The hard part about building a rocket-propelled torpedo isn't so much the propulsion as clearing a path through the ocean. Water creates speed-sapping drag; the best way to overcome that drag is to create a bubble that envelops the torpedo--a supercavity. A gas ejected uniformly and with enough force through a cavitator in the nose of the torpedo will provide such a bubble, permitting speeds of more than 200 mph and a range of up to 5 miles (traditional torpedoes have slightly longer ranges, but lumber at only 30 to 40 mph).
Though submerged, the torpedo remains essentially dry, with a frictionless surface. "That sounds easy, but doing it is extremely difficult, especially if you're trying to steer," says Kam Ng, program manager for the torpedo at the Office of Naval Research, which has been developing the weapon since 1997. "If your torpedo moves in a straight line, you just aim and shoot," says Ng. "That capability already exists with
Shkval. But the U.S. vehicle will be more capable--it will turn, identify objects, and home in on the target." (Improvements to the torpedo to make it steerable likely froze when the Soviet Union collapsed, says GlobalSecurity.org's Pike.)