While the war in Europe against Russian aggression has led to a marked increase in defence investment, particularly for land-based platforms, from HIMARS to MBTs, the US and its Asia-Pacific allies appear to be shoring up their naval warfare investment.

As Russian forces appear to be contained as a regional level threat, the US is starting to turn an eye to another autocratic regime that poses an equally sinister threat in the Far East.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been testing the limits of the so-called rule-based order by illegally asserting authority over swathes of territory in the South China Sea (SCS), including the autonomous country of Taiwan. This leads to a greater need for maritime support in the Asia-Pacific region.

Recently, on the 24 February, the US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded two contracts to support the MK 48 Mod 7 Heavyweight Torpedo Programme.

The first was awarded to Science Application International Corp. (SAIC). The Virginia-based technology company was given $102m to exercise options for the production, spares, production support material, engineering support and hardware repair of components for the MK 48 Heavyweight Torpedo All Up Round.

The second contract of $16m was awarded to Lockheed Martin for engineering and maintenance services at Intermediate Maintenance Activity, Peral Harbor, Hawaii in support of the MK 48 torpedo efforts.

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The MK 48 MOD 7 torpedo is the result of a Joint Development Programme with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and reached IOC in 2006. The MK 48 MOD 7 hardware upgrade has enabled further software improvements to the MK 48 that provide increased capability in the most challenging scenarios.

In the details of the contract awarded to SAIC, the DoD specifies that this contract combines purchases to support the US Navy (USN), the RAN and the government of Taiwan, under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

Strengthening the capabilities of the USN in response to Chinese provocation is nothing new. The USN is already seeing enhanced weapons systems to their frigates as well as the gradual progress of the navy’s DDG(X) programme. Although, the fact that the DoD is supplying Australia and Taiwan with the MK 48 demonstrates the start of the US Government’s preparations for a potential future conflict.

Underwater warfare system investment

The research firm GlobalData holds a vast amount of data in its report on the Global Underwater Warfare System (UWS) Market.

It is reported that in the Asia-Pacific region, torpedoes are the UWS with the second highest compound annual growth rate (CAGR) at 4.02%, which follows the torpedo counter measure systems and decoys USW with a CAGR of 4.76%.

The PRC leads as the largest forecasted procurer of torpedoes for 2023 – out of countries in and around the SCS – spending $49.5m. Taiwan follows, with $36.3m. Then South Korea with $19.3m, Japan with $16.8m, and Australia with $16.4m to name a few.

The US alone, however, is expected to spend over $151m in 2023.

This data gives a sense of the demand for USWs as countries stockpile naval weapon systems in preparation for the potential future conflict with the PRC in the SCS.

Sonar capability

In their Global Naval Vessels and Surface Combatants Market Report, 2023-2033, GlobaData states that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is the Asia-Pacific region’s largest navy, with more than 300 surface combatants.

It is for this reason that the USN has recently been jolted into producing more frigates to meet their own force-structure goal of 355 ships, to supersede China’s count.

But Lockheed Martin has rendered the MK 48 torpedo a highly modernised weapon system that will likely have a high lethality rate against PLAN’s vast, but ageing fleet. When it comes down to it, quality trumps quantity.

What makes the MK 48 Mod 7 Heavyweight torpedo so effective is its sonar system according to lead manufacturer of the torpedo: Lockheed Martin.

The company states that the sonar systems for “guidance and control systems will equip the heavyweight torpedoes with increased bandwidth and streamlined targeting and tracking capabilities”.