Trafalgar-class submarine

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HMS Trafalgar in 2008
Class overview
BuildersVickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, Barrow-in-Furness
Operators Royal Navy
Preceded bySwiftsure class
Succeeded byAstute class
Cost£200 million (1986) per unit
In service1983–present
General characteristics [2]
TypeNuclear-powered fleet submarines
  • Surfaced: 4,500 to 4,800 t (4,700 long tons; 5,300 short tons)[1]
  • Submerged: 5,200 to 5,300 t (5,200 long tons; 5,800 short tons)[1]
Length85.4 m (280 ft)[1]
Beam9.8 m (32 ft)[1]
Draught9.5 m (31 ft)[1]
SpeedOver 30 knots (56 km/h), submerged[1]
Test depth600m
Electronic warfare
& decoys
  • 2 × SSE Mk8 launchers for Type 2066 and Type 2071 torpedo decoys
  • RESM Racal UAP passive intercept
  • CESM Outfit CXA
  • SAWCS decoys carried from 2002
  • 5 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes with stowage for up to 30 weapons:

The Trafalgar class is a class of nuclear-powered fleet submarines (SSNs) in service with the Royal Navy, and the successor to the Swiftsure class. Like the majority of Royal Navy nuclear submarines, all seven boats were constructed at Barrow-in-Furness shipyard, Cumbria. With only one boat remaining active and in commission (as of 2023) and six retired from the seven originally in service, the class makes up part of the Royal Navy's nuclear-powered ‘hunter-killer’ submarine force. The Trafalgar class has nearly been replaced by the larger and more capable Astute class, of which five are commissioned.

The name Trafalgar refers to the Battle of Trafalgar fought between the Royal Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain in 1805.


The Trafalgar class were designed in the early 1970s during the Cold War as a refinement of the preceding Swiftsure class. Including HMS Dreadnought, the Trafalgar class are the fifth class of nuclear-powered fleet submarines to enter service with the Royal Navy. The first of the class, HMS Trafalgar, was ordered on 7 April 1977 and completed in 1983. The last, HMS Triumph, was ordered on 3 January 1986 and completed in 1991. All seven boats of the class were built and completed by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering at the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard.

In 1982, Jane's Fighting Ships recorded: "Estimated cost of fourth submarine £175 million including equipment and weapon system when fitted." In 1986, Jane's Fighting Ships recorded that the average cost for this class was £200 million at 1984–85 prices.[4]

Potential export[edit]

In 1987, the Canadian White Paper on Defence recommended the purchase of 10 to 12 Rubis- or Trafalgar-class submarines under technology transfer,[5] with the choice of the type of submarine due to be confirmed before summer 1988.[6] The goal was to build up a three-ocean navy and to assert Canadian sovereignty over Arctic waters.[7] The purchase was finally abandoned in April 1989 due to the financial economy. In 1998 the Canadian government signed an agreement to acquire four of the Royal Navy's diesel-electric Upholder-class submarines.

Operational service[edit]

The submarines of the class have seen service in a wide range of locations, most notably firing Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles in anger at targets during conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Three of the Trafalgar-class boats have been involved in such operations. In 2001 Trafalgar took part in Operation Veritas, the attack on Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces following the September 11 attacks in the United States, becoming the first Royal Navy submarine to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against Afghanistan.[8] During April 2003, HMS Turbulent returned home flying the Jolly Roger after having launched thirty Tomahawk cruise missiles during the invasion of Iraq.[9] As part of the 2011 military intervention in Libya, HMS Triumph fired her Tomahawk cruise missiles on three occasions; first on 19 March,[10] then again on 20 March,[11][12] and finally on 24 March.[13] Her primary targets were Libyan air-defence installations around the city of Sabha.[14] Triumph returned to Devonport on 3 April 2011 flying a Jolly Roger adorned with six small Tomahawk axes to indicate the missiles fired by the submarine in the operation.[15]

In 1993 Triumph sailed to Australia, covering a distance of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) whilst submerged and without any forward support. As of 2011, this still remained the longest solo deployment by any British nuclear submarine.[16]

Service problems[edit]

In 1998, Trenchant experienced a steam leak, forcing the crew to shut down the nuclear reactor. In 2000 a leak in the PWR1 reactor primary cooling circuit was discovered on Tireless, forcing her to proceed to Gibraltar on diesel power.[17] The fault was found to be due to thermal fatigue cracks, requiring the other Trafalgar-class boats, and some of the remaining Swiftsure-class boats, to be urgently inspected and if necessary modified.[17]

In 2013 the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator reported that the reactor systems were suffering increasing technical problems due to ageing, requiring effective management. An example was that Tireless had had a small radioactive coolant leak for eight days in February 2013.[18]


Turbulent with a Merlin helicopter from Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans, during an anti-submarine exercise in the Gulf of Oman, 2011.

As a refinement of the preceding Swiftsure class, the design of the Trafalgar class bears some similarity, including its internal layout and the Rolls-Royce PWR1 Core 3. However some improvements over the Swiftsure class include its reduced acoustic signature, which is due to the hull being covered in anechoic tiles which are designed to absorb sound rather than reflect it, making the boats quieter and more difficult to detect with active sonar. A pumpjet propulsion system is also used from boat 2 onward, rather than a conventional propeller.[19] The Trafalgar class are 85.4 m (280 ft 2 in) long,[1] have a beam of 9.8 m (32 ft 2 in),[1] a draught of 9.5 m (31 ft 2 in)[1] and a dived displacement of 5,300 tonnes (5,200 long tons).[1] Each boat has a complement of 130.[1] Like all Royal Navy submarines, the Trafalgar class have strengthened fins and retractable hydroplanes, allowing them to surface through thick ice.

Four boats of the class — Torbay, Trenchant, Talent and Triumph — have been fitted with the Sonar 2076 system. Beginning in 2014, the last four boats of the class underwent a communications package upgrade.[1]

The Trafalgar class is equipped with five 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes with accommodation for a mixture of up to 30 weapons:[1]

The Tomahawk missiles are capable of hitting a target to within a few metres, to a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 km).[20]

Ostensibly, the submarines use the same steering column as was used in the Wellington bombers of the Second World War.[21]

Boats of the class[edit]

Initially, the last five boats of the Trafalgar class were to be replaced by the 'Future Fleet Submarine' programme, however this was effectively cancelled in 2001. The Astute class are replacing the Trafalgar class.[22]

Triumph is the only remaining submarine based at HMNB Devonport.[23] Talent and Trenchant were decommissioned in a joint ceremony at HMNB Devonport on 20 May 2022.[24][25]

Name Pennant No. Builder Laid down[26] Launched[26] Commissioned[26] Decommissioned Status
Trafalgar S107 Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, Barrow-in-Furness 25 April 1979 1 July 1981 27 May 1983 4 December 2009[27] Awaiting disposal
Turbulent S87 8 May 1980 1 December 1982 28 April 1984 14 July 2012 Awaiting disposal
Tireless S88 6 June 1981 17 March 1984 5 October 1985 19 June 2014[28] Awaiting disposal
Torbay S90 3 December 1982 8 March 1985 7 February 1987 14 July 2017[29] Awaiting disposal
Trenchant S91 28 October 1985 3 November 1986 14 January 1989 20 May 2022[25] Awaiting disposal
Talent S92 13 May 1986 15 April 1988 12 May 1990 20 May 2022[25] Awaiting disposal
Triumph S93 2 February 1987 16 February 1991 12 October 1991 Active in service[30]

In fiction[edit]

In June 2019, ITV commissioned a six-part thriller to be set aboard a fictional Trafalgar-class submarine, HMS Tenacity.[31] However, production on the series was paused in 2020, before being dropped all together by November 2021.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ All boats have a pump jet propulsor with the exception of Trafalgar, which was fitted with a 7-bladed conventional propeller.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Bush, Steve (2014). British Warships and Auxiliaries. Maritime Books. p. 12. ISBN 978-1904459552.
  2. ^ "Trafalgar Class – Royal Navy". Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  3. ^ Graham, Ian, Attack Submarine, Gloucester Publishing, Oct 1989, page 12. ISBN 978-0-531-17156-1
  4. ^ Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986–87.
  5. ^ Challenge and Commitment: A Defence Policy for Canada (PDF). Ottawa: Department of National Defence (Canada). 1987. pp. 52–54. ISBN 0-660-12509-9. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  6. ^ Defence Update 1988–89 (PDF). Ottawa: Department of National Defence (Canada). 1989. ISBN 0-662-55733-6. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  7. ^ Keith Spicer (10 September 2007). "Canada's Arctic claims". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 27 January 2015.
  8. ^ "Trafalgar Returns: Nuclear powered submarine HMS Trafalgar returned home to Devonport today following involvement in the war against terror". 1 March 2002. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 4 August 2016.[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ "HMS Turbulent: Royal Navy Trafalgar-class submarine". Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  10. ^ Hopkins, Nick (20 March 2011). "Air strikes clear the skies but leave endgame uncertain". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
  11. ^ "Missiles target Libyan air defences". Navy News. 21 March 2011. Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  12. ^ "Royal Navy blockade forces Gaddafi's gunboats off the ocean". Navy News. 23 March 2011. Archived from the original on 26 March 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  13. ^ "Libya action: More UK missiles target defences". BBC News. 24 March 2011.
  14. ^ "Top bombing pulverises Gaddafi's ammo bunkers". Navy News. 1 April 2011. Archived from the original on 4 April 2011.
  15. ^ "Home in Triumph – submariners mark successful Libyan mission". Navy News. 4 April 2011. Archived from the original on 7 April 2011.
  16. ^ "HMS Triumph returns from Libya operations". Ministry of Defence. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  17. ^ a b Large, John H. (March 2005). "Forensic Assessments of the Nuclear Propulsion Plants of the Submarines HMS Tireless and RF Northern Fleet Kursk" (PDF). Institution of Mechanical Engineers seminar: Forensic Investigation of Power Plant Failures. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 22 March 2007.
  18. ^ Edwards, Rob (4 August 2013). "Ageing nuclear submarines could put sailors and public at risk, report warns". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Trafalgar class: Nuclear-powered attack submarine". Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  20. ^ "United States Navy Fact File: Tomahawk Land Attack Missile". US Navy. Archived from the original on 27 August 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  21. ^ Hennessy, P. & Jinks, J. (2016). The Silent Deep. London: Penguin. p. 16.
  22. ^ "Third Astute submarine formally handed over to the Royal Navy". GOV.UK. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  23. ^ "HMNB Devonport". Royal Navy. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  24. ^ "Talent and Trenchant decommission as new submarine fleet sails forward". Royal Navy. 20 May 2022.
  25. ^ a b c Farewell to fleet members Ships Monthly July 2022 page 15
  26. ^ a b c Sharpe, Richard, ed. (1996). Jane's Fighting Ships, 1996–97. Jane's Information Group. p. 758. ISBN 0-7106-1355-5.
  27. ^ "HMS Trafalgar pulls down flag and retires from sea". Northwest Evening Mail. 5 December 2009. Archived from the original on 4 March 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2010.
  28. ^ "HMS Tireless navy submarine ends service at Devonport". BBC News. 19 June 2014. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  29. ^ "Submariners celebrate HMS Torbay's proud service". Royal Navy. 18 July 2017. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  30. ^ "Trafalgar Class Submarines: Decommissioning: Written question – 47777". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 17 October 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  31. ^ "ITV commissions six part thriller, Tenacity". ITV. 6 June 2019.
  32. ^ Wright, Minnie. "ITV drops submarine thriller Tenacity – decision not related to Vigil success". Radio Times. Retrieved 13 March 2023.


External links[edit]