Royal Navy’s improved Spearfish torpedo completes another round of trials in Scotland

The upgraded Spearfish heavyweight torpedo will be soon entering service with the navy after extensive trials in Scotland.

Spearfish – the principal weapon of the UK’s Submarine Flotilla against enemy ships and submarines – was ‘fired’ repeatedly at frigate HMS Sutherland (F81) as scientists, engineers and sailors study its performance.

Photo: Royal Navy

Over four days on special ranges near the Kyle of Lochalsh, the improved weapon was put through its paces, testing both software and hardware enhancements – while the Plymouth-based frigate did its utmost to fend off the torpedo’s attacks.

Spearfish has been the Silent Service’s weapon of choice since the early 1990s, though it has never been fired in anger.

The warhead is a good six times more powerful than that carried by the smaller Sting Ray torpedo, fired by ships like Sutherland or launched from Merlin and Wildcat helicopters. It can break the back of frigates, destroyers and similar-sized warships, and take out any underwater threats, according to the navy.

The Royal Navy is investing £270m in upgrading Spearfish, fitting a new warhead, new, safer fuel system, an enhanced electronic ‘brain’ and a new fibre-optic guidance link with its parent submarine to improve its accuracy and lethality.

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A team of around 100 engineers and experts from BAE Systems in Portsmouth have spent nearly six years working on the improved torpedo, which will be introduced to front-line hunter-killer and nuclear-deterrent submarines over the next three years – and in service into the 2050s.

The latest trials are the fourth involving Sutherland – which is purpose-built to hunt down hostile submarines – to help introduce the new Spearfish into service.

Photo: Royal Navy

For the latest workout at the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre, the frigate was assessed to see if she could defeat the new-look Spearfish, using a mix of evasive manoeuvres to evade the torpedo and advanced acoustic counter-measures to lure it away from Sutherland.

“During the trial this week we have put our … training into action, using a variety of underwater sensors to locate and track the weapon,” Able Seaman Matthew Brown from Perth, one of the underwater warfare specialists who’s been tracking Spearfish, said.

“Having one of the most advanced and capable torpedoes in the world fired at you certainly puts the pressure on.”

“This is not the first time Sutherland has contributed to Spearfish trials, and we’re glad to be supporting a small part of a larger Defence programme which will deliver a world class weapon into Service,” Weapon Engineer Officer Lieutenant Commander David Tinsley added.

“A range of military and industrial partners have come together to deliver an efficient trial which in due course will deliver another exciting capability for the Royal Navy.”

Following the torpedo trials, Sutherland moved on to join the Americans, Norwegians and Danes on exercise in the Arctic.

A final trial of Spearfish will take place at BUTEC later in 2020 before the weapon is declared operational and begins being delivered to the submarine fleet, the Royal Navy said.

Earlier this year, the Spearfish Upgrade Programme received a red Delivery Confidence Assessment (DCA) colour rating by the UK Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). The red rating means that successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable as there are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and benefits delivery. The project may neet re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed, IPA believes.

Photo: Royal Navy