Northrop Grumman built and tested an ultralight torpedo for U.S. Navy

The American company Northrop Grumman is developing a new generation of torpedo prototypes that are small and included in the “very light” category. In fact, it has successfully tested the first industry-built Very Lightweight Torpedo (VLWT) for the U.S. Navy. The new ammunition can be launched from several types of aircraft, including the MQ-8C Fire Scout drones.

A representative of the company said that the VLWT torpedo was developed based on the Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory’s (PSU-ARL) design that was distributed to industrial defense manufacturers in 2016. Northrop Grumman improved upon the VLWT baseline design to replace high-cost components and drive overall affordability, reproducibility, and reliability.

As an illustration, the average weight of light class torpedoes is in the range of 230-350 kg, while heavy torpedoes are in the range of 1,500 – 1,700 kg. The mass of the first prototype of a Very Lightweight Torpedo, tested by Northrop Grumman, is only 104 kg. For comparison, the lightest of the torpedoes in service with the U.S. Navy today – Mk.54 Lightweight Torpedo – weighs 276 kg.

The peculiarity of the torpedo is that it does not require special launch systems – it can be dropped from the carrier. The torpedo has a small parachute in the tail section, which is necessary to orient the torpedo nose-down while falling into the water. Once accepted into equipment, the VLWT torpedo will continue to undergo a field trial and evaluation process before being installed on U.S. Navy submarines. Other details about the dashboard have not yet been revealed.

The successful testing of the torpedo nose on the first try is a testament to Northrop Grumman’s design-for-affordability approach, which will significantly reduce cost without sacrificing operational performance,said David Portner, lead torpedo program manager, undersea systems, Northrop Grumman.

In the long-term vision, very light torpedoes such as the VLWT are not only used as offensive and defensive weapons of Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines and Columbia-class nuclear ballistic submarines under development. Its compact dimensions and light weight allow this torpedo to be carried by an unmanned platform.

It is expected that VLWT torpedo units will begin to be equipped first on Virginia Block III and IV class nuclear submarines from 2023.

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