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In a race with Russia, our torpedoes are tortoises

January 2, 2018 at 5:53 PM

The Russian submarine Dmitry Donskoy, the largest in active service, arrives at the Kronstadt naval base outside St. Petersburg last year. (OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)

In his Dec. 28 letter, "Another Russian submarine surprise?," Norman Polmar discussed continual Russian submarine development compared with the United States initiating "a new submarine design every decade or two." Just as big a surprise to most Americans should be how far ahead of the United States Russia has been in torpedo development. The Russian VA-111 Shkval torpedo uses supercavitation (creation of an envelope of air around the torpedo, enabling the weapon to travel 200 knots). It was created more than 20 years ago, and a version now under development may reach 300 knots. The current U.S. Mark 48 torpedo travels 55 knots. We have an experimental supercavitation torpedo under development but are far behind the Russians who pioneered this technology.

Surprises won't be coming from only Russia. China, which has never been a sea power, is well on its way to becoming one: There are indications that China is developing a supercavitation submarine that could hit speeds far in excess of what our or any other subs can do. The present U.S. situation has some things in common with the beginning of World War II, when our torpedoes were probably the worst in the world and our subs were nothing compared with those of Japan and Germany.

Peter I. Hartsock, Laytonsville

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