 knots [93 kmh], the torpedo’s rocket motor then ignites, propelling the weapon to speeds that are four to five times faster than other conventional torpedoes.”

The intriguing danger of supercavitating torpedoes

SuperCavitating torpedoes represent an astonishing technological advance that might leave you pondering, ‘How could this even be possible?’ As outlined in the enlightening essay on, the propulsion system of these torpedoes incorporates groundbreaking innovations that rewrite the rules. 

Photo credit: SC torpedo

The torpedo’s thrust is supplied by a solid rocket, which astonishingly reaches speeds of up to 230 Mph. The essay elaborates, explaining that this is achieved by “generating a sheath of super cavitating bubbles from its nose and skin, which envelopes the entire weapon in a thin gas layer.” 

This innovative design allows the torpedo’s metal exterior to avoid direct contact with the water, drastically minimizing drag and friction – a truly remarkable feat in naval weaponry.

Unveiling the threat posed by Iran & Russia

The Shkval, with its listed range of a staggering 7,000 meters – equivalent to over 4 miles, presents a formidable threat. This impressive distance and speed of attack could potentially alter the strategic balance for US Navy submarines and surface vessels. 

However, this threat would only materialize if the submarines launching these torpedoes manage to remain undetected or are not destroyed before reaching a firing position. This is especially crucial considering the US Navy’s ultra “quiet” attack and ballistic missile submarines. The Shkval’s key to its speed lies in a technique known as “supercavitation”, brought about by a stable “gas cavity” maintained by a conical disk. 

Photo credit: Navalpost

As described by, “The gas cavity is sustained by rockets venting just above the cavitation. Stability is provided by four pop-out cylinders located near the rear of the nose section, preventing the torpedo body from contacting the bubble walls. At the torpedo’s rear, there are deflected control surfaces. Surrounding the main sustainer rocket are eight smaller rockets. The main engine starts once the weapon has achieved supercavitation speed”.

Unraveling the Iranian intrigue

While Russian supercavitating torpedoes are already the subject of much apprehension, it’s worth noting that Iran’s navy allegedly possesses a similar weapon. As per a Forbes report from a few years back, Iran tested its “Hoot” supercavitating torpedo in the Strait of Hormuz in 2017, adding another layer of complexity to the situation. Is this a game-changer or just another ripple in the water? 

Before we let the tide of fear sweep us away, it’s crucial to understand the caveats of supercavitating torpedoes. Factors like the intricate guidance technology and the conspicuous noise they produce can’t be overlooked. To delve deeper into the subject, let’s turn to the insights shared by a former US Navy officer: 

Photo credit: navalpost

“Due to its phenomenal speed, the SC torpedo is effectively blind and must trust its initial course rendered by its INS. However, its speed also means targets have less time to evade. Despite this advantage, there are significant limitations [except in the case of nuclear warheads]. The SC torpedo communicates with the launching platform via a thin wire trailing from the torpedo to the submarine, allowing the submarine to guide the ‘blind’ torpedo. However, these wires can break. Additionally, the torpedo’s loud noise can interfere with the launching submarine’s ability to detect the target.” 

One might naturally question whether the US Navy possesses a supercavitating torpedo. The answer remains elusive. Some open-source reports affirm their existence, while others deny their deployment. Therefore, we lack sufficient reliable information to conclusively answer this question.


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