Northrop Grumman Reveals New Mini Torpedo That Could Arm Navy Submarines In

Northrop Grumman has built and tested a new Very Lightweight Torpedo, derived from an earlier U.S. Navy-funded design. The company says it will submit this weapon as an option for that service’s Compact Rapid Attack Weapon program[1], which is looking to develop a miniature torpedo that can also act as anti-torpedo interceptor[2] and field them first on some Virginia class submarines[3] within the next three to four years.

The Virginia-headquartered defense contractor first revealed the weapon[4], also referred to by the abbreviation VLWT, on May 21, 2020. The firm says this is the first industry-built torpedo of its kind and that it privately funded the development. However, it is based on design documentation for a Common Very Lightweight Torpedo (CVLWT) that Pennsylvania State University’s Applied Research Laboratory (PSU-ARL) had developed for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and which the service had distributed to defense contractors in 2016. The War Zone had previously written a deep dive into the PSU-ARL design and its potential applications, which you can find here[5].

“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,” David Portner, the Lead Torpedo Program Manager at Northrop Grumman’s Undersea Systems division, said in a press release.

Visually, Northrop Grumman’s VLWT is very similar visually to ARL’s CVLWT design and also uses a Stored Chemical Energy Propulsion System[6] (SCEPS) to propel the weapon. The SCEPS in the earlier CVLWT consists of a solid block of lithium that then gets bathed in sulfur hexafluoride gas, which triggers a very energetic chemical reaction. The resulting steam drives a turbine that powers the torpedo’s single screw. SCEPS, which already in use in more traditionally-sized torpedos, is known for being able to rapidly accelerate the weapon compared to other propulsion methods.

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