As the top-tier Columbia-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine program surges forward with keel laying and additional production, the high-priority platforms have been tasked with ensuring the survival of the United States and its allies by ensuring catastrophic retaliation in the event of a nuclear attack. Due to their critical role in the realm of strategic deterrence, Columbia-class submarines are perhaps best known for their upgraded Trident II D5 nuclear missiles, which have received life-extension upgrades and bring the possibility of multiple re-entry vehicles and the use of a low-yield variant.
However, Columbia-class submarines are not only armed with nuclear weapons; they will also carry new, upgraded variants of the Navy’s Mk 48 ADCAP, an advanced capability torpedo, according to a just-published Naval Sea Systems Command report.
“The Mk 48 ADCAP torpedo is a heavyweight acoustic-homing torpedo with sophisticated sonar, all-digital guidance and control systems, digital fusing systems, and propulsion improvements,” a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman told the National Interest back in 2018.
Many of these innovations built into the Mk 48 ADCAP, which has been in development for years, are now more fully coming to fruition as the first Columbia-class boat comes to life. Delivery of the first boat, now named USS District of Columbia, is slated for 2027. Its first patrol is scheduled for 2031.
Naturally, having a functional and more advanced torpedo affords the Navy an opportunity to hit enemies more effectively and at further standoff ranges, therefore helping the United States compete with Russia and China, its emerging undersea rivals. The Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo is the anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare weapon for all classes of U.S. Navy submarines, including the Virginia class and the future Columbia class.
A Mk 48 torpedo is twenty-one inches in diameter and weighs 3,520 pounds; it can destroy targets at ranges out to five miles and travels at speeds greater than twenty-eight knots. Moreover, the weapon can operate at depths greater than 1,200 feet and fires a 650-pound high-explosive warhead.
Navy efforts to pursue new torpedo technologies are happening alongside a concurrent effort to upgrade the existing arsenal. For several years now, the Navy has been focusing its developmental emphasis on the Mk 48 as a way to address its aging arsenal, with the service restarting production on the Mk 48 torpedo mod 7 in 2016.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.