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Astute SSN class to consist of seven boats again

The RN nuclear sub fleet is reportedly to receive a “boost” of some £2.5bn to cover the £1.5bn cost of one more Astute hunter-killer submarine and the next phase of construction of the four Dreadnought missile boats.  In a speech to be given at BAE’s Barrow site, the Defence Secretary is to say that:

“Agincourt will complete the Royal Navy’s seven-strong fleet of hunter-killer attack subs, the most powerful to ever enter British service, whilst our nuclear deterrent is the ultimate defence against the most extreme dangers we could possibly face.”

However, for some, this will be regarded as being a rather tardy attempt to put right a catalogue of errors and failings which have be-devilled the UK’s submarine deterrent at many levels. Earlier reports have focussed on the fact that we had somehow “lost” an Astute in previous defence cuts and critics of the reductions in overall government defence-spending will not be elated so much as grimly satisfied that the final Astute is to be re-instated.

This one sub alone will not redress the overall weaknesses in the UK’s capabilities, however.  As was published on the Save The Royal Navy website in Feb 2017:

Let us not pretend everything is fine. The RN’s SSN force is far too small and fragile. The legacy of flawed government policy, funding cuts, industry cock-ups and MoD mismanagement going back more than two decades is being felt on the frontline. There is a small army of politicians and Civil Servants who should be on trial for the gross negligence that has created this mess. With their hands tied by circumstances beyond their control, those serving today (and many of the civilian workers in the supporting infrastructure) should be commended for continuing to get submarines to sea. RN submariners retain an outstanding reputation for skill and aggression and the service does not compromise on nuclear safety. While it is obviously not quite business as usual, we can look forward to Trafalgar class submarines at sea again soon and their eventual replacement with the outstanding Astute class.

The cash for the Dreadnoughts is not a “boost” as it was programmed in from the start – failing which the whole replacement programme for the current Vanguard Nuclear Deterrent would have had to have been put on hold.  The money is the first big tranche of funds to cover contracts placed over the next 12 months; four vessels are to be built, with the first not due on patrol before 2028 to 2030. However, a government watchdog has already pointed out the overall shortfall in the Deterrent’s budget is likely to be in excess of £20bn and that unless some drastic measures are taken to redress this then the UK will not have the equipment or capability currently identified as being necessary.

 A very lifelike impression of a Dreadnought-sub due in service in 2028

The Dreadnought will be the first RN submarine to feature combined hydroplanes and rudders in an ‘X tail’ configuration at the stern. This arrangement is more complex to build and to control but allows for smaller planes and reduces noise. It is likely the Dreadnought uses an electric permanent magnet motor to drive the boat instead of the steam turbines used on all RN nuclear submarines until now. This follows developments in the surface fleet where Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) is being used in the latest generation of ships. On Dreadnought the nuclear reactor will drive steam turbo generators that provide power for the motors and the rest of the boat’s requirements. Motors avoid the need for noisy reduction gears and allow more flexibility in the layout of the propulsion system. There is a slim possibility that Dreadnought has adopted the submarine shaftless drive (SSD) system with an electric motor mounted outside the pressure hull in a watertight enclosure integrated into the propulsor unit.

TMT acknowledges the use of material from Save The Royal Navy


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