Despite the designation, Sailors in the Torpedoman’s Mate rating (TM) worked with far more weapons systems than just torpedoes launched from submarines or surface ships. The years following World War II saw several advances in submarine technology—higher speeds, reduced sonic footprints, and torpedoes with longer ranges and improved accuracy—that led the Navy to begin development of an anti-submarine weapon with stand-off capabilities. (“Stand-off” describes a weapon system that can be fired at such a distance that the target is unaware of the attacker’s presence.)
The result was what eventually became known as ASROC, or Anti-Submarine Rocket, a weapon whose longevity is a testament to the soundness of the principles behind its simple design (which of course employ advanced technology). Torpedoman’s Mates were specifically tasked with the handling of ASROCs and the operation, testing, and maintenance of their launching and firing systems.
At the heart of the ASROC system is the early detection of enemy submarines, which is accomplished with sonar or other sensors such as a Magnetic Anomaly Detector deployed on surface ships or fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft. With the enemy submarine’s position in hand, the surface ship fires an unguided ASROC toward the location (the use of radar to guide the missile could be detected by the target or associated enemy forces and used to launch an anti-ballistic missile). As the rocket nears the target, the payload—typically a torpedo equipped with an acoustic homing device—is detached, and a parachute opens to slow the payload’s water entry, reducing noise that might alert the target.
Hitting the water activates the torpedo’s homing device. After descending to a pre-determined depth, the torpedo moves in a series of expanding spirals as its sensors actively seek the target. Once a target is acquired, the torpedo’s propulsion system is activated, and it speeds toward the sub, presumably undetected.
A variation of the ASROC featuring a 10-kiloton atomic warhead designated the W44 nuclear depth charge was deployed on some U.S. Navy ships from 1961 until 1989. Because of the huge shock wave created by the detonation of a device this size, proximity to the target didn’t have to be nearly as precise as with the homing torpedo. While the Navy has used ASROCs with homing torpedoes in combat situations on several occasions, the W44 was never used in combat—but Torpedoman’s Mates had to ensure it was in top working condition at all times.

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