Royal Navy’s New Upgraded Spearfish Torpedo Completes Extensive Trials, Set to Enter Service


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he UK Royal Navy’s new upgraded Spearfish torpedo is on the cusp of entering service after extensive trials in Scotland.

The upgraded Spearfish was ‘fired’ repeatedly at Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland (F81) as scientists, engineers and sailors study its performance.

Over four days on special ranges near the Kyle of Lochalsh, the improved weapon was put through its paces, testing both software and hardware enhancements – while the Plymouth-based frigate did its utmost to fend off the torpedo’s attacks.

The latest trials are the fourth involving Sutherland – which is purpose-built to hunt down hostile submarines – to help introduce the new Spearfish, the principal weapon of the UK’s Submarine Flotilla against enemy ships and submarines, into service.

For the latest workout at the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC) – a stretch of water between Skye and the Scottish mainland which is ten kilometres long, six wide, up to 200 metres deep and peppered with state-of-the-art sensors – the frigate was assessed to see if she could defeat the new-look Spearfish, using a mix of evasive manoeuvres to evade the torpedo and advanced acoustic counter-measures to lure it away from Sutherland. Following the torpedo trials, Sutherland moved on to join the Americans, Norwegians and Danes on exercise in the Arctic.

A final trial of Spearfish will take place at BUTEC later in 2020 before the weapon is declared operational and begins being delivered to the submarine fleet.

Spearfish torpedo is the principal weapon of the UK’s Submarine Flotilla against enemy ships and submarines. The torpedo has been the Silent Service’s weapon of choice since the early 1990s, though it has never been operationally fired.

The weapon’s warhead is around six times more powerful than that carried by the smaller Sting Ray torpedo, fired by ships like Sutherland or launched from Merlin and Wildcat helicopters. It can break the back of frigates, destroyers and similar-sized warships, and take out any underwater threats. The Royal claims it to be the world’s most advanced torpedo.

The Royal Navy is investing £270 million in upgrading Spearfish, fitting a new warhead, new, safer fuel system, an enhanced electronic ‘brain’ and a new fibre-optic guidance link with its parent submarine to improve its accuracy and lethality.

A team of around 100 engineers and experts from BAE Systems in Portsmouth have spent nearly six years working on the improved torpedo, which will be introduced to front-line hunter-killer and nuclear-deterrent submarines over the next three years – and in service into the 2050s.


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