I would like to present my net assessment judgment just from the beginning. Recently I finished the manuscript of my book Reflections of a Maverick. Nuclear Submarines and Defense Policy in my Destiny, and, by my opinion, the British ASTUTE class nuclear attack submarine is the Best in the World at least from the point of view of naval architecture. Let me try to prove such a statement.
First of all, I will discuss her creation and building history and then her comparison with two American and one Russian newest nuclear attack submarines: Sea wolf and Virginia and Acula classes.
The Astute class submarines are the next generation nuclear attack submarines of the Royal Navy. When completed, they will comprise the largest nuclear-powered attack submarines the service has fielded.
As the Swift sure class submarines aged, the Royal Navy began to plan their replacements. The original design called for large blue water submarines. Feasibility studies began in 1986 and were completed by 1989. A design contract was placed with Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (VSEL) in 1987, but with the end of the Cold War the project was cancelled in 1992. Emphasis switched to the production of a second batch of Trafalgar class submarines. However the development was very slow and initial tenders received from VSEL in June 1995 were too expensive.
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy has changed its submarine strategy and tactics from the Cold War emphasis on anti-submarine warfare to the concept of Maritime Contribution to Joint Operations. The proposed replacement subs were redesigned. The primary mission of the Astute class submarines became direct support of surface forces.
Original plans were for seven boats of the Astute class to replace five Swiftsure class submarines and the two oldest Trafalgar class boats. Plans, however have been scaled back. The Swiftsure class will be entirely decommissioned by 20 I 0, when only the first of the Astute class subs will be coming into the service. HMS Trafalgar is to be decommissioned in 2008, followed by HMS Turbulent in 2011.
On March 17, 1997 The British Ministry of Defense announced that it was to place a 2 billion pounds order for three submarines and further that they would be called the Astute class. On March 26, 1997, the contract was signed with CEC-Marconi Limited for the first three subs: ASTUTE, AMBUSH, and ARTFUL. CEC would build the submarines at its VSEL subsidiary (BAE Systems Submarines).
As it is known at this time, the Astute class submarines will have the following tactical-technological characteristics:
Classification: Nuclear-powered attack submarine.
Displacement: 7 ,800 tons submerged.
Length: 97 m (323 ft.)
Beam: 11.3m (37 ft.)
Draft: 10 m (33 ft.)
Power plant: Rolls-Royce PWR2 reactor to provide 30,000 h.p. with full submarine life core. MAN (Paxman) 1900 kilowatt diesel generator.
Speed: 29 knots (54 km/h) submerged – official, probably some 35 knots (65 km/h) -actual.
Test depth: 300 m -official, probably some 600 m -actual.
Complement: 98 officers and men normally, with full capacity of 109.
Armament: Six 21 inch (533 mm) bow torpedo tubes, 38 Spearfish torpedoes, UGM Harpoon and Tomahawk Block III cruise missiles, naval mines.
Sensors: Thales Underwater Systems Sonar 2076, Atlas Hydro-graphic DESO 25 depth-finding echo sounder, Two Thales Optronics CMO 10 periscopes, Raytheon Systems Ltd Successor IFF system.
For our further analysis it is necessary to return to existing British nuclear attack submarines of the Trafalgar class. Delivered in 1983, HMS Trafalgar (S-107) is the ultimate expression of British SSN design. With an American-designed 15,000 h.p. reactor PWR-1, it was the lead unit of a seven ship class.
The Trafalgar class was originally designed for Cold War operations in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. Their design was a follow on from the successful Swiftsure class but incorporated many improvements. A class of eight boats was originally envisaged but seven were ordered from VSEL.
The principal role of these submarines is to attack an enemy’s surface ships and submarines. In this capacity they could support and protect a convoy or task force, as demonstrated by earlier classes of fleet submarines during the Falklands Campaign. Additionally these submarines can be used in surveillance role and they are fitted with cameras and thermal imaging periscopes for these kinds of operations. Since the class is being fitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles they will be capable of a land attack role.
Trafalgar class submarines displace 5,208 tons submerged and measure 85.4 min length and 9.8 min beam. They are powered by a single pressurized water cooled PWRI reactor providing 15,000 h.p., can travel at a speed 32 knots and dive to more than 985 feet. They have a complement of97 men, including 12 officers and with three decks they are more spacious then previous submarines. Five 21-inch torpedo tubes are located at the side bow. These can fire the Spearfish and Tigerfish torpedoes, sub Harpoon missiles and Tomhawk cruise missiles or deploy mines.
Below there are some comparative characteristics of modem American, British and Russian SSNs:
Now it is reasonable to return to my initial statement that the Astute class submarines are the best in the world from a naval architectural point of view. Why?
First. By general naval architectural appearance she is the most proximit to the American VIRGINIA (almost equal displacement, but significantly shorter and by that reason – more maneuverable).
Second. A little less displacement per one weapon in comparison with VIRGINIA (205 and 210), but more than SEAWOLF (183). That is the inherent advantage of the latter.
Third. The advantage of VIRGINIA is a possibility to launch a 16 weapons missile salvo simultaneously in comparison with a 6 weapons salvo of ASTUTE, but after that the advantage goes to ASTUTE (6 weapons in the next salvoes in comparison to 4).
Fourth, and probably the most important, by this authors opinion, both Virginia and Astute class submarines must have significantly more weapons (for VIRGINIA it should be 22 weapons increase up to 60 and for ASTUTE – 32 weapons increase up to 70). It could be easily done in both cases by moderate increase of their displacement with huge increase of their cost-effectiveness.
Such a development will double the cost-effectiveness of American and British new nuclear attack submarines and/or will provide a multibillion reductions of the corresponding programs cost.
Is it a taste business to solve what sub is better, VIRGINIA or ASTUTE? By my opinion, ASTUTE is a little bit better, and both of them much better than Russian ACULA.
But the really important problem is a significant increase of their weapons payload.