Are America’s Aircraft Carriers Vulnerable To Enemy Torpedoes?

Are America’s Aircraft Carriers Vulnerable To Enemy Torpedoes?

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

A new report raises serious concerns.

Key point: A small number of torpedo hits can sink a large warship.

In 2019, an annual report released by the Department of Testing & Evaluation revealed that a potentially revolutionary new torpedo-defense system installed on five American aircraft carriers had proven unsatisfactory and would be withdrawn from service.

The system combined a towed Torpedo Warning System sensor array designed to detect incoming torpedoes with a quick-acting launcher called the Anti-Torpedo Device System (ATTDS) that could spit out a miniature 220-pound Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT) measuring only 171 millimeters in diameter. The CAT torpedo was designed to home in on the incoming torpedo and blast it short of its target.

Starting in 2013, the Navy installed the system on five Nimitz-class super-carriers—the George H. W. Bush, Harry Truman, Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt. You can see a photo of one being fired from its six-cell launcher here.

But in September 2018 the Navy concluded testing and began removing the systems from the ships. Reportedly, they had failed to demonstrate enough improvement to be operationally viable. The Pentagon had by then invested $760 million in the torpedo-defense program of which ATTDS was a part, though other components of the program may still prove successful.

Details on the ATTD’s deficiencies are vague. While it demonstrated “some capability” at intercepting torpedoes, but its reliability was “uncertain,” and its lethality “untested.” The Navy also failed to test it versus simulated foreign torpedoes, relying on U.S.-built torpedoes instead.

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