Russian Tech Transfer to Iran Creates a “Squall”

In the last week of March, 2006, Iran announced the successful test of a new, high-speed torpedo code-named “Hoot” by NATO. Iran accompanied the news with the boast that at a speed of 210 knots, the new torpedo is four times as fast as such US stalwarts as the Mk 46 and Mk 48 torpedoes and is thus “unavoidable” by its intended target.

The new Iranian weapon is apparently based upon Russia’s VA-111 Shkval (Squall) torpedo. The Shkval is a high-speed supercavitating rocket-propelled torpedo originally designed to be a rapid-reaction defense against US submarines. Basically an underwater missile, the solid-rocket propelled torpedo achieves its speed by producing an envelope of supercavitating bubbles from its nose and skin, which coat the entire weapon surface in a thin layer of gas. This drastically reduces what would be metal-to-water friction. The torpedo leaves the torpedo tube at 50 knots, then lights its rocket motor. In tests in the 1990s the Shkval reportedly had an 80 percent kill probability at a range almost four nautical miles, although steerability was reportedly limited.

The reliability of such rocket-propelled torpedoes remains uncertain. The much publicized loss of the Russian submarine “Kursk” was, according to some sources, likely due to an accidental rocket motor start of such a torpedo while still aboard the boat.

Developed as a conventional explosive weapon, it is unknown if it can also carry a larger and heavier nuclear warhead. News of this new Iranian weapon was accompanied by the announcement that Iran had also tested a new ballistic missile, the Fajr-3, which employs some stealth technology and carries several warheads.

Iran’s possession and successful testing of this weapon is troublesome for several reasons. One is Iran’s increasing belligerence, especially towards nuclear-armed Israel (which is estimated to have at least 200 nuclear weapons and the missiles and submarines to deliver them) as well as an almost equal antipathy towards the US. Another reason to worry is Russia’s apparent intent to continue close economic ties with Iran and the resulting transfer of its technology to this Islamic state run by fanatics and others who are apparently just plain nuts.

Iran is believed to have three late-model Kilo class SSKs bought from Russia, eight mini-subs purchased from North Korea, and several older boats of unknown type. The navy has several dozen fast attack boats that might carry the new torpedo but whose capabilities are in other ways modest. Its small fleet of P-3K “Orion” aircraft could conceivably also carry such a torpedo although it is unknown if Iran plans to match its Orions with the Hoot. Iran’s navy is the smallest of its armed forces.

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