UK Prime Minister Theresa May is said to have no clue about the problem because Ministry of Defence (MoD) chiefs “fear her reaction,” the Sun reported on Friday, adding that it is believed to be the first time in decades Britain has no fully operational attack submarines at beck and call.
“No one is being honest about the scandal,” a Whitehall source told the newspaper.
Sources told the Sun that the Navy’s three new Astute-class submarines, worth £1.2billion ($1.5 billion) each, are plagued by problems, while the four Trafalgar-class nuclear-powdered subs are allegedly “on their last legs.”
While Vanguard nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) allegedly remain operational, as many as five of the fleet are having refits or maintenance after breaking down, sources claim.
The new HMS Ambush is being repaired after hitting a tanker last year.
Only HMS Astute is currently at sea, but is having trials after maintenance work, and is said to be “weeks” from being engaged in missions, sources claim.
“We don’t comment on specific submarine operations,” a Royal Navy spokesman told RT.
“Britain has a world-class fleet, the Royal Navy continues to meet all of its operational tasking, deploying globally on operations and protecting our national interests as Britain steps up around the world,” it added.
The Times notes that Vanguard nuclear deterrent submarines are still there on missions.
“But it is believed to be the first time in decades that Britain has no working attack submarines at its disposal,” the article reads.
After a Trident missile, fired last year from a Royal Navy nuclear submarine off the Florida coast, malfunctioned and headed towards the mainland during a routine test, Whitehall ordered a “cover-up” to avoid “severe panic,” The Times reported last month.
According to the newspaper, the Trident ballistic missile was set to be tested for the first time in four years by the HMS Vengeance, the fourth and final Vanguard-class nuclear-capable submarine of the Royal Navy, last June.
The sub docked at Port Canaveral in Florida, the US base employed by the Royal Navy for final checks, before launching an unarmed Trident missile into the so-called“Eastern firing range” off the west coast of Africa.
No news reports followed the test, and no usual “successful test flight” announcement was made at that time.
A navy source told the newspaper that “something went wrong” after the Trident was fired from the submerged submarine.
The missile might have veered off in the wrong direction toward the American mainland instead of heading across the Atlantic, the source claimed.
“There was severe panic that this test launch was not successful. Senior figures in military and government were keen that the information was not made public,” the source said.
Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons program has suffered a skills shortage over the last decade, posing a serious threat to nuclear safety, a report from the MoD found last year.
Research from the MoD’s internal watchdog, the Defense Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR), noted that staff shortages appear to be a “key strategic issue,” which requires attention to ensure continued “safe delivery” of the nuclear weapons program.
Among other things, the report highlighted the decision to prolong the lives of the Trafalgar and Vanguard class nuclear submarines because of delays in introducing the new Astute class and Trident replacement submarines.
“Slippage to the delivery of key projects will necessitate the continued use of current facilities for an extended period,” it noted.
—- TECHNICAL DETAILS —
Weapons and systems
The Astute class has stowage for 38 weapons and would typically carry a mix of Spearfish heavy torpedoes and Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles, the latter costing £870,000 each.
The Tomahawk missiles are capable of hitting a target to within a few metres, to a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres).
The Astute Combat Management System is a new version of the Submarine Command System used on other classes of British submarine.
The system receives data from the boat’s sensors and displays the results on command consoles.
The submarines also have Atlas Hydrographic DESO 25 high-precision echosounders, two CM010 non-hull-penetrating optronic masts—in place of conventional periscopes—which carry thermal imaging and low-light TV and colour CCD TV sensors.
The class also mounts an Successor IFF system.
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.
Propulsion and general specifications
The boats of the Astute class are powered by a Rolls-Royce PWR2 (Core H) (a pressurised water) reactor and fitted with a pump-jet propulsor. The PWR2 reactor was developed for the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines and has a 25-year lifespan without the need for refuelling.
As a result, the new submarines are about 30 per cent larger than previous British fleet submarines, which were powered by smaller-diameter reactors.
Like all Royal Navy submarines, the bridge fin of the Astute-class boats is specially reinforced to allow surfacing through ice caps.
These submarines can also be fitted with a dry deck shelter, which allows special forces (e.g. SBS) to deploy whilst the submarine is submerged.
More than 39,000 acoustic tiles mask the vessel’s sonar signature, giving the Astute class improved acoustic qualities over any other submarine previously operated by the Royal Navy.
A 2009 safety assessment by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator concluded that PWR2 reactor safety was significantly short of good practice in comparable navies in two important areas: loss-of-coolant accident and control of submarine depth following emergency reactor shutdown.
The regulator concluded that PWR2 was “potentially vulnerable to a structural failure of the primary circuit”, which is a failure mode with significant safety hazards to crew and the public.
Operational procedures have been amended to minimise these risks.
Astute is the second Royal Navy submarine class, after the Vanguard class, to have a bunk for each member of the ship’s company,ending the practice of ‘hot bunking’, whereby two sailors on opposite watches shared the same bunk at different times. However, they have less mess-deck space than the Valiant-class submarine built 45 years earlier.
Command and control systems on Astute Class submarines
Astute combat management system (ACMS) is being supplied by BAE Systems Insyte (formerly Alenia Marconi Systems) and is a development of the submarine command system (SMCS) currently in service in all classes of UK submarines.
ACMS receives data from the sonars and other sensors and, through advanced algorithms and data handling, displays real time images on the command consoles.
Factory acceptance of the operational software was received from the Astute Prime Contract Office in July 2002.
EADS Defence & Security Systems and EADS Hagenuk Marinekommunikation were awarded the contract to provide the external communications systems for the Astute in August 2005. Strachan and Henshaw are to provide the weapon handling and launch system (WHLS).
Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine was selected in March 2008 to provide the platform management system for the fourth of class, HMS Audacious.
Astute Class Tomahawk missiles and torpedoes
Astute is equipped with the Tomahawk Block IV (tactical tomahawk) cruise missile from Raytheon, fired from the 533mm torpedo tubes.
Tomahawk is equipped with the TERCOM terrain contour mapping-assisted inertial navigation system.
The terrain contour mapping for use over land combines onboard radar altimeter measurements with terrain mapping data installed in the missile. Block II added digital scene matching area correlation (DSMAC) guidance.
Block III improvements include an improved propulsion system and Navstar global positioning system (GPS) guidance capability.
The GPS provides location and velocity data of the missile for precision targeting.
Tomahawk has a range of up to 1,000 miles and a maximum velocity of 550mph.
Block IV includes a two-way satellite link that allows reprogramming of the missile in flight and transmission of battle damage indication (BDI) imagery.
Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) Block IV entered service with the UK Royal Navy in April 2008, onboard Trafalgar batch I submarine, HMS Torbay.
Astute has six 533mm torpedo tubes, and is equipped with Spearfish torpedoes and mines. There is capacity for a total of 36 torpedoes and missiles.
The Spearfish torpedo from BAE Systems is wire-guided with an active / passive homing head. The range is 65km at 60kt. Spearfish is fitted with a directed-energy warhead.
Countermeasure technology and sensors
The countermeasures suite includes decoys and electronic support measures (ESM). The ESM system is the Thales Sensors Outfit UAP(4).
Outfit UAP(4) has two multifunction antenna arrays, which are mounted on the two non-hull penetrating optronics masts from Thales (formerly Pilkington) Optronics and McTaggart Scott.
Astute Class submarines are fitted with the Royal Navy’s new Eddystone Communications band Electronic Support Measures (CESM) system, also fitted to the Trafalgar Class submarines.
The Eddystone system was developed by DML of Devonport UK, with Argon ST of the US.
It provides advanced communications, signal intercept, recognition, direction-finding and monitoring capabilities. Sea trials of the system were completed in December 2007.
Astute is fitted with I-band navigation radars.
The sonar is the Thales Underwater Systems (formerly Thomson Marconi Sonar) 2076 integrated passive / active search and attack sonar suite with bow, intercept, flank and towed arrays.
Sonar 2076 has so far been fitted to Trafalgar Class submarines Torbay, Trenchant and Talent, entering service in February 2003. Astute is fitted with the latest version of the Thales S2076 integrated sonar suite.
Atlas Hydrographic provided the DESO 25 high-precision echosounder, which are fitted on the Astute. DESO 25 is capable of precise depth measurements down to 10,000m.
Astute has two non-hull-penetrating CM010 optronic masts developed by Thales Optronics. McTaggart Scott supplied the masts. The CM010 mast includes thermal imaging, low light TV and colour CCD TV sensors.
Raytheon Systems was contracted to provide the Successor IFF (identification friend or foe) naval transponder system for the Astute Class.