You are on page 1of 14



Cavitation is the process of formation of vapour bubbles of flowing fluid in a
region where the pressure of the liquid falls below its vapour pressure and the sudden collapsing
of these vapour bubbles in region of high pressure. At first small vapour filled bubbles are
formed that gradually increase in size. As the pressure of the surrounding liquid increases, the
cavity suddenly collapses-a centimeter sized cavity collapses in milliseconds. Cavities implode
violently and create shock waves that dig pits in exposed metal
surfaces. .
At first, the physical characteristics of boiling and cavitation are almost
identical. oth involve the formation of small vapour-filled spherical bubbles that gradually
increase in size. !owever, the bubbles produced by the two processes end in very different
manners. "n boiling, bubbles are stable# the hot gas inside either escapes to the surface or releases
its heat to the surrounding liquid. "n the latter case, the bubble does not collapse, but instead fills
with fluid as the gas inside condenses.
$hen it acts upon propellers, cavitation not only causes damage but also
decreases efficiency. %he same decrease in water pressure that causes cavitation also reduces the
force that the water can exert against the boat, causing the propeller blades to &race& and spin
ineffectively. $hen a propeller induces significant cavitation, it is pushing against a combination
of liquid water and water vapor. 'ince water vapor is much less dense than liquid water, the
propeller can exert much less force against the water vapor bubbles. $ith the problems it causes,
it is no wonder maritime engineers try to avoid cavitation.
%he scientists and the engineers have developed an entirely new solution to the
cavitation problem. Cavitation becomes a blessing under a condition called supercavitation, i.e.,
when a single cavity called supercavity is formed enveloping the moving ob(ect almost
completely. "n 'upercavitation, the small gas bubbles produced by cavitation expand and
combine to form one large, stable, and predictable bubble around the supercavitating ob(ect.

%his fluid-mechanical effect occurs when bubbles of water vapor form in the lee of bodies
submerged in fast-moving water flows. %he trick is to surround an ob(ect or vessel with a
renewable envelope of gas so that the liquid wets very little of the body)s surface, thereby
drastically reducing the viscous drag. 'upercavitating systems could mean a quantum leap in
naval warfare that is analogous in some ways to the move from prop planes to (ets or even to
rockets and missiles.
'upercavities are classified as one of two types# vapor or ventilated. *apor
cavities are the pure type of supercavity, formed only by the combination of a number of smaller
cavities. "n a ventilated cavity, however, gases are released into the bubble by the supercavitating
ob(ect or a nearby water surface.

+aval architects and marine engineers vie constantly with these age-old
problems when they streamline the shapes of their hull designs to minimize the frictional drag of
water and fit their ships with powerful engines to drive them through the waves. "t can come as a
shock, therefore, to find out that scientists and engineers have come up with a new way to
overcome viscous drag resistance and to move through water at high velocities. "n general, the
idea is to minimize the amount of wetted surface on the body by enclosing it in a low-density gas

&$hen a fluid moves rapidly around a body, the pressure in the flow drops, particularly at
trailing edges of the body,& explains ,arshall -. %ulin, director of the .cean /ngineering
0aboratory at the 1niversity of California at 'anta arbara and a pioneer in the theory of
supercavitating flows. &As velocity increases, a point is reached at which the pressure in the flow
equals the vapor pressure of water, whereupon the fluid undergoes a phase change and becomes a
gas# water vapor.& "n other words, with insufficient pressure to hold them together, the liquid
water molecules dissociate into a gas.
&1nder certain circumstances, especially at sharp edges, the flow can include
attached cavities of approximately constant pressure filled with water vapor and air trailing
behind. %his is what we call natural cavitation,& %ulin says. &%he cavity takes on the shape
necessary to conserve the constant pressure condition on its boundary and is determined by the
body creating it, the cavity pressure and the force of gravity,& he explains. +aval architects and
marine engineers typically try to avoid cavitation because it can distort water flow to rob pumps,
turbines, hydrofoils and propellers of operational efficiency. "t can also lead to violent shock
waves 2from rapid bubble collapse3, which cause pitting and erosion of metal surfaces.
'upercavitation is an extreme version of cavitation in which a single bubble is
formed that envelops the moving ob(ect almost completely. At velocities over about 45 meters
per second, 2typically3 blunt-nosed cavitators and prow-mounted gas-in(ection systems produce
these low-density gas pockets 2what specialists call supercavities3. $ith slender, axisymmetric
bodies, supercavities take the shape of elongated ellipsoids beginning at the forebody and trailing
behind, with the length dependent on the speed of the body.
%he resulting elliptically shaped cavities soon close up under the pressure of the
surrounding water, an area characterized by complex, unsteady flows. ,ost of the difficulties in
mathematically modeling supercavitating flows arise when considering what %ulin calls &the
mess at the rear& of cavities, known as the collapse or closure region. "n reality, the pressures
inside gas cavities are not constant, which leads to many of the analysis problems, he says.
!owever they)re modeled, as long as the water touches only the cavitator,
supercavitating devices can scoot along the interiors of the lengthy gas bubbles with minimal
Although supercavitation research in this country focused on high-speed
propeller and hydrofoil development in the 6745s, the 1.'. +avy subsequently opted to pursue
other underwater technologies, particularly those related to stealth operations, rather than high-
velocity capabilities. As a result, experts say, the 1.'. +avy currently has no supercavitating
weapons and is now trying to catch up with the 8ussian navy.

PROTOTYPE WEAPON. A future supercavitating torpedo based on 1.'. +avy design concepts could feature a
range of innovative cavitator, sensing, control and propulsion technologies.

%he first class of weapons is represented by 8A,"C' 2for 8apid Airborne
,ine Clearance 'ystem39 a soon-to-be-requisitioned helicopter-borne weapon that destroys
surface and near-surface marine mines by firing supercavitating rounds at them. %he :5-
millimeter flat-nosed pro(ectiles, which are designed to travel stably through both air and water,
are shot from a modified rapid-fire gun with advanced targeting assistance. 2%he fielded
8A,"C' pro(ectiles are expected to be enlarged to ;5-millimeter caliber.3 %he 1.'. +avy is also
considering deploying a surface ship<borne, deck-mounted 8A,"C'-type close-in weapons
system that could destroy deadly wake-following torpedoes.
%he next step in supercavitating pro(ectile technology will be an entirely
subsurface gun system using Adaptable !igh-'peed 1ndersea ,unitions 2A!'1,3. %hese
would take the form of supercavitating &kinetic-kill& bullets that are fired from guns in
streamlined turrets fitted to the submerged hulls of submarines, surface ships or towed mine-
countermeasure sleds. %he sonar-directed A!'1, system is hoped to be the underwater
equivalent of the 1.'. +avy)s -halanx weapons system, a radar-controlled rapid-fire gun that
protects surface vessels from incoming cruise missiles.
%he other supercavitating technology of interest is a torpedo with a maximum
velocity of about :55 knots. 'ubstantial technical and system challenges stand in the way of the
desired torpedo in the areas of launching, hydrodynamics, acoustics, guidance and control, and
propulsion, to name a few.

SUBSEA GUNS. %he 1.'. +avy is developing underwater launchers for rotating gun turrets that would be fitted
below the waterline to fire &kinetic-kill& pro(ectiles at mines, obstacles, surface craft, homing torpedoes - even low-
flying airplanes and helicopters.

"n general, the weapon consists of a large cylindrical hull containing a solid-
rocket motor that tapers to a cone enclosing the warhead. %he wide aperture of a rocket nozzle
protrudes from the center of the aft end encircled by eight small cylinders, which are said to be
small starter rockets. %hese get the 'hkval moving up to supercavitation speed, whereupon the
main engine cuts in. +estled between two of the starter motor nozzles is thought to be a spool of
guidance wire that unravels as the torpedo makes its way through the water. %he wire would
allow submarine personnel to control the weapon)s operation and warhead detonation.

1p front, things get a bit more speculative. /xperts believe that the nose of the
torpedo features what is likely to be a flat disk with a circular or perhaps elliptical shape. %his is
the all-important cavitator, which creates the gas cavity in which the craft moves. %he cavitator
disk will be tilted forward at the top, providing an &angle of attack& to generate the lift needed to
support the forebody of the device. %he cavitator)s edge is apt to be sharp, which
hydrodynamicists say creates the cleanest or least turbulent gas=water boundary, what they call a
&glassy& cavity. >ust aft of the cavitator sit several rings of ventilation ducts that in(ect rocket
exhaust and steam into the cavitation bubble to enlarge it. About two thirds of the way back from
the nose is four spring-out cylinders angled toward the stern. Although they loosely resemble
fins, these spring-tensioned skids actually support the aft end of the torpedo by allowing it to
bounce off the inner cavity surface. $estern experts believe that the 'hkval actually &precesses&
slowly around the cavity)s circumference, repeatedly ricocheting off the walls as it makes its way
through the water.
%he 'hkval is considered to be somewhat unrefined because it can travel only
along a straight tra(ectory, but future supercavitating vehicles are being designed to maneuver
through the water. 'teering is possible through the use of cavity-piercing control surfaces such as
fins, and thrust-vectoring systems, which are directional nozzles for (et exhaust. /xtreme care
must be taken to keep the body inside the cavity during turns, however, because should it stray
from the cavity, the force of slamming into the surrounding wall of water would abruptly turn it
into &a crushed Coke can,&

'upercavitating vehicles could be highly agile if the control surfaces were
coordinated correctly, says +1$C)s ?uklinsky. %he idea is to skew the cavity to one side to
create the desired side forces with an articulated nose cavitator or with control surfaces and then
track the vehicle in it. "f the fore and aft control systems operate in phase so that the &back end
keeps up with what the front is doing, very fast turns can be accomplished,& he notes.
-art of the solution to the control problem is to install a reliable, real-time
feedback control loop that can keep abreast of cavity conditions in the rear of the craft and make
the appropriate response to measured changes. As supercavitating systems travel unsupported
inside low-density gas bubbles, their afterbodies often bang off the inside wall of cavities.
'pecialists call this the &tail-slap& phenomenon, which is regularly observed in high-speed test
photography of supercavitating devices. %he .+8 has sponsored the development of a &tail-slap&
sensor - a monitoring system based on microelectromechanical components that will track
intermittent afterbody contact with the cavity.

,ost existing and anticipated autonomous supercavitating vehicles rely on
rocket-type motors to generate the required thrust. ut conventional rockets entail some serious
drawbacks - limited range and declining thrust performance with the rise of pressure as depth
increases. %he first of these problems is being addressed with a new kind of high-energy-density
power-plant technology9 the second may be circumvented by using a special kind of
supercavitating propeller screw technology.
@etting up to supercavitation speeds requires a lot of power. Aor maximum
range with rockets9 you need to burn high-energy-density fuels that provide the maximum
specific impulse. A typical solid-rocket motor can achieve a maximum range of several tens of
kilometers and a top speed of perhaps :55 meters per second. After considering propulsion
systems based on diesel engines, electric motors, atomic power plants, high-speed diesels, and
gas turbines, only high-efficiency gas turbines and (et propulsion systems burning metal fuels
2aluminum, magnesium or lithium3 and using outboard water as both the fuel oxidizer and
coolant of the combustion products have real potential for propelling supercavitating vehicles to
high velocities.
Aluminum, which is relatively cheap, is the most energetic of these metal fuels, producing a
reaction temperature of up to 65,B55 degrees Celsius. .ne can accelerate the reaction by
fluidizing CmeltingD the metal and using water vapor. "n one candidate power-plant design, the
heat from the combustion chamber would be used to melt stored aluminum sheets at about BE4
degrees C and to vaporize seawater as well. %he resulting combustion products turn turbine-
driven propeller screws.
%his type of system has already been developed in 8ussia, according to media
reports there. %he 1.'. also has experience with these kinds of systems. 8esearchers are
operating an aluminum-burning &water ram(et& system, which was developed as an auxiliary
power source for a naval surface ship. "n the novel American design, powdered aluminum feeds
into a whirlpool of seawater occurring in what is called a vortex combustor. %he rapid rotation
scrapes the particles together, grinding off the inert aluminum oxide film that covers them, which
initiates an intense exothermic reaction as the aluminum oxidizes. !igh-pressure steam from this
combustion process expands out a rocket nozzle or drives a turbine that turns a propeller screw.
%ests have shown that prop screws offer the potential to boost thrust by :5
percent compared with that of rockets, although in theory it may be possible for screws to double
available thrust, Fesigns for a turbo-rotor propeller system with a single supercavitating &hull
propeller,& or a pair of counter rotating hull props that encircle the outer surface of the craft so
they can reach the gas=water boundary, have been tested. Considerable work remains to be done
on how the propeller and cavity must interact before real progress can be made.

NEUTRALIZING MINES. /veryone has seen action-movie heroes avoid fusillades of bullets by diving several
feet underwater. %he bullets ricochet away or expend their energy surprisingly rapidly as a result of drag and lateral
hydrodynamic forces. $hen the .ffice of +aval 8esearch was asked to find a cost-effective way to stop thousand-
dollar surface mines from damaging or destroying multimillion-dollar ships, they turned to supercavitating
pro(ectiles. %he result was 8A,"C' - the 8apid Airborne ,ine Clearance 'ystem, which is being developed for the
1.'. +avy by a team led by 8aytheon +aval G ,aritime "ntegrated 'ystems in -ortsmouth, 8.". .perating from
helicopters, 8A,"C' will locate subsurface sea mines with an imaging blue-green lidar 2light detection and
ranging3 system, calculate their exact position despite the bending of light by water refraction, and then shoot them
with supercavitating rounds that travel stably in both air and water. %he special pro(ectiles contain charges that cause
the deflagration, or moderated burning, of the mine)s explosive.

$hatever the years ahead may hold for supercavitating weapons, they have
already exerted a strong influence on military and intelligence communities around the world.
"ndeed, they seem to have spurred some reevaluation of naval strategy.
Aor example, when news of the 'hkval)s existence emerged, a debate soon
ensued regarding its purpose. 'ome $estern intelligence sources say that the 'hkval had been
developed to allow the noisy, low-tech diesel subs of the then 'oviet 1nion to respond if
suddenly fired on by ultra quiet American submarines lurking nearby. .n hearing the screws of
the incoming conventional torpedo, the 'hkval would be launched to force an attacker to evade
and thereby perhaps to cut the incoming torpedo)s guidance wire. "n effect, they say, the 'hkval
is a sub killer, particularly if it is fitted with a tactical nuclear warhead.

ANTIMINE PROJECTILE. 'upercavitating pro(ectiles shot from above the ocean surface must fly stably in both
air and water - a difficult engineering task. %he 8A,"C' round (partially visible) was developed by C %ech Fefense

.ther informed sources claim that the missile is in fact an offensive weapon
designed to explode a higher-yield nuclear charge amid a carrier battle group, thereby taking out
the entire armada. Furing a nuclear war, it could even be directed at a port or coastal land target.
&As there are no known countermeasures to such a weapon,& states Favid
,iller)s April 6774 article &'upercavitation# @oing to $ar in a ubble,& in >ane)s "ntelligence
8eview, &its deployment could have a significant effect on future maritime operations, both
surface and subsurface, and could put $estern naval forces at a considerable disadvantage.&

%he 'hkval 2&squall&3 is a high-speed supercavitating rocket-propelled torpedo
designed to be a rapid-reaction defense against 1.'. submarines undetected by sonar. "t can also
be used as a countermeasure to an incoming torpedo, forcing the hostile pro(ectile to abruptly
change course and possibly break its guidance wires.

%he torpedo has a nearly flat, conical disk at its nose that creates the gas cavity
for supercavitation. %he disk tilts to help guide the weapon and keep it stable. %he cavity is
supported by rockets venting (ust abaft the cavitator. Aour pop out cylinders toward the aft end of
the nose section keep the body of the torpedo stable and out of contact with the walls of the
bubble in which it rides. At the rear of the torpedo are deflected control surfaces. /ight small
rockets surround the main sustainer rocket. %he main engine cuts in when the weapon has
achieved supercavitation speed.
%he solid-rocket propelled torpedo achieves a high velocity of :;5 mph 2;HB
kmh3 by producing an envelope of supercavitating bubbles from its nose and skin, which coat the
entire weapon surface in a thin layer of gas. %his causes the metal skin of the weapon to avoid
contact with the water, significantly reducing drag and friction.
%he 'hkval is fired from the standard 4;;-mm torpedo tube at a depth of up to
;:H ft 2655 m3. %he rocket-powered torpedo exits the tube at 45 knots 27; kmh3 and then ignites
the rocket motor, propelling the weapon to speeds four to five times faster than other
conventional torpedoes. %he weapon reportedly has an H5 percent kill probability at a range of
E,B44 yd 2E,555 m3.
%he torpedo is guided by an autopilot rather than by a homing head as on most torpedoes. %he
initial version was unguided. !owever, the 8ussians have indicated there is a homing version
that starts at the higher speed but slows and enters a search mode.


'hkval !igh-'peed 1nderwater 8ocket
.riginal unguided production model. 1ses a tactical nuclear warhead on a
timer to destroy incoming torpedoes and=or the submarine that launched them. %his model was
deployed in 67EE9 it could only be fired in a straight line and had a range of about 65 miles 26B.:

"mproved 'hkval
.riginal model with guided targeting system and a conventional warhead.

/xport variant. %his model requires the crew of a submarine or ship to define
the target)s parameters -- speed, distance and vector. %he torpedo must also be fed data for the
automatic pilot. %his variant does not have a homing warhead and must follow a computer-
generated program. $arhead weight is reported to be greater than IB:.7 lb 2:65 kg3.


Total 2,700 kg
Shkval-E 210 kg

Length 8,200 mm
Diameter 533 mm

Speed a!im"m 3#0 kmh or 100 m$%e&
Some report% %a' in e!&e%% o( )83 kmh
E!it (rom t"*e +3 kmh
,ange #-) km
la"n&h 7-0 km
&r"i%e 10-0 km
minim"m 0-5 km
La"n&h depth 30 m
.r"i%e depth # m
/(ter-la"n&h t"rning 0$-20 deg

Weight 210 kg
T'pe T1T
2"3e &onta&t$pro!imit'

A supercavitating body has extremely low drag, because its skin friction almost
disappears. "nstead of being encased in water, it is surrounded by the water vapour in the
supercavity, which has much lower viscosity and density. An important point regarding future
supercavitating vehicles is the fact that transitions from normal underwater travel into the
supercavitating regime and back out again can be accomplished by artificially ventilating a
partial cavity to maintain and expand it through the velocity transitions. %hus, a small natural
cavity formed at the nose 2at lower speeds3 can be &blown up& into a large one that fully encloses
the entire body. Conversely, braking maneuvers can be eased by augmenting the bubble with
in(ection gases to maintain and then slowly reduce its size so as to gradually scrub speed.

I. http#==www.diodon;,emorial=stormJoverJtheJsquall.htm
4. Aluid Fynamics by >ames $. Faily G Fonald 8.A.!arleman
B. Cavitation # ubble %rackers by Kves 0ecoffre