As the Swiftsure-class submarines aged, the Royal Navy began to design their replacements. The original design called for large submarines designed for blue-water operations. 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 (Batch 2 Trafalgar Class or B2TC). However the development was extremely slow and initial tenders received from VSEL in June 1995 were too expensive.
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy has changed its submarine-employment strategy from the Cold War emphasis on anti-submarine warfare to the concept of "Maritime Contributions to Joint Operations." The proposed replacement boats were redesigned; the primary mission of the Astute class became direct support of surface forces.
Original plans were for seven boats of the Astute class to replace five Swiftsure-class submarines (Sovereign, Superb, Sceptre, Spartan, and Splendid) and the two oldest Trafalgar-class boats (Trafalgar and Turbulent). The Swiftsure-class will be entirely decommissioned by 2010, when only the first of the Astute-class will be coming into service. HMS Trafalgar is due to be decommissioned in 2009, followed by HMS Turbulent in 2011.
Astute-class boats will be powered by a Rolls-Royce PWR2 (Core H) reactor and fitted with a pump-jet propulsor. The PWR2 reactor was developed for Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. As a result Astute-class boats are about 30 per cent larger than previous British attack submarines, which were powered by smaller reactors. It will be the first Royal Navy submarine 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.
Like all Royal Navy submarines, the fin of the Astute-class boats will be reinforced to allow surfacing through ice caps. They can fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from their launch tubes, including the new "tactical Tomahawk" currently under development. More than 39,000 acoustic tiles will mask the vessel's sonar signature, giving the Astute class a better stealth quality than any other submarine previously operated by the Royal Navy. The vessel is equipped with the advanced 2076 Sonar System, which is capable of identifying and tracking vessels across thousands of square miles of ocean. The Royal Navy describes Sonar 2076 as the most advanced Sonar in service with any Navy in the World. According to the MOD around 5,500 people are presently employed in the Astute building programme.
BAE Systems has indicated that the Astute submarine project has maintained its improved performance, and first-of-class HMS Astute was launched by Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall on 8 June 2007. Work on the second submarine, Ambush, is also proceeding well with major milestones such as the closure of the reactor compartment, demonstrating significant schedule advance compared with Astute. BAE and the MoD have made efforts to reduce costs and achieved significant cost-cutting and productivity gains.
The Guardian reported in January 2008 that proposals for budget cuts to the UK armed forces could restrict the Astute Class to just the first four boats, with all further orders being cancelled, though long-lead items have been purchased for further boats.
The Astute Combat Management System (ACMS) is an evolved version of the Submarine Command System (SMCS) used on other classes of submarine. The system will receives data from the boat's sensors and displays real time imagery on all command consoles. Sensors include the Type 2076 integrated passive / active search and attack sonar suite with bow, intercept, flank and towed arrays; a DESO 25 high-precision echosounder; two CM010 non-hull-penetrating optronic masts which carry thermal imaging, low light TV and colour CCD TV sensors.
|Name||Pennant number||Laid down||Launched||Commissioned|
|Astute||S119||31 January 2001||8 June 2007||2009|
|Ambush||S120||22 October 2003||?||2010|
|Artful||S121||11 March 2005||?||2012|
|[A-08]||?||Subject to cost||?||?|