The world’s most advanced torpedo has been declared ready for front-line action with the Royal Navy and undergone extensive deep water trials with HMS Audacious (S122) nuclear-powered submarinein the Bahamas. Five of the cutting-edge heavy torpedoes were successfully fired by Audacious – the fourth of the Royal Navy’s Astute-class nuclear-powered submarines – during three days of trials on a special range.
The firings at AUTEC, the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Centre on Andros Island, studied the performance of the weapon at its maximum operating depth and challenged the torpedo’s homing abilities through the introduction of countermeasures. The trials in the Bahamas were the latest in a string of crucial tests on the upgraded heavyweight torpedo since the decision was taken to enhance it in 2010.
The souped-up Spearfish – known as the Mod-1 – features a new warhead, new, safer fuel system, a smarter electronic ‘brain’ and a fibre-optic guidance link with its parent submarine to improve its accuracy and lethality. These trials took place after Initial Operating Capability was achieved, meaning work can now begin turning existing Spearfish into the improved Mod-1 version for entry into operational service with all Royal Navy submarines by 2025.
Spearfish has been the Silent Service’s weapon of choice for taking out foes on and below the waves for nearly 30 years, capable of crippling frigates, destroyers large warships and submarines. Even after initial capability is declared, important data still has to be collected on the torpedo’s performance in a range of environments. That is why Audacious and the Spearfish team headed to AUTEC, the principal proving ground of sub-surface warfare on the world’s oceans.
The ranges off Andros Island – south-west of Nassau – are centred on a 6,000ft deep natural phenomenon, the Tongue of the Ocean, a huge deep-water bowl carved out of coral reef, which resembles the Rolling Stones’ famous tongue logo. To this natural wonder is added humanity’s ingenuity: the tongue is crammed with sensors and hydrophones to record reams of data on how well a submarine or torpedo is performing.