Fourth Astute class submarine, Audacious, under construction in the Devonshire Dock Hall
Fourth Astute class submarine, Audacious, under construction in the Devonshire Dock Hall. Photo: BAE Systems

The UK MOD has committed £2.7 billion for continued work on the Royal Navy future attack submarines. The programme, which has been beset by difficulties since it was commissioned in 1997, is expected to cost up to £10bn for a seven-submarine fleet that is already years late.

The lead submarine of this new class, HMS Astute had suffered technical problems that raised questions about the performance and reliability of the boat. Last November, the Guardian revealed that during sea trials, HMS Astute, the lead ship of this new class, has been unable to reach its intended top speed. Other problems that have affected the boat in recent months include:

  • Flooding during a routine dive that led to Astute performing an emergency surfacing.
  • Corrosion even though the boat is essentially new.
  • The replacement or moving of computer circuit boards because they did not meet safety standards.
  • Concern over the instruments monitoring the nuclear reactor because the wrong type of lead was used.
  • Questions being raised about the quality and installation of other pieces of equipment.
  • Concern reported among some crew members about the Astute’s pioneering periscope, that does not allow officers to look at the surface “live”.

On Friday, October 22, 2010, Tug boats moved in to assist HMS Astute after it ran aground in shallow water off the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The sub ran into trouble near the Isle of Skye during a routine maneuver that included dropping some sailors ashore, according to reports. During the operation to tow Astute clear, there was a collision between the rescue tug and the submarine, which resulted in damage to her starboard foreplane. The submarine returned under her own power to Faslane, where the damage incurred in the grounding and afterwards was described as “minor”.

Astute aground with the emergency tow vessel Anglian Prince

According to the new contract announced last week, MOD awarded BAE Systems a contract worth £1.2bn for Audacious, the fourth submarine in the Astute class. The full contract covers the design, build, test and commissioning programme. First steel was cut in 2007 and Audacious is at an advanced stage of construction at BAE Systems’ site in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

HMS Astute seen along HMS Dauntless on one of her recent missions. Photo: MOD
HMS Astute seen along HMS Dauntless on one of her recent missions. Photo: MOD

The MoD also confirmed that a further £1.5bn has been committed to the Astute programme for the remaining three submarines in the class, which includes early build work on boat 5 HMS Anson, whose keel was laid in October 2011.

Planning for Audacious began in 2007 and her keel was laid at Barrow in March 2009, according to the Royal Navy website. The submarine will benefit from improvements identified during building of HMS Astute (commissioned 27 August 2010), HMS Ambush (currently on sea trials, launched at 5 January 2011) and HMS Artful (keel laid down 11 March 2005). Three more submarines are planned in the future, orders had been made for 2; HMS Anson (under construction, ordered March 2010, keel laid down 13 October 2011), HMS Agamemnon (ordered March 2010) and HMS Ajax (confirmed but not yet ordered).

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