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[Rear Admiral Abbott was educated at Queens CoUege, Cambridge, and joined the Navy in 1964. He served in a wide variety ofsurface ships and commanded CHAWI’ON, AMBUSCADE and AJAX He has been in his current assignment since Febnuuy 1991.]

As we look into the rest of the nineties and the tum of the century, the Royal Navy in common with the USN is facing change. It may be of interest to USN readers to learn something of how that change is effecting the Royal Navy, and particularly the Submarine Force, while at the same time taking moment to cast an eye more generally across some submarine matters in the UK.


The new United Kingdom Defence Strategy has been generated in the face of the changing world scene. The pace and direction of that change keeps varying, but some regions of instability remain clearly marked; the Middle East; the former Soviet republics; South Africa and of course Yugoslavia. Others are less conspicuously flagged, a few column inches in yester-day’s newspaper waiting to grab the headlines in tomorrow’s. The proliferation of sophisticated weapons threatens to provide the means by which local feuds, mostly ethnic in origin, could grow into major conflicts. Despite these dangers, the optimism brought about by the collapse of the former Soviet Union is very much alive. The spirit of cooperation in the United Nations and their willingness and detennination to bring pressure to bear to achieve peace are noteworthy examples. The Royal Navy has an important part to play in the face of this change, and in the three overlapping defence roles defined in the new UK Defence Strategy which are, in summary:

  • to ensure the protection and security of the United Kingdom and her dependent territories, even where there is no external threat.
  • To insure against any major external threat to the UK and her allies.
  • to contribute to promoting the United Kingdom’s wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and stability.


Utility. Over a forty year period, while being primarily shaped to respond to the massive threat posed by the Soviet Union, Royal Navy forces have been called upon to tackle a wide range of very different security problems, and these will continue to pose challenges to the UK and her allies. Many of the naval tasks of the future are likely to be familiar ones. The rationale for maritime forces in the new strategic environment can be based largely on recent history which, in addition to UK commitments to NATO and routine operations in support of defence policy, over the last few years bas seen a number of operations of specific interest across the whole spectrum of conflict, including Operation GRANBY involving conflict with Iraq in 1990191 (DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM in the USA); clearance of Iranian mines in the Gulf in 1988; evacua-tion operations off Aden in 1986 and Liberia in 1988; humani-tarian operations by Royal Marines and helicopters to assist Kurdish refugees in Northern Iraq; disaster relief in Bangladesh and in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in the Canobean; and assistance in anti-drug smuggling operations both in UK waters and further afield (including in the Caribbean). Submarines were among the Naval forces involved in some of these operations, although the prime example of their utility had been demonstrated earlier, in the Falklands War of 1982.

There are some common features of all these operations that we expect to continue into the future, notably that Naval forces designed primarily for sophisticated tasks in high intensity conflicts close to home have proved suitable for employment in a diverse range of lower intensity tasks around the world. [Ed. Note: Emphasis added.} The Royal Navy can maintain this general purpose utility provided that we can keep a balance of capabilities within the Fleet, including submarines, and the amphibious forces needed to exploit the enduring attributes of flexibility, mobility, availability, endurance, reach, autonomy and their overall contribution to deterrence both strategic and conventional.


The bedrock of a rationale for our maritime forces is a clear demonstration of the value of these attributes to the strategic interests of the nation.

Europe. Although the United Kingdom is now less threat-ened directly than during the Cold War, our islands remain strategically significant. They lie on an axis between North America and Europe, between oceanic and coastal trade routes and astride the sea lanes that will be used by most of NATO’s maritime crisis response forces, strategic lift reinforcement and resupply and economic shipping in peace, crisis, or war. It is for this reason that the UK makes such a substantial contnbution of both deep and shallow water forces to NATO. More recently the Western European Union (WEU) has been of increasing importance in developing the European Pillar which together with the Transatlantic pillar provide two crucial elements of NATO. Ships and submarines could be made available to the WEU for WEU tasks when not required in their NATO roles. There are also opportunities for the development of WEU operational planning, command and control arrangements, mutual exercises and common training.

The Wider World. Crises continue to occur in spite of international attempts to prevent them – nearly all outside the NATO area. Our recent and continuing operations in the Gulf have emphasized several strategic lessons. This region has been, and will continue to be, a source of instability where our Naval forces remain ready to deter or help deter any potential aggressor and to protect our interests in peace, crisis, and war as the Gulf patrol has done for the last eleven years. The Kuwait campaign demonstrated the importance of international cooperation and multinational employment and also our dependence on strategic sealift. Over 80% of the logistic support to British forces in the Gulf went by sea.

Indeed the UK depends on the sea not only for military access — to deploy and support forces to areas of crisis — but also for our trade of which over 90% by weight moves by sea. 30% of Europe’s oil comes in tankers from the Gulf.

Our interests are increasingly threatened by the worldwide proliferation of arms in spite of attempts at international control. For instance. 60% of the world’s current total of 376 conventional submarines are owned by Third World nations. and some 3.000 Exocet air and sea launched anti-ship missiles have been sold abroad. [Ed. Note: Emphasis added.] RN warships of all types have the qualitative edge to face this proliferation of sophisticated weapons. This must be retained.


Against this backdrop we can define the maritime tasks of the future. The reguirement for the UK to provide credible sttateiPc nuclear forces continues in an uncertain environment in which huee stockpiles of nuclear weapons. althoueh reducine. are still maintained and the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a major concern. [Ed. Note: Emphasis added.] The RN will continue to give priority to this task.

Conventional forces will face a wide range of tasks from peace through crisis prevention and response to general hostilities. Tasks that demand a balance of forces, of which submarines are a part Like other elements, they are able to operate on the high seas without the constraint of national boundaries or arms control limitations and are suited to early deployment to an area of tension. Their reach, autonomy, endurance and ability to poise or withdraw covertly can make them useful instruments of foreign policy at the early stages of a crisis. They can help to demonstrate resolve to dissuade any potential aggressor and can contribute to the covert collection of intelligence and sutveillance. Credible deterrence depends on good training, and exercising with Allied naval forces demonstrates solidarity and interoperability.


Size. The size of the RN submarine force by 1995 was announced by the Government’s “Options for Change” of the Armed Forces in 1990. In summary, this allows a force of about twenty submarines which includes four SSBNs. four SSKs and about twelve SSNs. [Ed. Note: Emphasis added.]We have almost reached those numbers, an overall reduction of about 35% in hulls. The four SSBNs will be the new 16,000 tonne TRIDENT submarines of the VANGUARD class. All four have been ordered from the sole submarine building yard of VSEL (Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited), and HMS VAN GUARD has recently completed her first of class trials at sea. The first of the previous RESOLUTION class of SSBNs has now paid off. The SSNs will be the five remaining SWIFTSURE class and the seven TRAFALGAR class subma-rines, of which HMS TRIUMPH was the last joining the Fleet in 1991. Three of the four new diesel-electric UPHOLDER cia~ SSKs are in commission, with the fourth, HMS UNICORN, to join them very soon. These submarines offer an entire weapon system that equates to that fitted in an SSN, as well as a specialized special forces capability, at about 40% of the cost.

This mix of modem submarines of all types provides for a balanced force, and reemphasizes a commitment to retaining the best possible quality of vessels, available to meet future require-ments and especially capable of operations in all maritime theatres. In the longer term, an updated TRAFALGAR class submarine, known as “Batch 2 TRAFALGAR class”, or B2TC, is being considered as a replacement for the SWIFTSURE class.

Weapons and capabilities. Torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, mines and special forces can all be delivered by conventionally armed RN submarines, and the Trident DS missile in the VAN GUARD class supersedes the Chevaline missiles which updated the original Polaris weapon of the RESOLUTION class. The Mk24 “Tigerfish” remains the most stealthy ASW torpedo in the world, but it will be replaced shortly by “Spearfish,” a more capable and flexible weapon designed to counter any modem submarine threat. RN Sub Harpoon is similar to the U.S. version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile, but with some tactical differences. Continuing development of sensors and data handling systems. and a policy of backfilling and updating submarines will continue to ensure their maximum capability through life. [Ed. Note: Emphasis added.)

Manning. There are abut 6,500 officers and ratings in the submarine service, which reflects a gradual shrinkage commen-surate with the reduction in hull numbers. The system of officer manning is different to that used by the USN; Roval Navy officers are trained as specialists in their own professional fields. so that any ship will contain Executive {or Seaman) Branch. Marine Engineer. Weapon Engineer and Supply Officers. (Ed. Note: Emphasis added.] Only Executive Branch officers can attain sea-going command. This system dates back to 1956 when a major review was last conducted. In line with changing times, another all embracing review of the officer structure of the Royal Navy is under way.

The existing  system  leads  to  a  SSN or  SSBN  under  the command of a Seaman Commander or Lieutenant Commander is some SSNs, supported by three Heads of Department: a “Perisher” (command qualified) Seaman Lieutenant Commander as XO (second in command, and head of the Seaman Depart-ment); a Lieutenant Commander Marine Engineer Officer as head of the Marine Engineering Department; and a Lieutenant Commander Weapon Engineer Officer as head of the Weapon Engineering Department. The Supply Officer works for the XO, and heads his own small department.

In the past, the division between the Seaman and Weapon Engineering departments has been straightforward, with seaman personnel operating the equipment provided and maintained by the Weapon Engineers — sensor systems, tactical data handling, communications, and navigation equipment. This division allowed each to be specialists in their own field, providing the command with expert advice and support from each area. However that division of responsibility has gradually become blurred with the increase in modem technology, and the service is moving towards more of a user/maintainer concept. Seaman officers conduct the submarine from the Control Room, supported in their tactical handling of the vessel by junior seaman officers and rating operators, while Marine Engineer officers provide propulsion and mechanical engineering support from their watchkeeping position in the Manoeuvering Room.

Submarine Command. Perisher- the Submarine Command Course – is still the benchmark by which all submarine Seaman Officers are judged. As rigorous as ever in its pre-selection process and in its nature, it reflects the needs of nuclear submarine command and has long since left its diesel submarine based format. The process of selecting an officer for Perisher begins early in an officer’s submarine career, which allows the outstanding candidate to be detected by his successive COs as early as possible commensurate with his experience. If selected for the course a typical officer will be about 32 years old and either about to be, or just recently promoted to Lieutenant Commander having filled each junior Seaman Officer duty in his submarine career thus far. Under the eye of “Teacher”, each Perisher student develops his proven command abilities both at sea in a SSN and in simulators ashore, so that safety, tactical and weapon firing situations may be applied to each student under escalating command pressure. It is a pass or fail course, and the successful Perisher will move on to become a nuclear submarine XO before eventual command. SSK COs are extracted from the same system, typically commanding SSKs as Lieutenant Commanders following their appointment as nuclear submarine XOs.

Command and control. All RN submarines are controlled from Northwood, Middlesex, near London, the home of Fleet Headquarters. The precise control arrangements vary depend-ing on tasking, but in general Hag Officer Submarines operates all except the deterrent force on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet (CINCFLEET). Flag Officer Submarines com-mands the submarine force through four submarine squadrons which will shortly reduce to two. The First Submarine Squadron in Gosport, near Portsmouth, is home to the UPHOLDER class and is co-located with the Submarine School and HMS DOLPHIN, the submarine shore base that is the historical alma mater of the submarine command. The Gosport-based submarines will move and be subsumed into the Second Submarine Squadron in Plymouth, Devon, home of the TRAFALGAR class SSNs. The Third and Tenth Submarine Squadrons are at Faslane on the west coast of Scotland; the former supports the SWIFrSURE class, the latter the SSBNs. They will shortly be combined to form a new First Submarine Squadron. The submarine service is further supported by two dockyards, at Plymouth on the south coast of England and at Rosyth on the east coast of Scotland, both government owned but privately managed and able to conduct nuclear submarine refits.


RN submarines have played a vital part in the Cold War, but with its ending, the Submarine Force, as well as providing and ensuring the security of the strategic deterrent, has to refocus on traditional roles. As a part of the balanced Naval force necessary for upholding the National Defence Strategy, it is modem, well equipped and manned to do that It is having to respond to the need for streamlining, and has to bear its share of reductions in defence expenditure – but not at the expense of quality and effectiveness. While numbers may chanKe, there is no intention of allowing the RN Submarine Force to be anything other than one of the best in the world. [Ed. Note:Emphasis added.]

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