Box 1.1 Approximate 20-Year Period for Transition to New-technology Torpedo

Change from MK 37 to MK 48

  • Antisubmarine warfare was the top Navy priority

  • Full production capabilities

  • Experienced personnel

    • Design and develop operations evaluation and initial operating capability: ~9 years

    • Solve reliability problems: ~4 years

    • Develop fire control modifications and train people: ~7 years

Change from MK 46 to MK 50

  • Development started in 1972

  • FY89 Secretary of Defense Annual Report stated, “We now anticipate cost increases and a 21-month delay in MK-50 full-scale development program.”

  • MK 50 finally passed operation evaluation OTIIB in 1992.

SOURCE: John Zittel, “Undersea Weapons S&T,” Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, N84T, Washington, D.C.,briefing to the committee, October 18, 1999.

part of ONR's undersea weapons S&T program that does not include any of these other kinds of weapons but that includes primarily torpedoes and torpedo countermeasures. Nevertheless, in its discussions of the Department of the Navy's future needs and responsibilities for undersea weapons, the committee believed that a broader perspective was needed, including not only torpedoes but also mines and other weapons that spend some time undersea.

The Navy's current inventory of torpedoes includes the heavyweight (submarine-launched) MK 48 and the lightweight (ship- or air-launched) MK 46 and the newer MK 50. These are based on designs and upgrades over the past 30 to 50 years. Historically, torpedoes have been developed on a 15- to 20-year cycle, as shown in Box 1.1. The MK-48 heavyweight can be used in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and in antisurface warfare; the lightweight MK 46 and MK 50 can be used primarily for ASW. The MK-54 lightweight hybrid torpedo has a faster developmental schedule and is low cost.

With the end of the Cold War, in the early 1990s, the focus of naval strategy moved to the littorals. In littoral waters, depths can vary considerably. In deeper littoral waters, the Cold War-type challenges of quiet submarines and torpedo counter-countermeasures remain. In shallow littoral waters, the ASW problem is even more complex and difficult because of the available countermeasures, the environment, and the stealthiness and small size of undersea diesel-electric submarines, all of which challenge the performance of the Navy's undersea detection and weapons systems.

During this same post-Cold War period, Navy funding for torpedoes has been drastically reduced, as shown in Figure 1.1. While the overall Navy budget has dropped some 33 percent and its acquisition budget 42 percent,1 the budget for torpedoes has gone down by a factor of 7. There is currently no U.S.


Naval Studies Board, National Research Council. 1997. Recapitalizing the Navy: A Strategy for Managing the Infrastructure, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., p. 11.

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