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The Submarine Is as Unnoticeable as a Dolphin

The Royal Navy is currently employing the first four submarines of the class: HMS Astute, HMS Ambush, HMS Artful, and HMS Audacious.

Astute-class Submarine. Image: Creative Commons.

Many months ago, the HMS Audacious performed its first NATO patrol in the Mediterranean. It is the newest and most advanced submarine of the senior service, the fourth of seven new £1.3 billion Astute-class submarines. These are the most powerful assault submarines the Royal Navy has ever operated.

After being officially commissioned in September 2021, HMS Audacious joined her sisters, HMS Astute, Ambush, and Artful, in January of this year. Last year, she finished her sea trials.

HMS Audacious sailed into the Mediterranean and completed exercises with NATO allies, including training with Greek, Turkish, and U.S. allies, following the loading of Tomahawk missiles in Gibraltar. Tomahawk missiles are one of the ship’s powerful armaments, alongside the Spearfish heavyweight torpedo. The exercise tested the submarine’s ability to escape, track, and engage her opponents underneath and on the surface. The exercises also allowed NATO partners to test their wits against a nuclear attack submarine—a unique training opportunity for several fleets as they hunted for Audacious beneath the waves.

“These drills allowed HMS Audacious to demonstrate her brilliance as the U.K.’s newest and most powerful SSN, while also strengthening NATO capability and interoperability and demonstrating our commitment to NATO missions,” said Commander Jim Howard, HMS Audacious’ commanding officer.

The Astute class was the world’s first nuclear submarine designed in a computer-aided, three-dimensional environment. In addition, the boats are equipped with other technological firsts, including the absence of an optical periscope. Instead, high-definition camera technology has been implemented, allowing the crew to scan the horizon and have a 360-degree perspective of any potential danger.

In addition, unlike other nuclear-powered submarines, the Astute class was designed with cutting-edge anti-acoustic tiles. Each hull is outfitted with about 39,000 acoustic tiles that conceal the vessel’s sonar signal and allow the submarines to glide through the water practically inaudibly.

The noise produced by the boats has been compared to that of a “baby dolphin.” The construction of each submarine reportedly costs £1.6 billion, yet the capabilities provided are priceless.

The Royal Navy is currently employing the first four submarines of the class: HMS Astute, HMS Ambush, HMS Artful, and HMS Audacious. HMS Anson, the fifth vessel, is now undergoing sea testing. The BAE Systems facility in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, the Agamemnon, and Agincourt are currently under development.

Each Astute-class vessel is approximately 97 meters (318 feet) long and has a crew of approximately 100 sailors, with space for 109. The attack submarines are equipped with a Rolls-Royce PWR2 (Core H) reactor and a pump-jet propulsion system, the same reactor designed for the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines of the Royal Navy.

This particular nuclear reactor, which has a 25-year lifespan before it needs to be refueled and powers the submarines, is also used to recycle air and water. It supplies the submarine with theoretically limitless endurance, allowing it to traverse the world without surfacing. Each vessel is normally stocked with food for around 90 days.

The Astute-class submarines have space for 38 weapons and normally carry a mixture of Spearfish heavy torpedoes and Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles, which range 1,000 miles and can kill a target within a few meters (1,600 km). The countermeasures package for submarines includes decoys and electronic support measures (ESM).

The boats are also equipped with a dry deck shelter, allowing Special Forces personnel, such as Royal Marine Commandos or Royal Navy Special Boat Service (SBS) operators, to deploy while submerging the submarine.

The submarines receive perfect marks for their capabilities.

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