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A modern torpedo is an underwater ranged weapon launched above or below the water surface, self-propelled towards a target, and with an explosive warhead designed to detonate either on contact with or in proximity to the target. Historically, such a device was called an automotive, automobile, locomotive, or fish torpedo; colloquially a fish. The term torpedo originally applied to a variety of devices, most of which would today be called mines. From about 1900, torpedo has been used strictly to designate a self-propelled underwater explosive device.
While the 19th-century battleship had evolved primarily with a view to engagements between armored warships with large-caliber guns, the invention and refinement of torpedoes from the 1860s onwards allowed small torpedo boats and other lighter surface vessels, submarines/submersibles, even improvised fishing boats or frogmen, and later light aircraft, to destroy large ships without the need of large guns, though sometimes at the risk of being hit by longer-range artillery fire.
Modern torpedoes are classified variously as lightweight or heavyweight; straight-running, autonomous homers, and wire-guided types. They can be launched from a variety of platforms. In modern warfare, a submarine-launched torpedo is almost certain to hit its target; the best defense is a counterattack using another torpedo.