Development of weapons for antisubmarine and surface warfare is accelerating as navies field advanced submarines. Italian underwater warfare specialist WASS is developing a torpedo for this mission, Flash Black, which is to be completed by year-end.

The 324-mm light torpedo makes extensive use of carbon and lightweight aluminum alloys. It has four modules: guidance, warhead, battery and propulsion. The propulsion system uses rechargeable lithium-polymer batteries, a new feature for a light torpedo. The batteries allow the torpedo to be used up to 30 times in exercises, which is not only a first for a light torpedo, WASS says, but more than the number possible with heavyweight exercise torpedoes.

Flash Black has a top speed of more than 50 kt., and engages targets well beyond 20 km (12.4 mi.), at depths of 1 to more than 600 meters (3.3-1,968 ft.). It is fitted with an advanced acoustic guidance head, which has a detection range of more than 3,000 meters in active mode and over 4,000 meters in passive mode. Wire guidance is an option, and the weapon can use a wake-homing attack mode. The torpedo can also be employed in salvos, with more than one weapon conducting simultaneous attacks against one or multiple targets.

Flash Black is a multipurpose weapon. Its main job is to attack conventional and nuclear-powered submarines and midget boats, cruising or lying in wait on the sea bottom, in blue water as well as the littorals. It can attack surface vessels as well, inflicting heavy damage on small and medium-size ships. The weapon could be used for non-lethal attacks against merchant vessels—for example, to disable the propulsion system of a large ship seized by pirates. Flash Black can also perform hard-kill attacks, with high hit probability against enemy torpedoes.

In addition, surface vessels, helicopters or fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft (operating over water at least 25 meters deep) can deploy the weapon. An adaptor is available so that submarines can fire Flash Black from standard 533-mm torpedo tubes. A submarine armed with heavyweight torpedoes will benefit from a less lethal weapon such as Flash Black, WASS contends, since it can be tactically desirable in some circumstances, allowing a commander to graduate the lethality of attack. Flash Black can also arm unmanned vehicles —surface, underwater and airborne.

WASS says it can deliver the torpedo within 36 months of a signed contract.

Flash Black's relatively rapid development stems from the company's experience with torpedoes. Beyond heavyweight versions such as the A184 and new Black Shark, WASS developed the A244/S light torpedo, which has been continuously updated—the company recently completed the Mod.3 variant. Sixteen customers have procured more than 1,000 units of this model. WASS also partnered with Thales/DCNS in development of the MU90, more than 1,000 of which have been produced.

Flash Black offers many features of the MU90, one of the most advanced weapons on the market, though reportedly at a more competitive price. It is going to be slightly more expensive than the A244, and be competitively priced with the U.S. Navy's Raytheon Mk 54 lightweight torpedo. The company projects demand for 800-1,000 units in 10-15 years.

WASS paid a lot of attention to reducing life-cycle and maintenance costs of Flash Black. It intends major scheduled maintenance to be performed once every five years, with comprehensive overhauls every 10 years. Through use of a dedicated portable PC, it will be possible to check and verify the weapon's condition and status during deployments.

WASS also has unveiled Black Snake, a towed acoustic curtain for torpedo detection. It works in automatic or semiautomatic mode, and can be integrated with a combat management system or used as a standalone. Black Snake works at low frequency (tens of kilohertz) to optimize detection. The frequencies allow the system to be small, light and compact; the curtain is 500 meters long, and the array is stored on a 1.5 X 1.5-meter drum.