By Luca Peruzzi
Unveiled for the first time during Euronaval 2014, Leonardo’s Black Scorpion miniature torpedo is currently under qualification, the process being on track to satisfy “a number” of undisclosed customers, said Leonardo. The company did not disclosed when the qualification process will be completed, which according to previously released information is planned for 2021.
To be launched from underwater, surface and airborne platforms, the Black Scorpion miniature torpedo concept takes into consideration the growing concern of increasing anti-submarine warfare operations in highly cluttered and shallow coastal waters, in which sensors and weapons must operate in very critical environmental conditions. In these scenarios the increasing threats consist of midgets, Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) and Underwater Unmanned Vehicles (UUVs), which are capable to navigate at very low speed in silent mode and to seat on the bottom for a long time.
The mini-torpedo development was connected to an operational need for a weapon capable of forcing the threat to unveil itself, thus accelerating the classification process, and to avoid the use of expensive conventional torpedoes to neutralize it.
Leveraging experiences from former WASS’s development of the Low Cost Anti-submarine Weapon (LCAW) programme in the late 1980s, highly resistant structure and miniaturized technologies from the Moving Target Emulator (MTE) decoy as well as latest development in acoustic processing and battery from the Black Shark Advanced (BSA) heavyweight torpedo programme, Leonardo developed the Black Scorpion to behave and emit as a lightweight torpedo launched by an airborne or naval platform.
The Black Scorpion is 1.1 meters long and its body has a 127 mm diameter being, based “more or less” on Leonardo’s new MJTE anti-torpedo decoy system, in order to be compatible with both the airborne sonobuoy type A launchers and ship-based lightweight or integrated decoy launching systems. The air-delivered weapon weighs 11 kg, is equipped with an electrical motor and can operate from shallow waters up to sea depths of 200 meters.
With a top speed in excess of 12 knots and a 2.8 kg PBX-type explosive omni-directional charge fitted with an impact, time delay or flat battery mode fuse, the Black Scorpion can be preselected by the launching platform thanks to a magnetic interface to follow specific operating modes, including the capacity of setting selected search areas and depths to protect friendly platforms.
As anticipated, the Black Scorpion has been conceived to be launched from lightweight tubes (and canisters from surface vessels) by midgets and submarines; specifically-developed external lightweight launching tubes (B534 model) attached on both sides of the platform allow a 250 tonnes midget to carry a total of 12 weapons, six per side. Detailing the underwater platforms use, considering a, the mini-torpedoes can be transported and fired from small fast inshore attack crafts, helicopters and drones. Thanks to the specifically-developed canister and launcher tubes (B537 + B538), the Black Scorpion can i.e. equip small manned and unmanned surface systems such as Leonardo’s 10-meters Commando 40 high-speed platform.
The company is currently integrating the mini-torpedo on board unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and midgets. As soon as a customer requirement will emerge, the next step will see testing and trials with UAVs. The company has already conducted a feasibility study and identified the system to deploy the Black Scorpion from such platforms.
Theoretically the Black Scorpion can be used as hard-kill torpedo system, but based on the fact that the platform protection must exceed 70%, and that hard-kill torpedo systems are closely connected to the accuracy of the collected target data which are highly dependent on environmental conditions, Leonardo demonstrated that soft-kill anti-torpedo systems are a proven and better defensive solution compared to the hard-kill torpedo technology.
Leonardo unveiled that the Black Scorpion has already bagged a number of undisclosed contracts for various customers without specifying further. In the past marketing activities were mostly concentrated in the Middle East and Asia, where potential operators are finding an increased underwater threat and are looking to procure underwater platforms and weapons to protect their waters.
Photos courtesy Luca Peruzzi