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.

Confirmation of the build of the seventh Astute class nuclear submarine, HMS Agincourt, and a £2.5 billion pounds investment was announced earlier today.

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.

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 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”.

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.

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

122 COMMENTS

  1. When operating as part of a task group, does the Astute need to match surface vessel speeds, or do they offer regional support but at a slower speed?

      • They can hit 30 knots submerged and in theory maintain that speed where a surface ship could not. The interesting thing is AEP subs can only maintain 2 knots submerged if they want to remain submerged for 4 weeks which is why they are primarily focused on literal environments and the UK and US has not bothered with them.

    • Unless I’m very much mistaken, subs assigned to carrier groups traditionally position themselves upwind of the fleet, between their charges and the likely direction of any hostile vessels

  2. I would think that an Astute wouldn’t be with the task group so to speak, but ranging someway ahead and using its sophisticated sensor suite to search for target’s.

    If you think about it, an Astute paralleling and in convoy with a task group would have its sensors blinded by the combined noise of the groups ships.

  3. Speed = cavitation= noise.
    The astute will be able to deploy very rapidly to a crises zone or area of operations then she must go deep and quiet to prevent detection= slower speed.
    That is just submarine operations, an SSN should be in an area operating independently to protect a surface task force but not shackled to the surface task force.

    • How slow is “slower speed”, just roughly to give some idea of scale? Are we talking the same 2 knot crawl that BB85 spoke about for an AEP sub to stay submerged for 4 weeks or are we talking about something in the 10 – 20 knot range?

      I assume that the actual top speed numbers, and dive depth presumably, are all pretty highly classified.

      What are the availability rates like on Astutes? Are they more limited by human factors (crew, shore time, etc) than mechanical? As I understand it a high level of maintenance is done by the crew during a deployment and their technical knowledge is very high so an Astute presumably doesn’t have the problem that lean manning experiments have thrown up in the past of coming back home with a big backlog of maintenance to be done that could/should have been done at sea. Additionally the reactor is something of a closed and constantly-alive system so, although obviously requiring maintenance, presumably it’s not like stripping down an engine.

      • The Astute class has a complement of 98, but 147 are assigned per boat, so 1/3 of the
        crew are at home while the boat is on patrol, with a new 1/3 rotating out upon return. That keeps availability rates up, as well as morale of crew and family.

        The reactor maintenance is easy, just spray WD-40 on everything daily. 😉

      • That’s not true David. Pump jets can and do still cavitate, they just produce more thrust before cavitation begins to occur.

        • Correct, all rotary impellor style turbines/pumps will cavitate at a certain speed. The cavitatation point is mostly dependent upon the manufacturing finish and the pitch incidence of the blades. Varible pitch blades offer a greater range before they start to cavitate. The theory is no different to laminar flow over a wing except you are dealing with a stickier medium i.e. salt water.

    • Deep = no cavitation = speed
      SSNs certainly support Battle Groups & not necessarily always in the forward sector – unless an adversary happens to be on the BG track, they will be approaching from the flanks or stern.

  4. Last year In The Yank media they were saying it’s the best sub in the world by a country mile ..

    • Warships IFR did a report on that. Great 2 page spread. Astute pitted against 2 Virginia class SSNs. In the exercise took them both out. Then proceeded to engage and sink a cruiser and an Arleigh Burke before disappearing.
      These are utterly deadly vessels. With correct strategy and a skilled crew they are war winners.
      The US Navy were reported as saying they could not believe the range the astute detected the Virginia class, tracked them and got a firing solution on them with heavy weight torpedoes without the Virginia class even knowing she was there.
      Just wish we had more than 7 ordered and under construction.
      9 or 10 would be much better and well worth the expenditure.

      • Agree, these are the most important naval assets we have and 7 is insufficient. To get more tough choices would need to be made, if scrap dreadnought and buy nuclear cruise for the while fleet. I know the range, yield, survivability and patrol issues but I think on balance it would be worth it for another 5 to 6 astute.

  5. If its true that the Astute is regarded as the best sub in the world, why is it we don’t export at least elements of the design. The French have just won the Auzzie deal to supply Barracudas. Did we not enter? I would hope that if not and we have decided to not export the design it is purely due to the fact we want to protect our advantage.
    If not, it is another case of designing world beating kit that somehow doesn’t seem to interest other countries and we need to get more savy. Just look at our tanks, helicopters, ships, subs, missiles etc, all among the best in the world but very little sales to show for it. Yet countries offering just an ok/decent product seem to rack the sales up. I guess its because our products are so expensive and ive just answered my own question!
    We need proper long term industrial strategies, with more of a focus on high/medium/low end products. That way we can bulk out our armed forces whilst also being able to offer a range of options to suit buyers budgets. Hopefully the T31 is the start, but im not seeing much else in development that isn’t gold plated.
    I would love to see our government have some vision, and work with industry to create good solid platforms at an affordable price, which we can then gold plate if we want to keep our ‘edge’. We have the talent to do so much, new fighters, ships, subs, tanks, missiles, and do it ourselves. We just need the government to invest in new high tech manufacturing facilities and R&D. We do so much, so well, I just get disheartened when so many opportunities are lost with the economic and social benefits that go with it.

    • It’s an interesting conundrum, whether or not to attempt to export a world-leading product or a variant of it. If some of the secret sauce that goes into making Astute great is super-highly classified and considered by HMG/MoD to be genuinely unique and not known to other parties then every single extra person that has access to that information, even if a totally trustworthy ally, is another possible point where the information could be leaked. For examples just look at the extremely strong bonds between the US and UK intelligence services. Even there the UK has compromised US information and the US has compromised UK information. Of course each country has also compromised its own information, e.g. Snowden and GCHQ has had its own leaks from staff as well but it does all show that limiting the number of people possessing a piece of information is the first and most basic security measure.

        • Yep is a continuum of trust, some things nations seem to like to keep to thereselves even if there could have been strategic advantage in sharing or selling, the F22 was a classic example, as strategically the western world could have done with wider access to the F22, it also would have drop the unit price and given the US a bigger buy. Look at the spat the US and UK had over the F35 it was almost a break up (which could have really damaged the programme) over Sovereign control between the two development partners.

          To be honest I would much rather see much tighter collaboration between the western democracies and a lot less offering of very high end capability to nations that do not really see our world view ( Middle East, India ect). If we did not compete as much ( look at the number of fighters that compete in the Typhoon class) but instead worked together better we would not need to flog our top end kit to nations we may end up in conflict with at some point.

      • Agree. There are certain areas of Intel and tech only between USA and UK. Let’s keep Astute capability ourselves.

        • Good points all. Though I do believe that that an export version could be sold to the RCAN, RAN, and RNZN (ex very sensitive gear) without compromising the technology. I would still explore an SSK version of the Astute for the RN dedicated to homeland protection while the nukies could be used on worldwide deployment. There would be enough commonality between the two versions that most sub ratings could interchange between them – excluding propulsion ratings of course. With lower costs an extra 3-4 SSK might be procured to augment the nuclear boats.

          Cheers!

        • Agree the Astute is a symbol of national pride and contains some of our most utterly top secret technology. We cannot share that technology with any other nations, even allies.
          As for an AIP version of astute. One question.
          Why?
          An AIP version will not have the range, power, endurance of an SSN not be able to sustain more than 4 knots submerged for any prolonged period of time.
          If we want more subs, which we clearly do need. We need to just buy a further batch of 3-4 more Astutes.

    • The main reason I suspect is our lack of a proven UK submarine using AEP, when the UK developed the Upholders their outdated propulsion made them immediately obsolete despite being extremely quite and capable in every other aspect.
      Labour then went down nuclear only route which left it to industry to develop AEP themselves for the export market which was never going to happen, leaving it to France, Germany and Sweden to hoover up the export orders.

    • We should definitely look to build a diesel electric version of the Astutes to increase our own submarine numbers if nothing else, and possibly win some exports too.

      Even when Britain does come up with something great like the Zephyr U.A.V. they deliberately sell it to foreigners so Britain doesn’t benefit from exports like we obviously should. It is government policy that Britain should not have any decent industry/exports, and if any do emerge they have to be sold to foreigners immediately.

      It’s similar with the Taranis, there is no doubt in my mind that if the will was there we could have a great product without needing France, but they literally can’t stand the thought that Britain might end up with something of our own, so it either has to be sold to foreigners or, in this case, go 50/50 with a foreign country when we don’t even have to. But under no circumstances must Britain be allowed something of our own.

      We need a complete change of policy from the government, invest in cutting edge manufacturing facilities (U.A.V.s, armoured fighting vehicles, ships, submarines, trains, wind turbines, etc.) then keep them in British hands so we benefit from our own genius. This is what us British people want. It would be an extremely popular move, it would provide people with well paid jobs and it would make Britain money, it would be a win/win situation. It is time to start investing in, and supporting, British industry.

      • Here here. exactly my argument as well. It baffles me why Government doesn’t do it, it seems such a no-brainer. Developing a high tech industry for military purposes then allows us to be leaders or competitive in other things. Then we get well paid jobs and skills, then the tax receipts flood in to government. Win win for all. Simples!

      • When people talk of Government they are really talking Central Civil Service. These are the Bods that go on regardless of the Political Government in power. The Politicos have to play catch up, which in the UK is a problem because so few politicos have much military experience. Presently this may be improving; lets hope so.
        This knowledge gap and industry gap needs closing and should be addressed as a matter of urgency. However when the two get too close you get screams of ‘Military Industrial- Political complex!’; are too cosy.

      • Foreigners, foreigners, foreigners. Seems to be the only thing your concerned about and it is very bizarre as the topic is the Astute class

    • Remember when the U.K. announced a few years ago that they wanted to collaborate with France in the development of a new generation SSN/SSBN. The US vetoed it. Our SSNs/SSBNS, including Astute and more demonstrably Dreadnought, still depend to a large extent on US technological transfer in power plant and noise deadening technology. In the case of Dreadnought, the missile compartment is of course jointly designed. At one point, Canada was interested in buying Trafalgar type submarines. I think in that case the US would have agreed. It would be hugely expensive to develop an AIP version of Astute. Britain has zero expertise in this area. In fact I am perplexed by the Australian buy of a non-nuclear version of France for the same reasons. Sweden and Germany are the world leaders in this. But I guess Australia wanted a bigger sub? The barracuda class was developed from the beginning with an ‘export’ version in mind. I don’t know the differences apart from the nuclear propulsion plant.

        • Or we could just get more Astutes. Which are shaping up to be the best, most deadly and capable subs in the world.
          Why go AIP when we have a nuclear powered design that actually works. We do not need the development costs.
          If we are going AIP or SSKs then a compact small 800-1000 ton BMT design would suffice. Enough to screen the nuclear deterrent force coming and going and very useful to train future SSN and SSBN crews in. Periscope course etc and special forces insertion and recovery. Much better to have a small sub for these roles and leave astute to take on enemy SSNs and SSBNs as well as surface warship groups and capital ships.

      • The green lobby is quite strong in Australia the media would be convinced nuclear fuel would end up released into the great barrier reef or something else that daft. Considering its remote locate only SSNs make military sense to Australia the French prob still would have won the contract though Astute got a bad rep for its production delays even though they are now sorted and likely the less risky option.

      • Australia needed a larger sub with greater range, so they could patrol from the western Indian Ocean to the northern Pacific.
        Cammel Laird offers a 3600 ton SSK with or without AIP, crew of about 45. They could have bid on the Australian project but it was not a proven design. The RN should buy 3 or 4.

      • Sceptical Richard, Britain was still building diesel electric subs in the ’90s, I wouldn’t say we had “zero” expertise in this area.

        • Indeed we did Stephen G. Some of that expertise is still alive and well (just about) and helping Canada with theirs 😉 I think they are still the quietest boats the RN ever had. Astute may be quite for nuclear boat but I doubt they’re as quite as the Upholder/Victoria class were/are.

          • Nuclear submarines have to keep the ‘feed pump’ running; it is one of the major headaches when it comes to design them. It is one of the reasons why Chinese submarines are noisy.

    • T.S. Astutes are nuclear powered boats. I don’t think AUS like nuclear power so probably wouldn’t have one if they were given one. 😉

  6. Just an extra.

    This as an example that the moaners on here and elsewhere need to consider when describing our forces as third world. We could have numerous extra ships. Instead we have capability such as these.

    The true battleships of the RN and I wish we had more.

    • I know it’s great to have two carriers, but I would happily have given up one for a couple more Astutes.
      I not sure if you are implying me as a ‘moaner’? I do often moan lol, and often through ignorance in some part. But my most passionate moans are often those to do with frustrations over a lack of backing and vision with our procurement and industrial strategies. Like you have often said dan, a high medium low mix, not just high to sort out depth. And I want to US building our great ideas.

      • No T.S I had no one especially in mind! To be fair most are “guests” who come on and say some crap about our military and disappear.

        Agree with your ideas too.

        I was meaning more along the lines of extra escorts myself than the carriers. 2 are fine for 1 always ready.

        • Can I point out that there are now two T.S’s. I am going the original and not the one who has been posting on this feed. New T.S, we may need to agree on being T.S1 and T.S2?

    • I moan quite a bit, but not about capability – I worry about depth and only in some cases.

      QE’s, Astutes, T-45s, T-23s, T-26s, Merlins, F-35s, Tides, Trident, all world class, some top of that top class.

      Of all the above I am content with numbers only on QE’s, Tides & Trident.

      Let’s see what the MDP brings – not long to wait now.

      • Agree. Depth and the way Mod and government treat the forces and dole out the money, these are the moans.

        I was thinking of those who appear on this site and bemoan our third world military. I still recall that is exactly what he said just don’t remember who it was!

    • Agree guys, I wish we could build even 1 more Astute, and/or a few diesel electric submarines to bulk or numbers up, perhaps based on the Astutes to save money, we could probably win some exports with them too.

  7. While there may only be 7 of them (when all delivered), one of these is enough to totally gut most Navies and hang them out to dry.

    A truly fearsome predator of the deep and a superb World leading SSN

  8. Was there ever a specific reasoning for 7 ? The Hunterkiller fleet has had a really significant drop in numbers. You can sort of see a (very week) argument around dropping the numbers of 45s from the 42s, as you could argue one 45 could do the job of two 42s ( for protecting a task group that would have needed multiple 42s). But hunter killers don’t work in multiples so it’s in no way relevant how much better an Asute is to previous generation of hunterkillers, you still need the same number.

    • I think the initial numbers where around 10, but with the threat of Russia barely existent 10 years ago (their subs where more of a danger to their sailors than us) the numbers where cut and production stretched until the Dreadnoughts to maintain skills and employment. I’m more confident now we will see 4 Dreadnoughts rather than 3, and if 1 is surplus to requirements it could potentially be used as a conventional high capacity TLAM carrier.

      • When Blair was cutting the escorts from 35 to 32 and then 31 the SSNs were going from 12 to 10 if I recall correctly.

        Come new chapter in 2004 they were vowing 8.
        Somewhere along the line 7 was then the norm.

    • Yes I too really want to understand where this figure of 7 came from. 4 to continuously protect the ND then 3 for global deployment? Having a global deployment of 1 sub at any one time seems a bit slim, 2 would make more sense (which would mean a total of 10).

    • One reason may be that there is no need to refuel. T class boats spent the best part of 2 yesrs out of service undergoing LOP(R).

    • Well done Hellions. Thanks for that. It was of course Rickover’s close relationships with Mountbatten which enabled us to build the first Dreadnought. The back end of Dreadnought was in fact a Skipjack. Rickover was dead against this at the beginning but Mountbatten won him over eventually.

      • Did not know that fact about the Skipjack stern on the Dreadnought SR! Lord Mountbatten must have really put on the charm offensive to get Rickover to agree to this. By all accounts he was a very hard case…

        Cheers!

        • He must have done. Apparently even the Americans didn’t like Rickover very much. Most officers and politicians lived in fear of him. An extraordinary character…

          • The Admirals hated Rickover – he went around the Navy leadership (& the President) directly to Congress.

          • Rickover was a very brilliant and gifted head of engineering and research programs. His issues were he was one of the people who KNEW he was brilliant. That made him difficult to work with,crude, abrasive, and short tempered. Rickover very gifted but he probably could have accomplished more had he had a bit more tact.

  9. The number of subs is a real concern, no matter how good they are, cant be in two places at once. Russia have 80 subs, therefore potentially able to gang up on individual Astutes, removing their advantages. Then we loose a couple and we are stuffed! Same for so much other kit, enough for peace time to show force and provide excellent capabilities, but we loose some through attrition and we almost completely loose a capability. This is why I and others have called for an ssk, for say £500 mill a pop – they look after Faslane and North Sea/home waters, and the Astutes support QE’s and galavant around the world. If we loose a few, we still have enough to defend at the least.
    Also, why cant we keep the current Vanguards and re-commission them in a new role just like other nations do. Fit them out to provide mass land attack with cruise missiles taking the strain off the Astutes, I presume they are stealthy as hell still, I might be wrong? Surely spending a couple of hundred million each would give us extra numbers we need, and an improved capability for an extra 15 years or so providing they are used for lower tempo ops.
    I am happy to be put in place by someone who knows what they are talking about in regards to subs, but if other nations do it to build on numbers, why not us?

    • T.S. From what I understand UK ship numbers deliberately do not take into account potential losses, read it in a government paper somewhere. With the Russian navy numbers can be misleading and aren’t always a great indicator of naval strength. That said, one of the UK’s main defence policies Vs Russia is that of relying on our ‘allies’. Currently policy isn’t designed for us to go toe to toe alone with the Russians and come out on top, I would imagine a large reason behind this is financial. Bear in mind ASW has more layers than just submarines. That said, I too would like to see more focus on ships for actual UK defence, be it 3/6 SSK submarines, or a flotilla of smaller ships (like China has). Maybe at the moment defence planning relies on our northern neighbors and the Germans for ask support?

  10. just to dive in on why we don’t try and export the Astute, the propulsion technology and acoustic suite is light years ahead of the rest of the world with the exception of the US where we are just a block ahead and the Russians where we are a torpedo strike ahead.

    it is truly a magnificent piece of engineering – sadly nobody will ever get to see or appreciate it close up

    when you sell to other countries, you proliferate your technology, some of it will have been caught up by the commercial world anyway and it doesn’t matter but you still don’t need to be doing it.

    even now the Trafalgars are as discreet as a fart in a library and look how old they are….

    • Could we not also build a lower end version with a more standard propulsion, acoustic suite, etc. for export?

      • Submarines unlike surface warships are, how can I say it, very much a closed system. You can’t really peel bits away and shove other bits into them. There have been cases where submarines have had extra length inserted to them. You can built families of a design, but again these are designed from the get go to be as such. For example the SAAB A-26 comes in 3 variants and 4 lengths. But as rule it would be very difficult to do what you suggest. Astutes are big boats which would add complications when it came to buoyancy and tank volume and achieving trim for a Astute light. Plus the current reactor is large. Reactors are always heavy. I just can’t see it being viable. It would probably cost as much to do the redesign as it would to buy a whole ready designed large SSK.

  11. The RN owe the US some gratitude for your Astute class. Without their expertise (particularly at Electric Boat) the Astutes would probably never have been completed! Thats the problem with ordering so few boats, its hard to maintain the capability to design/build them.

  12. The US economy is between 6 and 7 times bigger than the U.K.’s. It currently has just over 60 SSNs in service, including under construction. That would suggest that the U.K. should have around 8 to 9 SSNs. That’s just a very rough rule of thumb. So we will have 7. It would be nice to be able to build one or two more. I for one would trade some surface navy for more subs. These are the only things that instil fear in an enemy.

    • And it’s not 7 SSNs getting underway – given training, maintenance & overhaul, having more than 5 ready to go will be extremely difficult.

    • Also bear in mind %gdp both countries spend on military. Over 3 for US Vs 2 for UK.
      icepilot, understanding UK navy rotation in most scenarios it is very unlikely that more than 2 astutes will be deployed. I assume that 4 are used to continuously protect the ND, leaving 3 for global deployment.

    • Wonder if they have thought about including an extra section in the last couple of Astutes similar to the Block IV Virginia’s extra section? It could add a great deal of firepower to the sub fleet with all those extra VLS cells…

      Cheers.

      • No chance Hellions. Other people are adopting the cylindrical VL six-pack system for T-LAM, NOTABLY THE Swedes on the A-26 follow-on to Gotland class and the export AIP Barracuda France is selling to Australia. On Astute we’ve instead increased the tubes to six and increased the size of the bomb room to house 38 weapons in total ( I’m guessing a mix of 16 TLAMs and 22 Spearfish?). That’s a pretty impressive loadout although I suspect not as much as Virginia Block IV?

        • Apologies SR,

          it’s the Virginia Block V (2019 boat II) which gets the VPM. The Block IV improves maintenance and tweaks design. They carry the same TLAM loadout as the Block IIIs which have two payload tubes which replace the 12 VLS tubes on earlier boats. The Block V’s add the VPM and 4 additional payload tubes in addition to the IVs for a total of 40 TLAM shots not including the boat’s torp loadout for its four tubes.

          http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-simple-reason-why-americas-virginia-class-submarines-are-17835

          Cheers!

          • Thanks Helions. There’s lots of interesting stuff in that article but one thing really caught my eye – “an SSN normally deploys 14 times during its 33-year lifespan”. If that’s a 6 month deployment then it’s deployed 7 x 6 months / 33 years = 21.2% of the time. Does the US do longer deployments, i.e. more than 6 months, which would increase that percentage?

            Presumably the UK works to a higher ratio to make up for having far fewer SSNs. That ratio on our fleet of 7 would give 1.54 subs deployed at any given time, i.e. a lot of time there would only be a single Astute deployed and we’d pretty much never get beyond 2 deployed at the same time.

          • Silly me. The 21.6% ratio is correct but I should have said 14 x 6 months (not 7 as written – that is the number of years deployed).

          • Julian,

            The USN SSN force end strength numbers ( and therefore deployment schedules) are a bit of an illusion because many of the boats are tied up and minimally manned – not because of real manpower issues – it’s because of the fact there is not enough yard space for their maintenance and midlife overhaul availabilities.

            Some of them have been waiting for a significant amount of time – The worst I can think of is the case of the USS Boise which has been waiting years and still hasn’t made it in (USN states she’s next up)… This is due to lack of public yard capacity which has been neglected because of the inability of our pols to pass a budget for years….

            Due to issues such as these, the actual number of hulls available for deployment is far fewer than the paper list and for the remainder, deployments are adjusted to compensate – even though the USN is trying to shorten deployments across the board. Also, keep in mind that many of the SSNs are forward deployed so they don’t have to spend as much time out to maintain an immediate presence in an AOO.

            Some of these issues and others are laid out in this article. It’s long but very comprehensive and covers things well IMO.

            https://index.heritage.org/military/2017/assessments/us-military-power/u-s-navy/

            Cheers!
            Also, many of our subs are forward deployed

          • Thanks Helions. Really interesting & informative.

            Are any of your subs forward based by the way? 🙂 🙂

      • I agree with Richard. I think the Astutes are too far advanced and locked in for such a big design change. One interesting thing for the future though is that I believe the Common Missile Compartment was at one point going to have an option to host multiple TLAMs in a single tube as an alternative to a single Trident. Does anyone know if that capability did make it through to the final design? If yes then incorporating a single CMC (which I believe is 4 tubes) into the UK’s next generation SSN (i.e. Astute successor) might be an option. Since those are probably going to come straight after the Dreadnought builds are finished it would be technology that is well understood and already in service at that point.

        I wonder whether a cut down version of Dreadnought might even be a starting point for the Astute successor or, even with 2 or the Dreadnoughts 3 CMCs removed and scaling down everything (hull size etc) correspondingly, would that still be much too expensive? Given Dreadnought’s role and that it’s a more recent design than Astute maybe one area where it might be noticeably more advanced than even Astute is noise dampening. When Dreadnought takes to the water is it likely to be the quietest thing out there (assuming the next gen US SSBN isn’t around yet)?

    • And that is why Russia has so many of them. They cannot match the USA in most areas, but all those subs could cause havoc if war broke out. They could close shipping routes and pose a huge threat to carrier groups. Another example of their area access denial tactic.
      With the uk being an island and dependant on shipping imports, we need to up numbers to meet the threat. As I have said before, cheaper ssk’s To increase numbers, then work on cheap autonomous loitering subs networked with an underwater sensor field in key areas around us. They could rest on the sea floor until a sensor is triggered then fire up and investigate, then neutralise if necessary. Build lots at around 500 tonnes, fully armed and all controlled or monitored from a central command point. No need for extra crews and far cheaper to operate and purchase. Would be a huge force multiplier.

  13. SR it’s not the size of the economy its the size of the respective defence budgets that should dictate your logic. The US is about 11 times plus, the size of ours so 7 attack subs seems a pretty good ratio.

    • Yeah Bill. There are many ways of looking at this. The 10/11 to one rule works as well. But at the end of the day, it’s your economy that pays for defence and everything else. And unless your productivity is head and shoulders above everybody else’s (which ours unfortunately isn’t!) the size of your economy is going to dictate more or less what you can afford…

      • To add I think it’s not so much what one can afford rather what one chooses to spend. The UK is choosing to spend almost 14Bn/yr on foreign aid. That must come at the expense of something else. I’m not against foreign aid in principal but as a nation, we have to ask if such a vast sum can really be justified. Our politicians have no intent of upsetting the masses by cutting the NHS or education, so defence becomes the easy kitty to raid. We as a nation do this at our peril for I fear it will come back to haunt us.

        • I have been saying the same thing David, we absolutely have to cut the foreign aid budget, it is far too high. This would be a hugely popular move. We can use Britain’s own hard earned money saved to improve our own country (enlarge the Royal Navy, rebuild our industries with state of the art facilities, improve our motorway network, improve our railway network, etc.).

      • You also have to think of economies of scale – once you’ve got some nuclear submarines, you have to fund a infrastructure to support them, train the people and so on, and those backroom costs of operating more or less does not scale linearly. E.g. The cost of operating two submarines is not twice that of one.

        Hence where the difference to start with is almost an order of magnitude based on expenditure, then you could imagine a further 50% factor for the larger force.

        This is reflected in reality, US kit is bigger/more capable than ours, as well as being present in larger numbers. The US also looks after it’s people much better. It’s able to do all that because it benefits from scale.

        Unless of course you have some cheat, i.e. technology, cleverer process or cleverer people.

        The UK has to some extent the latter – in that we train people to a higher standard so they can do more thus requiring fewer people, but of course costing more to train.

        Given the UK is wealth and technology heavy but people resource light, small well equipped and well trained forces are very much our natural forte – hence why historically that is what we’ve had, and only gone mass in oddities (i.e. using local manpower during Empire, and WW1, although even then we were still small relative to France/German mobilisation).

  14. Again – the V class subs are highly capable. Why can’t we re -purpose them as super Astutes?

    16 tubes for cruise missiles? They would be absolute beasties.

    • Surely it’s also a matter of crippling cost or even impossibly of life-extending them? If it was possible to life-extend them any further then I suspect HMG would have jumped at that option to keep them in the CASD role, kick the can down the road on Successor and we wouldn’t be into the Dreadnought program yet.

  15. We are an island nation.
    Seemingly forgetting the hard won history of the 20th century.
    Our national survival is dependent upon commerce and trade.
    The UK at any time has only upto 6 months food in stock, thereafter people starve to death.
    Too many people, not enough land or knowhow to produce enough food of our own.
    I would think a couple more astute class would be a small price to pay for our freedom and democracy to be assured. Whilst we are at it…another 9 Poseidon MPAs and at least 10 type 31 frigates and at least 96 F35Bs in active service. That should help us all to sleep better in our beds at night.
    I could go on, but do not want to be accused of “fantasy fleets” as so often happens on this website when you suggest a reasonable force level or capability.

    • Chuck in a few more Merlin, and Wildcat for good measure. And some additional RFA vessels – Diligence replacement, Argus replacement, dedicated hospital ship, and additional replenishment capabilities spring to mind.

  16. Fantasy or sensible ….

    12 T45
    12 T26
    16 T31
    12 SSN
    4 SSBN
    3 Flat top Helicopter/ dock well Amphibious Carriers
    3 QE class Aircraft Carriers
    Enough F35B’s to support Four 18 aircraft Front line Squadrons, OCU etc plus attrition 100+
    Enough Merlin ( transport and AS) plus Wildcat to fully support the above
    RFA asset’s in sufficient number to fully support the above
    18 Poseidon’s.

    Personnel, well paid and cared for and in sufficient number’s to underpin the above.

    • I agree with the 12 ssn and T26, but don’t think we need 12 T45, their only future use will be carrier escort and task group once t31 comes online and 6 will be fine if we get them all manned and active alongside T26.
      I think if we built support ships with decent amphib capabilities and helo facilities we would only need 1 LPH. I would rather spend the money on them and the 3rd carrier you propose on a fleet of SSK personally.
      Agree with a few more P8’s and increase in helicopter numbers.

    • Impossible. That is a force of escorts back to 1995 Front Line First levels.

      T31 at 10 units tops for me. Even that probably too much to hope for.

      • With current spending yes, impossible. It’s what we could and should have if we get an uplift in budget. Just a bit of depth added really.

      • I would be content if we just get all 8 type 26. Possibly 1more added through the savings of sharing the design with Australia and hopefully Canada.
        I think if we get 8 type 31s in service that will be a good result.
        A couple more Astute class would be a huge result.
        Our armed forces have never been so cash strapped and small as they are now. The government are sleeping at the wheel. Content to rely on foreign powers to help defend us from our enemies. We should be more self sufficient and able to project military power across a broad spectrum without so many capability gaps and inadequate force levels.

  17. The list I came up with is simply restoring force levels to a minimum point, to allow the country to defend itself robustly and independently.

    Today we are fully dependent on Allies to fill the blanks, a dangerous place to be.

    • We’ve always relied on allies. This is a strength that we have such strong and effective allies. Why would we want to have to afford to protect ourselves independently? One on one were beatable, 28 to 1 no chance…

      There are gaps but the most expensive complex stuff is covered. We need to reorient our defence posture to the maritime and make some hard choices on our land forces capability.

    • The UK has achieved the historical impossible of being a small semi-isolated nation becoming a global super power, and post that, remaining a global power – off the back of being very good at making and keeping Alliances.

      It is hard to think of a single conflict where support, active or passive, from Allies has not proved vital in our success.

      In contrast, most of our enemies have been defeated because they have failed to match our Alliance building ability. Germany in WW1, WW2 and of course the USSR in the Cold war spring to mind as the main ones recently. Falklands 82 being the obvious recent Naval one.

      Equally, when we try to operate without proper consideration of our alliance status (Suez) or we don’t build it big enough (Crimea 19C) or we have an inferior one to the other side (US War of Independence, where we failed to inhibit theirs) things go badly wrong.

      Thinking of Theodore Roosevelt’s quote about speaking softly whilst carrying a big stick; this image gains further impact when your mates are standing alongside you and also carrying sticks (big or small – as the other quote about a man and a stone vs a child dropping and a brick, albeit the latter right next to you comes to mind!)

      Instead of seeing dependence upon Allies as a weakness, it can be viewed as the strength of teamwork. It is an interesting mindset to think about, and perhaps reflects individuals approaches to their own lives.

      That isn’t to say Alliances are easy (dodgy partners, costly, tedious, compromises, inefficient), but they are effective at delivering results, and we are good at getting them to work for us.

  18. I’ve always thought that the problem is that no-one considers what we actually NEED. What are the areas we need to look at, what do we need to defend those areas. Apart from our nuclear deterrence I would look at four main areas. Home/Russia, China, Falklands, Gibraltar.

    Let’s take the last three first.

    China – is that really our problem or area of influence? We’re not going to be able to influence anything there, the odd tie up with allies is the way forward – but basically using spare capacity rather than anything critical.

    The Falklands. Realistically, not under any major threat. Certainly doesn’t need anything high tech… why not post half a dozen Hawk trainers – they can be used as fighters, would be a good training area for pilots and serve a useful purpose as well. hey would be more than enough for anything liable to be used against them in the forseeable future. Add a few troops and a visible general purpose corvette or two – again, low tech should be enough for the job.

    Gibraltar – Not an area that wants a major naval presence – if Spain decides on a military ‘solution’ it would just be a waste of resources. Yes, needs a military presence, army plus two or three gun armed patrol craft would do the job.

    Which leaves the UK. Personally, I would divide this into three areas – though two of those areas would be heavily linked.

    The first area would be the shallow seas such as the Channel and North Sea. This is my area of concern. Our forces seem to be very poorly suited to this area – shallow seas that would be a killing ground for our current navy. The requirement here would be for smaller, very quiet, non-nuclear subs that patrol the area but are visible in the sense that there is a lot of toing and froing from two or three East coast bases, patrol craft to defend the oil rigs, etc, plus lots of air defence corvettes with a ship killing (and escorting) capability, plus (Hawks or equivalent) to escort errant Russian aircraft. Hold the Typhoons etc in reserve…

    Next, the old Western Approaches. This is really the area our Fleet is best suited to. Our subs can patrol the area, a carrier group can extend the range of shore based aircraft to keep those sea lanes open, would need more patrol aircaft operating from west coast airfields though.

    For me, these are the ‘requirements’ – once these are met, anything else is ‘optional’.

    Looking at the threat from Russia – I think it’s overstated. Look at the size of their economy and military budget. How much useable stuff can they have? I think they are trying to produce too much new stuff and don’t have the capacity for it all. Result – something has to give, and I think that something is the bulk of their armed forces. I believe they have some excellent resources that they they are very good at displaying – but not all that much backing it up. Lots of show, less substance.

    • Agree, but I have always felt that vessels could and should be forward deployed to Gibraltar (similar to HMS Juffair) for wider Med/South Atlantic tasking. Perhaps a future role for T31 or future River orders?

    • Rob I think your Falklands/Gibraltar point is about British overseas territories in general. Given their dispersion, the threat of carrier strike / astute and a type 31 stationed in the region should be enough. For any constabulary rules we need to use our opv fleet. For wars of national survival, well we defend the UK by helping the rest of NATO to keep the attacker in his barracks or if he is too stupid to know better to give him the bloodiest of bloody noses, crippling cyber attack and economic ruin. A couple of armoured brigades ain’t going to help us do that but astute, carrier strike, type 26, Poseidons, typhoons, f35s, AWACS, jstars, tankers will. These assets will also be useful in deterring and intervening worldwide when our interests are threatened by countries like Iran or China or nkorea, working with local allies like Australia. Light ground forces that can do garrison, SF, train local forces, coin, etc

      • The lesson of the 20th Century, which is not dissimilar to the lessons of previous centuries, is that wars are decided on land, and if you want to have influence in how an alliance operates, you have to make a significant land contribution. Ultimately the Navy is a supporting arm, just as the Air Force is, not to say the Navy cant make tremendous effect, or that it can’t “lose” the war, but it cannot win it. I write that as a lifelong fan of the Navy, but also as an experienced realist.

        The UK in WW1 could not have doubled it’s Dreadnoughts and slashed the Western Front – we had to be there holding ground and taking losses like our Ally.

        The UK in WW2 could not have built more ships and chinned off most of the Armoured Divisions that secured the Mid and Near East for us, nor could we not have poured our all into 21st Army Group and instead built more ships to more effectively harass the Axis.

        The UK in the Cold War could not have ignored BAOR and 2ATAF in favour of keeping the Expeditionary/East of Suez capability. NATO was (and remains) our cornerstone and ensuring we can shape and direct NATO to meet our needs means having “skin in the game” just as our Allies do, even if geographically they are the land adjacent to the threat.

        The UK could not have smashed piracy etc. in the Arabian sea (and elsewhere) with flotillas of surface ships but not sent a Brigade sized formation to Afghan alongside our principal ally.

        You have to be on land to be a credible partner. 1991 and 2003, and 2003-2009 and 2006-2014+ show that land forces means a heavy strike force and a medium sustained force. Light forces are useful but again are supporting aspects (particular terrains, short duration rapid deployment). If you want SF, you need a decent sized pool to recruit from. If you want to train people, you have to have credible experience and a capability to do so.

        Trying to play one service against the other is foolish in the extreme, all are needed.

        The difficult answer is that actually the UK has got it broadly right – pulling out of EoS didn’t really cost us anything (everywhere we were is pretty much as we left it but now the locals and allies do most of the heavy lifting) and instead we stabilised and reinforced our core home NATO commitment – a commitment that succeeded in deterring and defeating the primary threat. Since the Cold War we’ve been able to do everything we have needed to with the Forces we have. A larger Navy over the last 20 years would have offered minimal benefits to the main UK policy objectives (keeping Allied relationships sweet and maximising influence with them) and come at significant cost of what we wanted to do to achieve that – which was deploy land and air forces forward.

        • Thanks Alf, really good points. I don’t want to run the army down to nothing but adopt a maritime posture as the UK traditionally did for hundreds of years. My view is let the continental powers focus on the land forces and we focus on our areas of strength, which are also the same forces that allow us to exercise global influence and make us a partner of choice. An enduring brigade presence was no where near enough to stabilise Helmand or Southern Iraq… Nor would it have been in northern Ireland or any of the counter insurgencies Britain faught as the empire wound down. Navy seals are recruited from the civilian population, so disagree with the need to have a large pool for SF roles. In my view ww1 and ww2 were exceptions and unlikely to be repeated in the electronic/nuclear age. In both these conflicts the naval dimension kept Britain in the war while the land campaigns waged by Britain achieved little in comparison to the russian and American interventions. But besides the different interpretations of historical context, it’s about the future of warfare in the context of a constrained budget. Why is a one off divisional commitment and an enduring brigade commitment the answer? It smacks of the maximum that can be afforded that is then applied to any situation that arises. If argue for an army that is optimised for intelligence, serveillance, targeting stand off weapons, training, stabilisation and counter insurgency, maritime delivered raiding. All light forces with a shift in priority to maritime, cyber and airforce. I think the nature of conflict is going to be very different to world war 3 scenarios.

  19. Lots of comments rightly raving about the Astute and some mention of favourable comments from the US together with comparisons vs the Virginia Class. In comparisons with the Virginia Class it’s worth including the torpedoes isn’t it?

    From a look at the specs on Wikipedia Astute’s Spearfish look a lot more capable than Virginia’s Mk48 – 54km max range and 80 knots speed for Spearfish vs estimated 38km at 55 knots or 50km at 40kn for Mk48. It’s not clear whether the Spearfish 54km range is at 80 knots or if it’s variable like the Mk48 spec but Spearfish is a lot bigger (longer) and heavier than Mk48 and with warhead sizes almost identical (Spearfish’s very marginally bigger) I assume that extra volume and weight is going to fuel so perhaps it is 54km at the full 80 knots. Both torpedoes have wire plus active sonar guidance so it seems pretty similar although there’s no way to tell from the articles which might have the better sensors and/or more sophisticated target discrimination and re-engage-after-a-miss algorithms.

    Is it fair to conclude that Spearfish is significantly better or is there much more that needs to be considered to do a fair comparison?

    • Data on both torpedoes is highly classified. From the info in the public domain, it can be surmised that both torpedoes, when they work as intended (let’s not forget that ALL torpedoes can be temperamental), are very good. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that Spearfish has the edge on Mk-48 ADCAP both on speed and range. Both torpedoes would only reach max speeds in the final phase of an engagement. But let’s remember that success is less related to the quality of the equipment and more to the quality of the people in control of that equipment and the command team above them. Also, equipment reliability is more important than ultimate performance. Here I suspect the RN still has the edge in quality of people but perhaps continues to suffer in the reliability of its kit as has tended to be the case since time immemorial.

  20. Question: if the French can offer a modified Barracuda submarine to Australia with diesel propulsion could not BAE do the same to the Astute class?

    Would this not potentially provide the RN and export customers an outstanding SSL with a top notch sensor and weapon suite?

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