The Astute class are the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world leading sensors, design and weaponry in a versatile vessel.

The class have provision for up-to 38 weapons in six 21-inch torpedo tubes. The submarines are capable of using Tomahawk Block IV land-attack missiles with a range of 1,000 miles and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes.

HMS Astute fires a Tomahawk missile.

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‘, the system acts as the submarine’s brain – controlling its ‘eyes’, ‘ears’ and ‘nervous system’. You can read more about that here.

The manufacturer say that no other attack submarine is as technologically advanced. In the words of BAE, the Astute class is “designed and engineered to be the stealthiest submarine of her type, equipped with the latest and most powerful sonar suite and secure communications facilities, while exhibiting a low noise signature and optimum detection avoidance characteristics”.

Astute class submarines in build at the BAE facility in Barrow.

Astute class facts and figures:

  • over 100km of cabling and pipe work is installed on board each submarine
  • fitted with Sonar 2076 providing the Royal Navy with the ‘biggest ears’ of any sonar system in service today
  • each submarine is 97 metres in length
  • over 7,000 tonnes total displacement
  • the Astute class is the first class of Royal Navy submarine not to be fitted with optical periscopes, instead they employ high specification video technology
  • able to manufacture its own oxygen and fresh water from the ocean
  • can circumnavigate the world without surfacing, her endurance is only limited by the amount of food that can be stored
  • armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The seven Astute class nuclear powered submarines will have the capability to circumnavigate the globe without surfacing, limited only by their food storage capacity. Able to deploy rapidly, they are powered by a nuclear reactor that can run for their 25 year lifespan without refuelling.

As mentioned above, the submarine is armed with the Tomahawk – known in the Royal Navy as TLAM (Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile) – the submarines are able to strike at ground targets hundreds of miles inland with pinpoint accuracy. According to the Royal Navy, Tomahawk IV is the latest version of the missile.

“It has a longer range than its predecessors (well in excess of 1,000 miles), can be directed at a new target in mid-flight, and can also beam back images of the battlefield to its mother submarine.”

An Astute fitted with a Dry Deck Shelter which allows special forces (e.g. SBS) to deploy whilst the submarine is submerged.

Additionally, the Spearfish torpedo is the heavyweight torpedo mentioned above and it weighs nearly two tonnes and is capable of blasting enemy submarines or ships out of the water.

“At full speed, Spearfish can attack a target up to 14 miles away. At low speed, that increases to more than 30 miles. It is guided either by a copper wire or closes on to its target using its inbuilt sonar, delivering a 660lb explosive charge. That detonates either when it strikes the hull of an enemy submarine, or via an acoustic proximity fuse underneath the target.”

HMS Astute and HMS St Alban’s.

Courtesy of BAE, we’ve also been able to publish an interesting list of more bits of trivia.

Did you know…

  • Astute class submarines are the UK’s largest and most powerful attack submarines and can strike at targets up to 1,000km from the coast with pin-point accuracy.
  • Astute submarines are the first nuclear submarines to be designed entirely in a three-dimensional, computer-aided environment.
  • Design and construction of an Astute submarine has been described as ‘more complex than that of the space shuttle.’
  • If the cables on board an Astute Submarine were laid out end-to-end, they would stretch from Barrow to Preston.
  • An Astute submarine’s 90-day dived endurance is only limited by the amount of food that can be carried and the endurance of the crew.
  • Astute submarines are the first Royal Navy Submarine not to be fitted with optical periscopes – instead the vessel employs high specification video technology.
  • Astute submarines will be the quietest ever operated by the Royal Navy.
  • The Devonshire Dock Hall is BAE Systems Maritime-Submarines main build facility, standing 51m high, 58m wide and 260m long.
  • The first submarine for the Royal Navy was built in Barrow, and every submarine currently in service was also built there, Holland 1.
  • Astute class submarines are designed not to require refuelling throughout her projected 25-year life.
  • 10-week patrol the 98-strong crew of a Astute will get through (on average): 18,000 sausages and 4,200 Weetabix for breakfast.
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Dave

An average of 2.7 sausages per day. Even for a sailor that’s a lot of sausage.

geoff

…and, as we all know, not very good for them!

Jonathan

Do we know how many tins of beans they carry and how many double deckers busses they can fit on the flight deck…..I’m sure there must a a pick of the House of Commons as a scale somewhere……

Andy P

All good points Jonathan, personally, I’m curious what they look like stood on their end next to Nelson’s column for scale. 😉

Andy

I think it be a neat trick to say how many double dockers can fit on there flight deck seeing as they don’t have one .

WillDbeest

They keep losing the helicopter

Rob

11 subs, 4 SSBN & 7 SSN are not enough to both deploy and defend our independent nuclear deterrent and interdict the opposition’s subs. A class of 4 to 6 advanced diesel electric subs would be able to linger around opposition bases, interdicting their access to Atlantic deep water, provide training opportunities without involving a nuclear boat and provide security in home waters. Never happen though.

RobW

Agreed but the extra hulls will have to come from unmanned systems in the grounds of cost and crew.

Robert Blay

Well we have managed so far with 11 subs without disaster.

Darren hall

when was the last time we were attacked in our home islands??

WillDbeest

when is that likely to happen?

Basra

SSK’s will be increasingly replaced by drones. If you want something to sit near an enemy naval base or a choke point and sink stuff much better to use a drone. Also the UK and and allies have a massive advantage over Russia and China in SSN and SSK production and capability. I’m all for more SSN’s but hard to justify them in the basis of a perceived enemy threat that does not really exist.

Paul T

In the case of China distance from the UK means the threat is not as obvious, but as far as Russia is concerned their Submarine Capability shouldn’t be dismissed.

Dern

I vote we introduce the weetabix as a unit of range.

Jim

Would it not make sense to give the Astutes an AShM option? There’s so so few of them that the ability to hit out to say ~100 miles could really put some questions in mind for any enemy if they knew a sub was in the region.

ETH

How would a sub reliably track a target 100 miles away? And go through the chain of command in order to confirm it’s an enemy warship and not an ally, all based off of the sound of its engine?

Jim

Realistically it wouldn’t, but because it can it makes the enemy reactive to the threat. It’s like sinking one ship with a torpedo in the Falkland’s put the entire Argentinian fleet in port. The threat of a missile attack can prevent the enemy doing something they wanted to do, or draw in assets they wouldn’t want to use there. Imagine a sub has tracked a naval assault force that is heading into a combat area to snatch and grab an island or important coastal area. The situation is time sensitive but the sub can’t get in position in time and… Read more »

Last edited 19 days ago by Jim
ETH

Good points.

Mr Bell

The sonar on the astute is so good that it can “hear a ship leaving Americas East Coast and identify it. It’s not so much the sonar itself more the computer processing power on the Astute which is frankly phenomenal.
So 100 miles away identify, lock on and attack a ship using AShM. No problem.

ETH

OK, but how are they to determine if it is an enemy warship or a commercial vessel? And to a level of accuracy where the sub can be sure that it wants to sink the vessel, provided there are extremely relaxed rules of engagement. All from 100s of miles away.

Not to mention the missiles fired would have the potential to unintentionally lock on to civilian ships along its route.

Paul T

There are Two options i can think of,either UGM84-A Sub Harpoon,retired from the USN but strangely now being reinstated,or closer to Home SM39 Exocet if the French are willing to help,if a Situation dictates it could be bought under an UOR.

Mr Bell

Or Naval strike missile aka Norwegian anti ship missile. Its stealthy, accurate and now being developed to be sub launched.

Robert Blay

The threat of an Astute operating in the area would be enough to keep most Navy’s in harbour, regardless of what weapons it carry’s. Stealth is the real winner, and Spearfish would be enough to take out any foreign warships.

Challenger

A familiar story sadly. World beating technology but in such a small number relative to the tasks they are expected to fulfill.
 
I still scratch my head over how 7 Astute’s are supposed to support CASD, counter Russian activity in the North Atlantic (albeit alongside NATO partners), provide the primary means of pre-positioned strike via Tomahawk East of Suez and now also protect the carrier-group.
 
I know there is a bit of overlap (sometimes) between those roles but how many SSN’s can we expect to be available on a good day, 2-3? If that’s the case what have they stopped doing?

Dave G

Talking fantasy fleets… I would try and develop a role fit vls for cruise missiles that could drop into the trident tubes and build a couple of extra bombers to give 1 continuous deterrent and 1 continuous TLAM boat (1 from 4, 2 from 6?). That would give extra margin for CASD boats, drop the per boat cost of vanguard replacement, give a more significant uk tlam salvo capability and free up an ssn for other tasks. I suspect the vls mod development and buying sufficient missiles to fully arm them would be prohibitively expensive (assume the ohio class mod… Read more »

ChariotRider

Hi Dave G,

Good idea. The US already have a VLS for TLAM, so I’d just replace the existing bomber tubes with TLAM VLS on the same hull. The redesign should be relatively straightforward and could be carried out whilst building the bombers. It would also create a technical difference between our bombers and TLAM boats so easier for Russia to varify that we are keeping to the various treates…

Cheers CR

Paul T

Agree,an option might be to have some sort of Drop -In System that fits straight into a Trident Tube with say 3 or 4 TLAM to give you that option.Im pretty sure that all Missile Tubes on a Vanguard aren’t always filled.

Deep32

Whilst this is very possible from a engineering perspective, my question would be; why would you want to compromise our only nuclear ballistic missile asset by fitting it with a missile that has only 15% of the range of the TD5 system? A better solution would surely be to fit cruise missiles to ships as originally intended. Just a thought….

Paul T

Because it gives you another Platform to use amongst Dwindling Assets – agree its not the Ideal one to use but as one Submarine can only ever be in one place at one time,maybe a Situation developes where an SSBN might be better placed than a SSN or Surface Ship at the right time.

Deep32

Yes Paul it does give you another platform to use, but, the role of the SSBN is to carry the country’s nuclear deterrent, ready to respond at short notice upon recipt of a firing message. It does that best by remaining undetected, far away from potential shipping routes, using the range of the system to stand well away from any likely immediate response, WEO a missile coming back at it, in which case it wont really matter where you are!!! Due to the way they are required to operate, they would in all likelyhood remain well outside of the range… Read more »

Andy P

Agree with Deep32 on this Paul, they’re not going to take a BN off its patrol for pretty much anything. They keep clear of any vessels etc so it would be counter intuitive to give them a second role (well third, in the event they fire their missiles they’re supposed to become large SSN’s) that would potentially compromise their primary role.

Paul T

I wouldn’t suggest taking any SSBN away from its core Role,just that in these Strange Times it would as i said give more Options for what are now called ‘Targets Of Opportunity’.

Danny

To even suggest that certain missile tubes on a Vanguard aren’t always filled is inherently moot. Unless one of the boats is in dry dock for a refit, all 16 missile tubes are fitted with the Trident D-5 armed with up to 12 warheads apiece. Roll on HMS Dreadnaught

Paul T

SDSR 2010 clearly stated the Intention to reduce the Missile Load out from 16 to 8,carrying 40 Warheads.

Deep32

Unfortunately we’re in a worse position then that , whilst we currently do have 7 SSNs, Audacious is on sea trials, and the 3 T boats are really on their last legs. They will be averaging some 29 years of service, which is far beyond what was invisaged for them. All 3 have had very costly life extensions, but unfortunately, in the nuclear world, reliability can suffer greatly when they reach this age. Core life will also be at less then desired levels, effectively limiting what they can do. I suspect that hull availability will dip over the next couple… Read more »

Challenger

I was basing my assumption on the best case scenario of having all 7 Astute’s in service but I’m aware that won’t be for at least 6 more years (probably longer)! As you say the remaining Trafalgar’s must be absolutely flogged and surely cannot be providing the same level of availability at their much younger cousins.

The last T boats are going to have to stick around even longer to avoid dropping below 6 SSN’s in the years ahead.

Deep32

Yes they will most likely have to do that, but the issue will still be ‘core life’, or more accurately EFPH (number of hours of remaining core life). The lower the number of hours, the less tasks that they can actually do – prior to decommissioning, Torbay was confined to UK water operations for this very reason. If the T boats cant deploy far and wide, that shifts the burden onto the A boats, whilst core life is not an issue at the moment, it will be in 10-15 years. Astute has already been in commission for some 10 years,… Read more »

Glass Half Full

Out of 7 it seems like we should be able to support at least 4 Astutes at sea at any given time if we had to maintain that tempo of ops? However, it seems likely that protecting CASD egress and entry may well fall to patrolling UUV in future, as will as establishing a far more pervasive undersea monitoring capability for the North Atlantic, through significant numbers of UUV platforms for this purpose. In both cases, we would be able to field many more UUV than manned SSN or even AIP boats, with much lower costs. We would then use… Read more »

Challenger

I’m no expert but i imagine on a very good day 7 SSN’s would give 4 deployed or at least ready for operations. As you say when UUV’s mature they may take some of the pressure off of the Astute’s with regards to CASD support. Combined with a greater proliferation of cruise missile options from T26 and the carrier’s reducing the need for a constant/separate Tomahawk boat presence East of Suez it may enable the RN to just about get by on 7 boats. A lot of if’s, but’s and jam tomorrow promises as per usual though, with an absolute… Read more »

Robert Blay

But yet we still manage to perform all the above tasks. Because the RN actually knows how to manage our fleet very well 😄

Andy P

They might be fine at managing the platforms themselves Robert but the numbers leaving suggest they’re not so good at managing the matelots.

John Clark

The only saving grace here is the substantial load out, while an Astute obviously can’t be in two places at once, the thought of a single Astute hanging around in your backyard is extremely sobering! The reality is that one Astute (with it’s excellent crew) is perfectly capable of gutting most Navies. In an unthinkable war with a Country like China, a couple of Astute class boats could massively damage the Chinese Navy, with little they could do about it. It’s one area that we have a ‘massive’ technology and quality advance and lead over China and Russia. Though you… Read more »

Andy P

Worth bearing in mind that they don’t usually deploy with a full warload John.

John Clark

Good point Andy, you would hope they would deploy fully tooled up for bear, considering the small number!

Andy P

The ‘Bomb shop’ is also the extra bunk space for any riders. I can’t remember going to sea with a full bombshop, it certainly wasn’t a common thing. You can do a weapons load alongside though, you could ‘top them up’. It happened often enough with the ‘shooter’ boats banging off the TLAM’s.

Rob N

You forgot the Falklands – South Atlantic..! I suppose the good thing about a sub is you never know where it is when it is at sea so our foes do not know which critical function our Government has not covered due to their cutbacks… it is like that game with the pea and the cups…

Jonathan

I suppose the question to ask is how quite and how good is the sonar, passives and number crunching power compared to a Virginia or other contemporary boat.

RobW

You won’t find a definitive answer to that but I understand HMS Astute followed a Virginia class boat for quite some time without them being aware. It was a few years back and there were USN officers on board Astute who were rather surprised. We won’t ever know which is better but I’d take the Astutes and RN training any day.

Spyinthesky

Yes that story has often been told so I suspect there is substance to it. Indeed some ‘quotes’ from those purportedly involved were pretty dismissive of the Virginias’ claiming they could toy with them at will but you always get a level of hyperbole in these matters so one has to be a little circumspect.

ETH

It’s classified. One can only assume that as two nations who have historically similar technology when it comes to defence (albeit the US actually has enough money to implement the technology), the two subs are very similar and have advantages and disadvantages of their own.

Mr Bell

Astute is better than Virginia class. Warships IFR 2-3 years ago ran an excellent 4 page article on the Astute. Crucially a write up of its first deployment to exercise vs US Atlantic fleet off US East coast. The US navy sent 2 Virginia class out to hunt Astute down. Astute detected them. Targeted them and sunk them both at a range beyond the Virginia’s detection. In short they never knew what him them. Astute then proceeded to make the point by penetrating a Carrier battle group and sinking 2 cruisers and an Arleigh Burke as well as having a… Read more »

WILLIAMS BRUCE

I hope when the review finally comes that the RN ends up with MORE destroyers and frigates, however I doubt it.

Trevor W Hogg

Somewhat off beat, but looking at the photo of the 3 sub’s being assembled, head on they look like a T-Rex. May be just me.

Ron

Looked at them again and yeep I agree, they do look like some pre historic monster ready to gobble you up.

Jonathan

One thing I always find really interesting is the clear difference in the hull form. The Astutes are profoundly different from other wester contemporary nuclear subs. Now I understand the length to beam ( or should I say diameter) ratio may have been impacted by the reactor choice. PWR2 is a large reactor requiring a large diameter hull to house. There is an optimal length to diameter for submarines but does using PWR2 prevent you from designing that in unless you are going to increase the tonnage of the ship dramatically ? Going away from length to diameter other western… Read more »

ChariotRider

Hi Jonathan, I read an article on how wave drag works on a ship and how a bulbous bow works (it was actually quite interesting, honest). After that I looked at the Astute hull shape in a new light. I’m no expert and could be wildly wrong, but I think that the odd shape around the fin in particular is designed to reduce hull drag. The fin will create its own ‘bow’ wave and I think that the shaping in that area of the hull will help to limit the pressure wave and hence drag. The placement of hydroplanes will… Read more »

Paul T

Yes ive always wondered the same thing – the difference between an Astute and the New French Suffren is like Night and Day.

rec

Unless there is extra funding 7SSNs and 4SSBNs is what we have got. It would be great to build under licence an of the shelf AIP design (5 units), like wise an additional 30 Merlin ASW helicopters. The elephant in the room is the cost of renewing the SSBN force from the core budget, this has not happened before and that’s the real strain on the Defence Budget. yes there needs to be an uplift in personnel. Then the other big strain is disposing of the decommissioned Nuclear Subs safely, that is a challenge that could well be environmentally catastrophic… Read more »

Daveyb

BAe have said that once the Dreadnaught program states there won’t be space to build Astutes concurrently. But looking at the size and width of the hall, could they not build Astutes and Dreadnaught side by side, or am I missing something?

Deep32

It would depend entirely on the size(beam) of said Dreadnought class, back when Trident was building they had a T boat alongside a V boat in the shed, so yes its entirely possible, though enough skilled labour might well be an issue.

Andy P

If you can fit 3 A boats in then you can fit an A and ‘D’, guess it would be down to the dockies to work out the logistics. PC Lettings will still be rubbing their hands though at the Pussers expense.

David Barry

They were still building T boats? Do you mean an A boat alongside the V boat?

When I walked around inside the hall they stated 4 boats could be built concurrently…

Any Barra lads on here?

Deep32

No, it was Vanguard and Triumph in the shed if I remember correctly, with Talent and Upholder in the basin. Showing my age now….

David Barry

You’re right. Vanguard was laid down mid 80’s but launched early 90’s. Triumph was laid down later but launched earlier!

Ron

The Astute class boats are well impresive, they fall somewhere between the US Seawolf and Virginia class in overall capability whilst being more cost effective. For two Virginia class you would get three Astutes. So they can hold their own in the cost issue. However there are several issues and things that I would change if I could. The first is numbers, there is not enough of these subs to do all the tasks that would be needed in times of war. The navy unlike the army needs the numbers in peace time as that is what they will have… Read more »

David Barry

Crew?

Ron

At the moment the RN is about 2,000 men under strength this would equate to approx the crews for 8 ships or subs with half of the number being on leave or training. So that is the first issue that needs to be resolved. Secondly as I explained there are three ways to pay for an increase in ship/sub numbers. I used option 2 as the most likely to be succsesful which was to keep the defence budget as is but place the CASD back into the direct costing of the treasury. This over the next 30 years would save… Read more »

Trevor G

Don’t see how we can hope to win against the bad guys on 0.6 weetabix per man per day…

Daveyb

My son did the Weetabix challenge. Did 12 in one go, hasn’t touched them since – strange that!

Jonathan

Quality has a quantity all of its own,,,,,,

David Barry

Not in different oceans and seas, it doesn’t.

Darren hall

DID YOU KNOW,,,

  • Astute submarines are the first nuclear submarines to be designed entirely in a three-dimensional, computer-aided environment.
  • Design and construction of an Astute submarine has been described as ‘more complex than that of the space shuttle.’

Did’nt they forget the Galley, and have to redesign the interior to fit??

Simon

How many miles of sausages and weetabix is that?