The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) tested a Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo ( DRDO SMART) system on 5th October from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha. As per DRDO release ‘SMART is a missile assisted release of lightweight Anti-Submarine Torpedo System for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) operations far beyond Torpedo range’. Subsequent to the launch the DRDO termed it as a ‘game-changer’ and ‘a first for such a class of weapon in the world.’
Although both the claims are correct, the concept is not new. The Russian Metel Anti-Ship Complex does the same job for shorter ranges. The Metel Anti-Ship Complex (SS-N-14 Silex) are a family of anti-submarine missiles fitted on Russian Navy cruisers and frigates. One of the missile types, a shaped charge (‘Rastrub’), can be used against both surface and submarine targets. The United States Navy (USN) has the ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket) system. The Chinese too have similar systems called the CY series, the YU-8 and the ET-80. Not much is known about them.
The concept behind the rocket-assisted torpedo system is to keep the submarine-hunting Surface Ship far away from the target. Take the case of INS Khukri (F149), a Type 14 obsolete Blackwood-class frigate, during the 1971 war. The Indian Navy Radio surveillance detected a submarine about 56 km south-west of Diu harbour. INS Khukri along with her sister ship INS Kirpan was sent to hunt the submarine. INS Khukri was testing an improved version of the 170/174 sonar but at slow speeds, a mistake during submarine hunting. The submarine PNS Hangor, a Daphné-class submarine, detected the two ships first and fired at them resulting in the sinking of INS Khukri. Fortunately, Kirpan escaped as the torpedo did not explode.
Standoff Range Anti-Submarine warfare
Submarines making surface ships embarrassed is not a new story as the hunter-killer submarines are meant for the role. In 2006, a Russian made Project 636, the Improved Kilo-class submarine, in service with the Chinese PLA Navy (PLAAN) followed the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan for ‘at least half a day.’ In 2007, HSwMS Gotland, A Swedish Navy submarine, managed to snap several pictures of USS Ronald Reagan during a wargaming exercise in the Pacific Ocean. These are two well-known examples of the submarine threat to surface warships. The latest submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) CM-708 UNB, produced by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), is estimated to have a range of about 290 kilometres (180 miles). It makes it difficult for the Indian Navy surface ships to perform Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) roles. The point being made is the stealth and the increasing range of anti-ship missiles make life difficult for surface ships.
The Russians and the Americans faced this problem back in the 1960s and developed the Metel and ASROC systems respectively. In the case of Metel, a missile carries an underslung anti-submarine torpedo which is released over the suspected location of the target submarine. During the 1990s the Russians had proposed a 250 KM range YP-85 system for export. The current generation RUM-139 VL-ASROC carries a lightweight Mark 46 homing torpedo that is dropped from the rocket at a precalculated point on its trajectory and then parachuted into the sea. This system has a range of just 22 Kms.
The DRDO SMART has a larger range and a faster delivery system. The DRDO SMART boasts of a range of up to 650 Kms riding on a supersonic carrier missile. It is designed to be launched from a truck or a surface ship. In-flight, the low flying carrier missile can communicate with the target detection system via a two-way data link. The carrier can change its course if needed. Once the missile reaches the submerged target, it decelerates with a Velocity Reduction Mechanism (VRM) and ejects the torpedo.
When the SMART system is formally introduced into the service of the Indian Navy, the Chinese will be forced to use only the nuclear submarines to operate near the Indian waters as the diesel-electric submarines run a greater risk of getting detected and hunted while passing near the Indian waters. A standoff range of 650 Kms also puts Pakistani submarines at risk even in their safe harbours like Karachi and Gwadar.