Vanguard-class submarine

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Vanguard at Faslane 03.jpg
HMS Vanguard at Faslane, 2010
Class overview
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Resolution class
Succeeded by: Dreadnought class
Cost: Over £1,500M each; Total programme cost £15 billion[1]
In service: 1993–present
Completed: 4
Active: 4
General characteristics [2]
Class and type: Nuclear-powered Ballistic missile submarine
Displacement: 15,900 tonnes, submerged[3]
Length: 149.9 m (491 ft 10 in)
Beam: 12.8 m (42 ft 0 in)
Draught: 12 m (39 ft 4 in)
Speed: In excess of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph), submerged
Range: Only limited by food and maintenance requirements.
Complement: 135
Sensors and
processing systems:
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
  • Two SSE Mk10 launchers for Type 2066 and Type 2071 torpedo decoys
  • RESM Racal UAP passive intercept
Test launch of a Trident D5 SLBM by a Vanguard-class SSBN
HMS Vanguard arrives back at HM Naval Base Clyde, Faslane, Scotland following a patrol.
Partly submerged submarine flanked by two tugboats
Vanguard being assisted into a Florida harbour by two civilian tugboats
HMS Vigilant in the Clyde area of Scotland
HMS Vanguard alongside the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon

The Vanguard-class is a British class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) in service with the Royal Navy. Each submarine is armed with up to 16 UGM-133 Trident II missiles. The class was introduced in 1994 as part of the Trident nuclear programme. The class includes four boats: Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance. They were built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering between 1986 and 1999, which is now owned by BAE Systems.[2] All four subs are based at HM Naval Base Clyde (HMS Neptune), 40 km (25 mi) west of Glasgow, Scotland.

Since the decommissioning of the Royal Air Force WE.177 free-fall thermonuclear weapons in 1998, the four Vanguard submarines are the sole platforms for the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons.[2][4] This class is scheduled to be replaced by 2028,[5] though its replacement would not enter service until early 2030s.[6]


Since the late 1960s, the UK had operated four Resolution-class submarines armed with US-built Polaris missiles under the terms of the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement.

On 10 July 1980, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote to US President Carter to request the supply of Trident I (C4) missiles on a similar basis for the United Kingdom's next generation ballistic missile submarines. However, in 1982 Thatcher wrote to US President Reagan to request the UK be allowed to procure the improved Trident II (D5) system, which had been accelerated by the US Navy. This was agreed in March 1982.[7] Under the agreement, the United Kingdom made a 5% research and development contribution.[8]

Lady Thatcher laid the keel of the first boat, HMS Vanguard, on 3 September 1986.[9] 1992 saw a debate over whether the fourth vessel should be cancelled, however the Ministry of Defence ultimately ordered it in July 1992.[10]

Operational history[edit]

The Trident II D-5 achieved an initial operational capability with the U.S. Navy in March 1990. Following launch and commissioning the vessels deployed on Demonstration and Shakedown Operations (DASOs) which included test firing of Trident missiles at the United States' SLBM Launch Area, Eastern Test Range, Cape Canaveral, off the coast of Florida.

In February 2002, Vanguard began a two-year refit at HMNB Devonport. The refit was completed in June 2004 and in October 2005 Vanguard completed her return to service trials (Demonstration and Shakedown Operations) with the firing of an unarmed Trident missile. During this refit, Vanguard was illegally boarded by a pair of anti-nuclear protestors.[11] Mid-life refits for Victorious and Vigilant followed, with Vengeance currently undergoing this process.

In 2002, protesters from Trident Ploughshares breached security at Faslane Naval Base where the Vanguard submarines are based. Two protesters managed to spraypaint Vigilant with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament symbol and the word "Vile".[12]

On 4 February 2009, Vanguard collided with the French submarine Triomphant in the Atlantic.[13][14][15] She returned to Faslane in Scotland, under her own power arriving on 14 February 2009.[16]

On 31 March 2011, Vengeance returned to Faslane naval base on the surface after developing mechanical problems while on a training exercise. According to the MOD the problems were not nuclear related.[17]

In June 2012, Vigilant completed a three-year-long refit which included refuelling of her nuclear reactor and cost over £300 million.[18] In October 2012, the submarine sailed to the USA where it successfully test fired an unarmed Trident II D5 SLBM.[19] However, two months later it was learned that shortly afterwards the submarine suffered unspecified problems, allegedly involving her rudder, prompting an unscheduled stop at the US Navy's Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in order to carry out repairs.[20]

In January 2012, radiation was detected in the PWR2 test reactor's coolant water, caused by a microscopic breach in fuel cladding. This discovery led to Vanguard being scheduled to be refueled early and contingency measures being applied to other Vanguard- and Astute-class submarines, at a cost of £270 million. This was not revealed to the public until 2014.[21][22]

Replacement programme[edit]

A decision in principle on the replacement of Trident was made on 4 December 2006. Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs it would be "unwise and dangerous" for the UK to give up its nuclear weapons. He outlined plans to spend up to £20 billion on a new generation of submarines for Trident missiles. He said submarine numbers may be cut from four to three, while the number of nuclear warheads would be cut by 20% to 160. Blair said although the Cold War had ended, the UK needed nuclear weapons, as no-one could be sure another nuclear threat would not emerge in the future.

The 2006 white paper, stated that the option of reducing the Trident carrying submarine fleet from four to three submarines, as part of plans to cut costs and to promote nuclear disarmament, would be considered.[23] On 23 September 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed that this reduction to three submarines was still under consideration.[24] In February 2011, the Defence Secretary Liam Fox stated that four submarines would be needed if the UK was to retain its current capabilities.[25] On 18 May 2011 the British government approved the initial assessment phase for the construction of new Trident submarines, paving the way for the ordering of the first long-lead items and preparations for the main build to begin in the future. The new submarine class will retain the current Trident II missiles, and will incorporate a new 'PWR3' nuclear reactor as well as technology developed for the Astute-class SSNs.

A vote on the so-called Trident renewal programme motion in the House of Commons on 18 July 2016 determined that the UK should proceed with construction of the next generation of submarines. The motion passed with a significant majority with 472 MPs voting in favour and 117 against. A new fleet of submarines will come into operation by 2028[5] according to some estimates and certainly by the 2030s,[26] extending the programme's life until at least the 2060s.[27] At that time, there was already some urgency to move ahead because some experts predicted it could take 17 years to develop the new submarine [28][29]

The final cost of the new Successor-class submarines will not be certain until the project has been completed. In October 2015, Reuters claimed it would cost £167 billion over its 30-year lifespan, or £5.56 billion per year; this figure was disputed by the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon.[30] Some estimates indicated that the cost for four boats would be £31 billion at 2016 prices.[31][32] The MoD put the cost of building, testing and commissioning the replacement vessels at £31 billion (plus a contingency fund of £10 billion) over 35 years, or about 0.2 per cent of government spending, or 6 per cent of defence spending, every year.[33] Crispin Blunt, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, estimated in July 2016 that the programme would cost £179 billion in total over its lifetime.[34]


The Vanguard class was designed and built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions. The Devonshire Dock Hall was built specifically for the construction of the submarines. The missile compartment is based on the system used on the American Ohio class, although only 16 missiles are fitted, rather than the 24 equipped on the Ohio class. The Vanguard submarines were designed from the outset as nuclear-powered ballistic missile platforms to accommodate the Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile. This required the boats to be significantly larger than the previous Polaris-equipped Resolution class, and they are some of the largest submarines ever built, only eclipsed by the American Ohio-class, and Russian Typhoon- and Borei-class submarines. In addition to the missile tubes, the submarines are fitted with four 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes and carry the Spearfish heavyweight torpedo[35] allowing them to engage submerged or surface targets at ranges up to 65 kilometres (40 mi; 35 nmi). Two SSE Mark 10 launchers are also fitted allowing the boats to deploy Type 2066 and Type 2071 decoys, and a UAP Mark 3 electronic support measures (ESM) intercept system is carried. A 'Core H' reactor is fitted to each of the boats during their long-overhaul refit periods, ensuring that none of the submarines will require further re-fuelling for the rest of their service lives.[2]

The boats are capable of deploying with a maximum of 192 independently targetable warheads, or MIRVs, with immediate readiness to fire. However, as a result of a decision taken by the 1998 Strategic Defence Review this was reduced to 48 warheads with a readiness to fire reduced 'to days rather than minutes'. Furthermore, the total number of warheads maintained by the United Kingdom was reduced to approximately 200, with a total of 58 trident missiles. The reduced warhead load per missile allowed the development of lower-yield non-strategic warheads loading options.[2][4] The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review reduced this number further and the submarines will put to sea in future with a reduced total of 40 warheads and a reduced missile load of 8 (from a maximum possible 16). The number of operationally available nuclear warheads is to be reduced 'from fewer than 160 to no more than 120' and the total UK nuclear weapon stockpile will number no more than 180.[36]

Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance were commissioned in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1999 respectively.[2]

A new pressurised water reactor, the Rolls-Royce PWR 2, was designed for the Vanguard class. This has double the service life of previous models, and it is estimated that a Vanguard class submarine could circumnavigate the world 40 times without refuelling. The reactor drives two GEC steam turbines linked to a single shaft pump jet propulsor giving the submarines a maximum submerged speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). Auxiliary power is provided by a pair of 6 MW steam-turbine generators supplied by WH Allen, (later known as NEI Allen, Allen Power & Rolls-Royce), and two, 2 MW Paxman diesel alternators for provision of backup power supply.[2][37]

A specialised Submarine Command System (SMCS) was originally developed for the Vanguard boats and was later used on the Trafalgar-class.[38]

The submarines carry the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2054 composite sonar. The Type 2054 is a multi-mode, multi-frequency system, which incorporates the 2046, 2043 and 2082 sonars. The Type 2043 is a hull-mounted active/passive search sonar, the Type 2082 a passive intercept and ranging sonar, and the Type 2046 a towed array sonar operating at very low frequency providing a passive search capability. The fleet is in the process of having the sonars refitted to include open-architecture processing using commercial off the shelf technology. Navigational search capability is provided by a Type 1007 I-band navigation radar.[2] They will also be fitted with the new Common Combat System.[39]

Two periscopes are carried, a CK51 search model and a CH91 attack model. Both have TV and thermal imaging cameras in addition to conventional optics.

Boats of the class[edit]

Name Hull Pennant number Status Laid down Launched Date of Commission
Vanguard 1 S28 Active, in service 3 September 1986[2] 4 March 1992[2] 14 August 1993[2]
Victorious 2 S29 Active, in service 3 December 1987[2] 29 September 1993[2] 7 January 1995[2]
Vigilant 3 S30 Active, in service 16 February 1991[2] 14 October 1995[2] 2 November 1996[2]
Vengeance 4 S31 Active, in service 1 February 1993[2] 19 September 1998[2] 27 November 1999[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hartley (PDF)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Jane's Fighting Ships, 2004–2005. Jane's Information Group Limited. p. 794. ISBN 0-7106-2623-1.
  3. ^ Royal Navy Vanguard class submarine,
  4. ^ a b Strategic Defence Review: Full report 1998
  5. ^ a b "Everything you need to know about Trident - Britain's nuclear deterrent". ITV News. ITV plc. 18 July 2016. Retrieved 20 July 2016. The £40 billion construction of a new fleet, Successor, could begin this year and be operational by 2028, however it will more than likely be at a later date given the MoD's complex procurement procedures. while the current fleet will be phased out by 2032. 
  6. ^ "BAE Systems to begin building new British nuclear submarines". Reuters. 1 Oct 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  7. ^ Letter to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom Confirming the Sale of the Trident II Missile System to the Her Country 11 March 1982
  8. ^ Ministry of Defence and Property Services Agency: Control and Management of the Trident Programme. National Audit Office. 29 June 1987. Part 4. ISBN 0-10-202788-9. 
  9. ^ "DDH celebrates 25th birthday | Astute Class Submarine - BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines". 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Trident order raises arms doubts". The Guardian. London. 1992-07-08. 
  11. ^ Trident pair deny criminal damage BBC News, 13 March 2003
  12. ^ Silent Protest Speaks Volumes The Scotsman, 9 August 2002
  13. ^ "British and French nuclear submarines crash". The Sun. London. 16 February 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2009. 
  14. ^ Allen, Peter; Kelly, Tom (17 February 2009). "British and French submarines packed with nuclear missiles collide beneath the Atlantic". London: The Daily Mail. Retrieved 16 February 2009. 
  15. ^ Williams, Rachel (16 February 2009). "Nuclear submarines collide in Atlantic". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Nuclear subs collide in Atlantic". BBC News. 16 February 2009. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  17. ^ "HMS Vengeance nuclear sub returns home after power loss". BBC News. 3 April 2011. 
  18. ^ "All at sea: Clyde-based Trident sub stranded in US despite £300m overhaul". Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  19. ^ "Royal Navy nuclear missile test sends strong warning of UK's military strength to Iran and Argentina". Daily Mail. London. 
  20. ^ Gilbride, Paul (17 December 2012). "Navy red-faced as nuke sub stranded in the USA". Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  21. ^ "Nuclear submarine to get new core after test reactor problem". BBC. 6 March 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  22. ^ David Maddox (8 March 2014). "MoD accused of Dounreay radiation leak cover-up". The Scotsman. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  23. ^ The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent (PDF), Ministry of Defence, 4 December 2006, retrieved 5 December 2006 
  24. ^ BBC News (23 September 2009). "Brown move to cut UK nuclear subs". Retrieved 23 September 2009. 
  25. ^ "Trident nuclear fleet cuts ruled out by Liam Fox". BBC News. 23 February 2011. 
  26. ^ "MPs approve Trident renewal". BBC News. 18 July 2016. Retrieved 18 July 2016. MPs approve Trident renewal 
  27. ^ Tom Peck (18 July 2016). "Theresa May warns threat of nuclear attack has increased ahead of Trident vote". Independent. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  28. ^ "A guide to Trident and the debate about replacement". BBC News. BBC. 18 July 2016. Retrieved 20 July 2016. 
  29. ^ Norton-Taylor, Richard; Scruton, Paul (16 July 2016). "Trident: what you need to know before the parliamentary vote". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved 20 July 2016. Parliament will decide on Monday if the UK's nuclear submarine fleet will be replaced at an estimated cost of £41bn 
  30. ^ "Britain denies report nuclear deterrent to cost 167 billion pounds". Reuters. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  31. ^ "Vanguard Class Replacement - the successor submarine - Naval Shipbuilding Northwest England". Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  32. ^ "Navy Matters | Successor (Vanguard replacement)". 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2016-09-19. 
  33. ^ "UK nuclear deterrence: what you need to know". Ministry of Defence. 26 February 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  34. ^ Allison, George (18 July 2016). "British parliament votes to renew Trident". UK Defence Journal. UK Defence Journal. Retrieved 20 July 2016. The Successor class is the proposed replacement for the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines. They will carry Trident D-5 missiles, the vehicle for delivering the UK's nuclear weapons. 
  35. ^ Royal Naval Website. "Vanguard Class Ballistic Subs (SSBN)". Retrieved 18 June 2007. 
  36. ^ "Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review" (PDF). HM Government. 19 October 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  37. ^ Richard Carr (19 November 2014). "Paxman Submarine Engines". Paxman History Pages. Retrieved 24 September 2015. One engine drives a Brush alternator with a rating of 850 kW. The AC output from this provides auxiliary power for the ship's service (hotel) load. The other Valenta is coupled to a Brush generator with a rating of 750 kW, providing DC output for propulsion in the event of failure or non-availability of the main propulsion system (emergency "get you home"). 
  38. ^ See "The Royal Navy Handbook" 2003, Conway Maritime Press, ISBN 0-85177-952-2
  39. ^ "Royal Navy's newest sub test fires torpedo using £50 million UK-made advanced Combat System - News stories - GOV.UK". Retrieved 7 August 2016. 

External links[edit]