Submarine Armament: Torpedoes

A torpedo is a long metal cylinder with an explosive warhead, propelled through the water by an internal combustion engine or batteries. Modern torpedoes are wire-guided: a thin wire spooling from the torpedo links it to the submarine's fire control computer, from which guidance commands in the form of digital electronic signals flow. Although torpedoes might still be targeted against surface ships, U.S. submarines during the Cold War usually focused on other submarines

Click diagram to enlarge.

The Mark 48 torpedo is the standard torpedo on all U.S. submarines. First entering service in 1971, it is 19 feet (6 m) long, 21 inches (53 cm) in diameter, and weighs 3,450 pounds (1,565 kg) with a 650-pound (295-kg) explosive warhead. Using a novel piston engine and a pump-jet rather than conventional propellers, the wire-guided Mark 48 has a range of 20 miles (32 km) at a speed of 55 knots (102 km per hour), four times the range and twice the speed of its predecessor, the Mark 37 torpedo of the 1960s. Lent by Naval Historical Center, Courtesy of the Naval Undersea Weapons Center.


Torpedo Fire Control Relay Panel
This relay panel from the torpedo room of USS James K. Polk (SSBN-645) monitored the settings transmitted directly from the fire control computer in the attack center to a torpedo loaded in its tube.


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