HMS Ambush in 2012
|Builders:||BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines, Barrow-in-Furness|
|Preceded by:||Trafalgar class|
|Cost:||Over £1,370M per boat (2015 est.)|
|Type:||Nuclear-powered fleet submarine|
|Length:||97 m (318 ft 3 in)|
|Beam:||11.3 m (37 ft 1 in)|
|Draught:||10 m (32 ft 10 in)|
|Propulsion:||Rolls-Royce PWR 2 reactor, MTU 600 kilowatt diesel generators|
|Speed:||30 kn (56 km/h; 35 mph), submerged|
|Test depth:||Over 300 m (984 ft 3 in)|
|Complement:||98 (capacity for 109)|
The Astute class is the latest class of nuclear-powered fleet submarines in service with the Royal Navy. The class sets a new standard for the Royal Navy in terms of weapons load, communication facilities and acoustic silencing. The boats are being constructed by BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines at Barrow-in-Furness. Seven boats will be constructed: the first of class, Astute, was launched by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in 2007, commissioned in 2010, and declared fully operational in May 2014. The Astute-class are the replacements for the Trafalgar-class and the Swiftsure-class fleet submarines in Royal Navy service.
- 1 Development
- 2 Characteristics
- 3 Accidents
- 4 Boats of the class
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Batch 2 Trafalgar-class
The Astute-class programme began in the 1980s when the Ministry of Defence (MOD) launched a number of studies intended to determine the capabilities and requirements for the replacement of its Swiftsure and Trafalgar-class fleet submarines. These studies, called project SSN20, were conducted during the Cold War, when the Royal Navy maintained a strong emphasis on anti-submarine warfare to counter increasingly more capable Soviet submarines. To match this growing threat, the studies concluded that project SSN20 should be a revolutionary design, with significantly enhanced nuclear propulsion and firepower, and a more sophisticated "integrated sonar suite" and combat systems. Similarly, the United States Navy who was facing the same threats, went on to design and build the Seawolf-class. The estimated costs of project SSN20, although great, were not considered a "constraint".
However by 1990, the Berlin wall collapsed and the Cold War came to an end. Project SSN20 was promptly cancelled and a new set of design studies were started, this time, with "cost control" as a key objective. The Trafalgar-class had been an evolved derivative of the preceding Swiftsure-class, thus, in order to reduce cost and technical risk, it was concluded that this new class of fleet submarine should "build upon" the Trafalgar design. This became known as the Batch 2 Trafalgar-class (B2TC), with approval for the studies phase given in June 1991. While the philosophy behind B2TC was that of a modern and improved Trafalgar, early design concepts of B2TC were also heavily influenced by the then under construction Vanguard-class, in particular, its Nuclear Steam Raising Plant (NSRP).
Following two years of a studies phase on B2TC, the MOD decided to put the contract out to tender. A draft invitation to tender was announced in October 1993 and a final invitation to tender in July 1994. The final invitation to tender involved a formal competition between GEC-Marconi/BMT Limited and VSEL/Rolls-Royce, with bids to be submitted in June 1995. GEC-Marconi and BMT had little experience with British submarine designs, where as VSEL and Rolls-Royce were heavily involved in both British nuclear submarine design and construction. For example, VSEL was the owner of the Barrow shipyard, the only shipyard capable of building nuclear submarines in the United Kingdom.
During the assessment phase of the bids put forward by both teams, the MOD favoured the GEC-Marconi/BMT design on both cost and capability grounds. The bid put forward by VSEL/Rolls-Royce was less attractive and considered "an expensive and dull design." In June 1995, VSEL was subject to a takeover by GEC-Marconi, and with it, the Barrow shipyard. In December of the same year, the MOD announced that GEC-Marconi was the preferred bidder. The bid put forward by GEC-Marconi included the innovative use of 3D CAD software and modular construction techniques. Although the MOD had awarded the contract to GEC-Marconi, partly due to its competitive cost, it was still considered too high for the MOD to sign off on. The MOD and GEC-Marconi negotiated on a new price for the contract, amounting to £2.4 billion for the first three Astute submarines, plus in service support. The contract was signed on 14 March 1997, for what was now called the Astute programme, with a fixed maximum-price, and any cost overruns being assumed by GEC-Marconi, the contractor.
Although B2TC was intended to be a modest improvement over the Trafalgar-class, it wasn't to be the case for Astute. With the signing of the contract in March 1997, GEC-Marconi started work on developing a complete and comprehensive design for the Astute programme. Initial realisation was that the size of the Rolls-Royce PWR2 required a much larger boat (width and length) and significantly improved acoustic quieting. A new understanding was reached between the MOD and GEC-Marconi that this would be an entirely new class, and far more complex than originally envisioned.
Construction, cost overruns and delays
In November 1999, British Aerospace bought out GEC-Marconi and created BAE Systems. At the time of the takeover, it had been approximately 20 years since the Vanguard-class were designed, and the last of the boats had already been launched. The work force at the Barrow shipyard had fallen from around 13,000, to 3,000. Key skills in design and engineering had been lost, predominately though retirement or movement into other careers. This created significant delays and challenges in getting the Astute programme from design phase and into construction phase. Further delays and cost increases were also caused by the 3D CAD software, despite originally being touted as an innovative cost saving measure, by greatly reducing man-hours. However, one of the reasons for this was a lack of experienced designers able to use the software and its expanded tools.
Amongst ongoing issues, including incomplete design drawings, the first boat, Astute, was laid down on 31 January 2001. As planned, modular construction methods were used, with the boat being built in several ring-like modules, each up to several meters in length. These were wielded together using specially designed high-strength steel, and then fitted out. From boat 2 onward however, vertical outfitting has been used, whereby the ring-like sections are "stood up on their ends." This has better enabled the fitting of large and heavy equipment, and has also proved to be more efficient, with reportedly "thousands of man-hours saved".
By 2002 both BAE and the MOD recognised they had underestimated the technical challenges and costs of the programme. In August 2002 the programme was estimated to be over three years late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget. BAE Systems issued a profit warning on 11 December 2002 as a result of the cost overruns and delays. BAE Systems and the MOD subsequently renegotiated the contract, with an understanding that the MOD had to share some of the financial risks. In December 2003 the contract modifications were signed, with the MOD agreeing to add another £430 million to the programme and BAE Systems assuming £250 million of the cost overruns. The MOD also enlisted the advice and expertise of General Dynamics Electric Boat through a U.S. Navy contract. Eventually, a General Dynamics Electric Boat employee became the Astute Project Director at Barrow.
Input from General Dynamics helped resolve many of the software issues associated with 3D CAD, they were also responsible for the introduction of vertical outfitting and other construction techniques. Consequently, much rework was needed on Astute now that detailed designs were complete. On 8 June 2007 Astute was launched and boats 2 and 3 (Ambush and Artful) were at various stages of construction. A month before hand, procurement for boat 4 (Audacious) was agreed. Boats 5 and 6 (Anson and Agamemnon) were approved in March 2010. In June 2012 the order was placed for the manufacture of the nuclear reactor for boat 7 (Ajax), production of the first nuclear reactor for the Successor-class submarine was also ordered.
In November 2009, a House of Commons Defence Select Committee found that delays due to technical and programme issues brought the Astute-class to a position of being 57 months late and 53 per cent (or £1.35 billion) over-budget, and a forecast cost of £3.9 billion for the first three boats.
Programme cost summary
|Expected cost to completion at approval||Current forecast cost to completion||Change|
|Boats 1–3||£2,233 million||£3,536 million|
|Boat 4||£1,279 million||£1,492 million|
|Boat 5||£1,464 million||£1,420 million|
|Boat 6||£1,579 million||£1,533 million|
|Boat 7||£1,642 million||£1,640 million|
Weapons and systems
The Astute class has stowage for 38 weapons and would typically carry Spearfish heavy torpedoes and Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles, the latter costing £870,000 each. The Tomahawk missiles are capable of hitting a target to within a few metres, to a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres). The Astute class will also be able to fire the new tactical Tomahawk under development. The Astute Combat Management System is a new version of the Submarine Command System used on other classes of British submarine. The system receives data from the boat's sensors and displays the results on command consoles. The submarines also have Atlas Hydrographic DESO 25 high-precision echosounders, two CM010 non-hull-penetrating optronic masts—in place of conventional periscopes—which carry thermal imaging and low-light TV and colour CCD TV sensors. The class also mounts an Successor IFF system.
For detecting enemy ships and submarines, the Astute class are equipped with the sophisticated Sonar 2076, an integrated passive/active search and attack sonar suite with bow, intercept, flank and towed arrays. BAE claims that the 2076 is the world's best sonar system. All of the Astute-class submarines will be fitted with the advanced Common Combat System.
Propulsion and general specifications
The boats of the Astute class are powered by a Rolls-Royce PWR2 (Core H) (a pressurised water) reactor and fitted with a pump-jet propulsor. The PWR2 reactor was developed for the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines and has a 25 year lifespan without the need for refuelling. As a result, the new submarines are about 30 per cent larger than previous British fleet submarines, which were powered by smaller-diameter reactors. Like all Royal Navy submarines, the bridge fin of the Astute-class boats is specially reinforced to allow surfacing through ice caps. These submarines can also be fitted with a dry deck shelter, which allows special forces (e.g. SBS) to deploy whilst the submarine is submerged. More than 39,000 acoustic tiles mask the vessel's sonar signature, giving the Astute class improved acoustic qualities over any other submarine previously operated by the Royal Navy. Speculation released by the media suggests the acoustic signature of the class is comparable to that of a "baby dolphin".
A 2009 safety assessment by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator concluded that PWR2 reactor safety was significantly short of good practice in comparable navies in two important areas: loss-of-coolant accident and control of submarine depth following emergency reactor shutdown. The regulator concluded that PWR2 was "potentially vulnerable to a structural failure of the primary circuit", which is a failure mode with significant safety hazards to crew and the public. Operational procedures have been amended to minimise these risks.
Astute is the second Royal Navy submarine class, after the Vanguard class, to have a bunk for each member of the ship's company, ending the practice of 'hot bunking', whereby two sailors on opposite watches shared the same bunk at different times. However, they have less mess-deck space than the Valiant-class submarine built 45 years earlier.
On 22 October 2010, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that Astute had "run into difficulties" off the Isle of Skye while on trials, after eyewitnesses reported the submarine had run aground a few miles from the Skye Bridge. There were no reports of injuries.
On 20 July 2016, Ambush sustained damage to the top of her conning tower during a collision with a merchant ship while surfacing on an exercise in Gibraltarian waters. It was reported that no crew members were injured during the collision and that the submarine's nuclear reactor section remained completely undamaged.
Boats of the class
In 2012, during the joint exercise Fellowship, Astute performed simulated battles with the latest United States Navy Virginia-class submarine, the USS New Mexico. It was reported that the Americans were "taken aback" by Astute's capabilities. Royal Navy Commander Iain Breckenridge was quoted, "Our sonar is fantastic and I have never before experienced holding a submarine at the range we were holding USS New Mexico. The Americans were utterly taken aback, blown away with what they were seeing".
|Name||Boat||Pennant number||Status||Ordered||Laid down||Launched||Date of commission|
|Astute||1||S119||Active in service||17 March 1997||31 January 2001||8 June 2007||27 August 2010|
|Ambush||2||S120||Active in service||17 March 1997||22 October 2003||6 January 2011||1 March 2013|
|Artful||3||S121||Active in service||17 March 1997||11 March 2005||17 May 2014||18 March 2016 |
|Audacious||4||S122||Under construction||21 May 2007||24 March 2009||In service 2018|
|Anson||5||S123||Under construction||25 March 2010||13 October 2011||In service 2020|
|Agamemnon||6||S124||Under construction||25 March 2010||18 July 2013||In service 2022|
|Ajax / Boat 7||7||S125||Confirmed, steel cut||In service 2024|
Season two of the American television series The Last Ship features a fictional Astute-class submarine named HMS Achilles as the primary antagonist.
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- Astute Fascinating Facts
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we must not repeat the retrograde step made with the Astute class SSN, where the sailors will have less mess-deck space than in HMS Valiant built 45 years ago.
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Recommendation ... on-board accommodation standards and quality of life issues are thoroughly addressed in order to avoid the mistakes made with the Astute class.
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