For the most part of the century, the Soviet Union/Russia has been home to one of the most sturdy and reliable pieces of modern machinery, with only the United States coming close to its manufacturing might.
Ranging from advanced Main Battle Tanks (MBT) capable of operating in sub-zero temperatures to fighter jets parading the skies at tremendous speeds, if there is any advanced weaponry out there in the world, the Russians already have it.
Well, while a lot of the focus goes on to the fighter jet developers like the Mikoyan and for Sukhoi for providing advanced fighters like the MiG 29 and the Su-35s, there is an old sea monster locked at the country’s bay which is as venomous as it is rapid.
The VA-111 Shkval torpedo along with its descendants, have been the Soviet Union and then Russia’s answer to enemy submarines and its torpedoes for as long as one can remember.
Originally developed under the Soviets, the supercavitating torpedoes, which were made operational as early as 1977, are capable of speeds in excess of 200 knots (370 km/h or 230 miles/h)
The super-fast torpedoes are designed in a manner that they can conceivably destroy the enemy before it has time to detect or act. The VA-111 torpedo is launched from 533 mm torpedo tubes at 50 knots (93 km/h) before reaching speeds of 200 knots by the use of their solid-fuel rocket ignition.
According to some reports, the torpedoes could also reach speeds of 250+ knots, with work already underway on developing a 300-knot (560 km/h) version.
A San Francisco-based Defense and National-Security writer, Kyle Mizokami, while writing for the National Interest, says – “Imagine the sudden revelation of a weapon that can suddenly go six times faster than its predecessors. The shock of such a breakthrough system would turn an entire field of warfare on its head, as potential adversaries scrambled to deploy countermeasures to a new weapon they are defenseless against.”
With the torpedoes not being nuclear, one can only imagine how much damage they would cost if the Soviet designers had designed it as a means of total destruction rather than having ridiculous speed.
So, one question which arises is how do the Russian torpedoes travel so fast when other ships and underwater weapons can only muster speeds of 50 knots?
Well, while traditional torpedoes utilize propellers or pumpjets for propulsion underwater, the Shkval torpedoes make use of a rocket engine. However, that alone will not allow the torpedoes to travel at speeds of up to 200 knots mainly because the water creates drag problems for it.
But the Soviet designers had accounted for that barrier already and their solution for it was to vaporize the water around the torpedo as it travels underwater.
The Shkval was installed with a hot rocket exhaust out of its nose, which converted the water into steam, so when it moved forward, it created a thin bubble of gas by vaporizing the water.
As the torpedo traveled through gas, it encountered much less drag, which enabled it to travel mighty fast, with the entire process being labeled as supercavitation.
However, the only drawback of the standard 533-millimeter torpedo which carried a 460-pound warhead was that its rocket engine was very noisy, and would immediately give away the position of the launch submarine to the enemy.
However, the issue was covered by the speed of the torpedo which gave no room and time for the enemy submarine to act upon, as within seconds of the launch, the submarine would not only have to encounter the torpedo but a submarine coming at you in no time.