Torpedo capabilities

There was a time around the turn of the decade that a scare was created by reports that China has achieved the capability of sinking an aircraft carrier with a hypersonic cruise missile at a distance of nearly 2000 km. The Chinese preferred to call it the “carrier killer” and predicted the removal of the carrier from the order of battle because of its vulnerability, leaving China to push its geo-political ambitions (the assimilation) of Formosa (Taiwan) without hindrance from America.

At about the same time India and Russia jointly created the Brahmos cruise missile. It has proved to be an extremely versatile weapon fulfilling the requirements of the Army (surface-to-surface on land), the Air Force (air-to-surface), the Navy (ship-to-ship) and submarine to ship/land targets. It is the only supersonic missile in the world (three times the speed of sound) and improvements have already been incorporated in the second generation lot that will fly at hypersonic speed of up to seven times the speed of sound. This capability will give the missile a kinetic kill many times greater than its own mass as it smashes into its target.

The Indian Navy has been transformed by indigenously developed missiles. The new ships coming out of Indian shipyards are fitted with homemade missiles and the older ones are being retrofitted when midlife modernization takes place. Innovations and modifications are galore. For instance, the Prithvi which originally was a surface-to-surface weapon was very nearly simultaneously converted to a ship borne missile renamed Dhanush which is a ballistic missile which arrives on target in a parabolic curve instead of a straight trajectory and it is not sea-skimming like the Brahmos.

Another Prithvi variant now shoots straight upwards instead of the horizontal trajectory of the original, thereby creating India’s Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor known as Prithvi Air Defence System (PADS).

India’s arsenal

All missiles in the Indian arsenal can be fitted with both conventional warheads (high explosive/armour piercing) as well as nuclear warheads of up to 300 kg which is an indicator of the expertise India has acquired not just in the delivery systems but also in the miniaturization of the warhead to fit such missiles.

As far as the Brahmos missile is concerned it has a range above 300 km and its indigenous guidance system uses inputs from the GPS, the Russian Glonass and India’s own Gagan constellation of satellites for mid-course and terminal guidance assisted for last-minute homing by on-board radar which gives it an accuracy of one meter.

In the context of naval warfare the fact that the Brahmos missile can travel at a height of between three to four meters with an accuracy of one meter means that if it approaches an enemy ship from the side (especially an aircraft carrier) the vessel would provide a big target given that the ship would be more than 30 meters above the waterline and about 300 meters in length. It would provide a perfect target. The explosion of the Brahmos warhead amid ship of any kind could very likely cause the superstructure to break up. Much the same logic applies to the hit from a Dhanush missile even though it is of the sub-supersonic category.

The Navy also has in its arsenal the formidable Russian Klub missile which has the disconcerting tendency to accelerate to supersonic once a lock-on has been achieved on target. The increase in speed adds to the kinetic kill capability of the warhead leading to devastating results. The Indian Navy Kilo class submarines are equipped with the Klub missiles as are the indigenous stealth Shivalik and the Talwar frigates.


There is another aspect to the strike components of naval war platforms. These are the torpedoes in the aggressive mode and active towed array sonar for defence against lurking enemy submarines and their torpedoes.

After a great deal of trial and error the Naval Science and Technology Laboratory produced the advanced light torpedo named Shyena after overcoming the glitches that surfaced in the transition from air launch by helicopter and the splashdown in the sea when it was violently jolted. Having overcome that disability the Shyena has been fitted with sensors that have a special relevance to submarine warfare in the Indian Ocean region where the ocean temperatures vary at different depths and during day and night with thermal layers totally unrelated in temperature from each other.

The new Indian torpedo is able to make the swift transition from warm to cold and vice versa to be able to detect and engage enemy submarines.    

The Shyena can be launched from helicopter as well as the triple-tube launchers on the deck of warships. It has a range of seven kilometers and a warhead of 50 kg of high explosive. The torpedo is electrically propelled, and can target submarines with a speed of 33 knots with endurance of six minutes in both shallow and deep waters. It can operate at depths of a few hundred meters and has self-homing, which means it can home in on targets by passive/active homing and explode on impact. Once launched, it can perform pre-programmed search patterns for available targets.

In the heavy torpedo category the DRDO’s indigenous Varunastra has been undergoing tests for the better part of a year. Attempts to buy heavy torpedoes from abroad were hit by the controversy over the VVIP helicopter in which the Italian firm Finmeccanica was involved. Because of that scam the torpedo project too has been delayed as its subsidiary was the leading contender for the torpedo deal. In the meanwhile DRDO is in the process of upgrading the torpedoes in its arsenal with the inclusion of low frequency sonar in the target acquisition electronic suites. Navy is in the selection process for firms to upgrade the existing torpedoes and extend their life by another 15 years.

Also on the shopping list has been the active towed array sonar. The Navy has confirmed an immediate requirement for six such sonar systems. The first lot will be allotted to the Delhi-class destroyers and the Talwar-class frigates of the Navy. The contract winning company would be required to transfer the technology of the ATAS system to Indian defence public sector Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to produce 10 more of the sonar for the Kolkata-class destroyers, Shivalik-class frigates and the Kamorta-class corvettes.

Together these systems make a formidable combination in defence and in offensive mode and the Indian Navy is grappling with circumstances to be able to conduct its upgradation and modernization program as scheduled.