It was in the late 1980s that the DRDO’s Vizag-based Naval Science and Technological Laboratory (NSTL) initiated R & D work on developing three types of torpedoes: a lightweight torpedo, a heavyweight electric torpedo, and a heavyweight thermal torpedo.
The first, known as Torpedo Advanced Light (TAL), was meant to be a 220kg torpedo capable of being launched from warships and helicopters, have a top speed of 33 Knots in both deep and shallow waters, incorporate a self-homing guidance system, and was to be powered by electric batteries which would last for six minutes. It was only in 1998 that the TAL’s technical trials began, while user-trials commenced only by 2007. The IN began service-inducting the BDL-built TALs in 2011.
It was on December 24, 2008 that the NSTL had stated that the ‘Varunastra’ heavyweight electric torpedo being developed by it will be ready for service-entry by 2009. The Varunastra, weighing 1.5 tonnes, having a length of 7.6 metres and a 40km-range, was meant to be launched from shipborne twin-tube launchers already developed indigenously by Larsen & Toubro. However, it was only on September 26, 2013 that the NSTL stated that it had completed the creation of state-of-the-art facilities required for the design, testing and prototype production of heavyweight torpedoes like the Varunastra, meaning user-trials of the Varunastra were then still two years away. The initial order for 63 Varunastras will be fulfilled by Bharat Dynamics Ltd.
The NSTL-developed Shakti thermal torpedo runs on monopropellant fuel, which can burn without oxygen and so is useful in underwater operations. Under development since 1996, the NSTL took nearly seven years to develop the engine and fuel for Shakti. The monopropellant fuel can generate 400kW of power and enable the Shakti to move at faster speeds (almost double that of an electric torpedo) and at depths of up to 600 metres. Technical trials of the Shakti are still underway in shallow waters, and user-trials won’t commence till 2016 at best.
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