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The Dreadnought class submarine in focus

The programme to construct the 4 submarines that will replace the Vanguard class boats, will soon become the largest defence project in the UK. Ballistic missile submarines are some of the most sensitive and closely guarded defence assets and there is understandably limited information about them in the public domain. At this early stage in the construction programme, we look at what is known about the Dreadnought project.


Outline concepts to replace the Vanguard class have been under consideration by the MoD since 2002 but the 128 people of the Future Submarines (FSM) Integrated Project Team (IPT) started work at Barrow in 2007. Two initial concepts were made public in 2009. The radical ‘Advanced Hull Form’ had a rectangular hull cross-section, with propulsors embedded in ducts. In addition to Trident missiles, 16 x Mark 36 vertical launch tubes, suitable for conventional missiles such as the Tomahawk were sited outside the pressure hull. This design also offered greater stability and manoeuvrability than conventional designs but the costs would have been prohibitive. The alternative ‘Concept 35′ was a more conservative evolution of the Vanguard design with a conventional cylindrical hull form, its main innovation was shaftless electric drive and it appears that this design was used as the basis for Dreadnought.

Design work began in earnest on what was known as ‘Successor’ in May 2011 after passing MoD Main Gate approval. The loss of experienced designers and problems with the Computer Aided Design (CAD) system that plagued development of the Astute class are now consigned to history and the teams working in Barrow benefit from a much more settled organisation. The design was 70% complete and in line with the original schedule when first steel was cut for HMS Dreadnought in late 2016. The first section, now under construction, will form the structural steelwork for auxiliary machinery compartments containing switchboards and control panels for the reactor.

Much of the technology used in the Astute class submarines will find its way into Dreadnought but the new design can in no way be described as a ‘stretched Astute’ with missile tubes. The Astute hull is not large enough to accommodate the height of the Trident missile, neither does it have sufficient beam for two missile tubes to be placed side by side. Most commonality between the Astute and Dreadnought is likely to be found at the forward end, where the 6 Torpedo tubes, weapons handling system, world-class Type 2076 sonar and Common Combat System (CCS) are likely to be fitted. Commonality of control systems, weapons and sensors will save money and make it easier for RN submariners to move between Dreadnought or Astutes as needed

The Dreadnought will be the first RN submarine to feature combined hydroplanes and rudders in an ‘X tail’ configuration at the stern. This arrangement is more complex to build and to control but allows for smaller planes and reduces noise. It is likely the Dreadnought uses an electric permanent magnet motor to drive the boat instead of the steam turbines used on all RN nuclear submarines until now. This follows developments in the surface fleet where Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) is being used in the latest generation of ships. On Dreadnought the nuclear reactor will drive steam turbo generators that provide power for the motors and the rest of the boat’s requirements. Motors avoid the need for noisy reduction gears and allow more flexibility in the layout of the propulsion system. There is a slim possibility that Dreadnought has adopted the submarine shaftless drive (SSD) system with an electric motor mounted outside the pressure hull in a watertight enclosure integrated into the propulsor unit.

Dreadnought will be slightly larger than the Vanguard class, with a submerged displacement some 8% greater, totalling 17,200-tons. They will also be 3 metres longer than their predecessors, despite having fewer missile tubes. The growth in displacement will allow for a larger reactor, further quieting technology and provide more room for crew facilities. Improved accommodation is a priority as the submarine service struggles to recruit and retain people while serving on ‘bombers’ can be perceived by some as rather dull. This will be the first RN submarine designed from the outset to accommodate both male and female personnel and have improved sickbay, gym, and education facilities on board as well as a new lighting system simulating day and night.


Dreadnought will have 12 Trident missile tubes, a reduction from the 16 carried by the Vanguards. The missile tubes will be the same 87-inch diameter as the Vanguard, but have been extended in length by 12 inches to accommodate future missiles. To save duplication of costs and effort, the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) is being designed in co-operation with the US and will equip their Columbia SSBNs as well as the UK’s Dreadnoughts. Design work on the CMC began in 2008 and is now mature. The modular ‘quad pack’ design is cheaper to produce than the legacy method of inserting and fitting out individual tubes into the completed hull and allows other sub-contractors to build them at dispersed locations. Babcock in Rosyth has won an £80M contract to fabricate a batch of 22 tubes for use in British and American submarines.

The 2010 SDSR stated that only 8 Trident II D5 missiles will be routinely carried by the new deterrent submarines (each missile is tipped with 5 separate re-entry vehicles that with a nuclear warhead). The remaining 4 tubes have the potential to carry equipment and munitions that could extend Dreadnought’s role beyond that of a pure deterrent submarine. This could include The US-developed multiple all-up round (MAC) canister with can hold 7 Tomahawk cruise missiles per tube, special forces equipment or vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) decoys and sensors and encapsulated unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). For the Dreadnoughts to be used for launching Tomahawks or special forces would require a significant change in operating doctrine. SSBNs are expected to disappear in the ocean depths and avoid any action that might reveal their presence. With its shortage of SSNs this flexibility might be attractive for the RN but would incur additional equipment costs and expose a multi-billion strategic submarine to increased risk.


The PW3 reactor that will power the Dreadnoughts is a brand new design and is not just an evolution of the PW2 used on the Vanguard and Astute class. There is no better demonstration of the close naval relationship between the US and the UK than in the sharing of highly sensitive nuclear reactor technology. Rolls Royce are the technical authority for all RN Nuclear Steam Raising Plant (NSRP) and the US has granted their designers access to their latest S9G reactor that powers their Virginia class submarines. The generous sharing of this information saves time and expensive research but has worked both ways, with the US benefitting from British nuclear expertise, especially in extending the life of existing reactors. The PW3 is larger and more expensive to build than the PW2 but it will meet even higher safety standards, be easier to maintain and should have much lower through-life costs. It is also a simpler design that requires fewer coolant pumps making it significantly quieter. Theoretically, the PW3 reactors should last at least 30 years and not require refuelling. There is some concern that the PW3 project is already over-budget and RR is struggling to find enough specialist nuclear engineers due to competition from the civil sector.

  • Probably the most realistic depiction of Dreadnought currently in the public domain.

  • The 12 missile tubes behind the sail and ‘X tail’ are clearly visible in this rendering.

  • A Common Missile Compartment quad pack prototype built by Electric Boat in the US.

  • Architects cross-section of the Central Yard Complex, now under construction in Barrow. The overhead gantry cranes will be able to lift the vertically-constructed modules onto transporters to be moved to the DDH for assembly.

  • The Devonshire Dock Hall at Barrow used the assemble the Vanguard, Astute and soon the Dreadnought class submarines.

Construction and support infrastructure

In 2013 the MoD announced the signing of the first ‘Foundation Contract’ with Rolls Royce under its Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP). Other Foundation Contracts will also provide BAE Systems and Babcock guaranteed funding to invest in new facilities and maintain skills required for the Dreadnought programme while focussing on efficient delivery. SEPP takes a sensible, holistic approach to contractors cash flow during this giant enterprise and it is estimated will save over £900 million in the long-term.

To build a completely new class of submarines has required major new investment at several sites around the UK. A vast new facility at Barrow, the Central Yard Complex (CYC) is being built that will be used to fit out sections of the Dreadnoughts. BAE Systems and the Unions at Barrow have agreed on new working practices, pay scales and additional automation introduced as more of the welding will be done by robots.

Construction will be sub-divided into 16 blocks, grouped into three mega blocks – Aft, Mid and Forward.

Although slightly longer than Vanguard, Dreadnought should be accommodated within the existing facilities that support the deterrent submarines. These are: (1) The DDH construction hall at Barrow (2) The 186m long ship-lift at Faslane that allows a fully armed submarine to be lifted out of the water for maintenance. (3) The Explosives Handling Jetty (EHJ) – a covered floating dock at Coulport where the Trident missiles are loaded vertically into the submarine’s tubes by overhead crane. (4) Number 9 dock at Devonport where Long Overhaul Period (LOP) and Deep Maintenance Project (DMP) refits are carried out.


The Dreadnought programme is immense and, although work has already been underway for some years, the first boat is not scheduled to be on patrol until around 2028. There will be many technical and political challenges along the way but it is encouraging to see so much investment and far-sighted planning has been put into in a project that will guarantee UK security into the 2050s. HMS Dreadnought is a name associated with landmark naval vessels – the revolutionary battleship (1906) and the first RN nuclear submarine (1963). The Navy has stated the other 3 boats will be given names “with historic resonance”. Assuming that names used by both former battleships and submarines are chosen, HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant and HMS Sovereign are perhaps likely options.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-dreadnought-class-submarine-in-focus/

Charles Edward Inglis and his many Bridges

Although most have probably heard of Donald Bailey, few have heard of Charles Inglis. yet it is Charles Inglis that designed the worlds first sectional military bridge. A number of different designs saw service in WWI and WWII. Click HERE to read more  

The post Charles Edward Inglis and his many Bridges appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2017/12/charles-edward-inglis-many-bridges/

HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares for commissioning into the Royal Navy

Today HMS Queen Elizabeth formally commissions in the presence of the ship’s sponsor, Her Majesty the Queen. This ceremony marks the transition from being a ship to a warship as she becomes part of the Royal Navy, serving in the fleet potentially for 50 years. The Queen will arrive by royal train at Portsmouth Harbour and be taken by car to the ship which is alongside at Princess Royal Jetty. The ceremony will be held in the vast aircraft hangar with a reception for around 3,000 people including the ship’s company, their families and many invited guests.

The commissioning does not actually signal the formal hand over of the ship from the builders. QE is still owned by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance and there is a long list of items that must be certified as working correctly before the ship can be accepted. The MoD must be completely satisfied the ship meets the specification before handing over a very large final cheque. It is hoped this will be done very soon.

Captain Jerry Kyd: “We are proud to have flown the blue ensign but now it’s time to transition to the White Ensign and special sense of pride that goes with that”.

The captain is a busy man but adept at dealing with media and for a man carrying enormous responsibility, he has a relaxed and friendly style. Speaking with obvious excitement about the visit of Her Majesty for the ceremony he said: “She is very supportive of the armed forces, she married a naval officer and two of her sons served in the navy – I think she will be very proud and I hope she enjoys it”. He also noted the incredible achievement that the QEC represent; “Putting together an aircraft carrier and all its various facets is a complex business that takes time. Building aircraft carriers is not for the faint-hearted, it has been a national endeavour that few other nations can match”.

17-year-old steward AB Hui is the youngest member of the ship’s company, and in keeping with tradition will cut the commissioning cake with the Captain’s wife.

For the ceremony, the hangar has been temporarily converted into an auditorium with seating, and stage lighting.

PO Dean Allen, galley manager – cooking for the Queen and responsible for managing the team catering for 3,000 people.

There are normally 48 chefs on board HMS Queen Elizabeth but for the commissioning ceremony, extra catering staff from the Defence Maritime Logistics School at HMS Raliegh have been brought in. An additional function for 200 people in aid of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) will be held on board in the evening.

The QEC are designed to carry food stores for up to 45 days without replenishment. The ships’ company presently number around 720 but this number could more than double when the air group and EMF (Embarked Military force) are on board. A healthy 500-calorie breakfast is served on board each day except Sunday when the full English is available. Trivia enthusiasts will be excited to know that QE’s storerooms currently hold about 12,000 tins of beans, 60,000 sausages and 50,000 pieces of bacon.

Security around HMS Queen Elizabeth is reassuringly tight. Visitors must not only be allowed into the naval base, but must also pass through further security checks to gain access to Princess Royal Jetty. Armed Royal Marines are on guard and on the waterfront, at least 3 police boats patrol around the ship 24/7.

A nice final touch – engraved steel plates bearing the names of the thousands of contractors, civil servants and forces personnel who have helped build HMS Queen Elizabeth have been mounted on the forward aircraft lift doors.

The ship’s wooden name board being craned into place on the starboard side of the forward island.

The two ABs who will be responsible for raising the white ensign for the first time rehearse the ceremony with the blue ensign.

The vast flight deck. Note the 2 x 4m Electronic Information Display boards. Four are fitted on the islands and two in the hangar. They can show real-time data to pilots and aircraft handlers including wind speed, ships speed, heading and aircraft movements. They are also handy for the ship’s company to watch football matches.

The aircraft handlers offices and rest/briefing compartment in the aft island. Note their branch motto painted over the door “Nostris In Manibus Tuti” which translates as “safe in our hands”.

Aircraft Lift

The scale and design of the QEC require special gangways for accessing the ship. Also visible is the extendable gantry that carries the High Voltage cables providing shoreside power. The 90-year-old Queen will access the ship via the temporary passenger lift (on the dockside far right) to take her up to hangar level.

For the majority of the part 1 and part 2 sea trials the ship encountered unusually benign weather, so far the ship has only been briefly exposed to a moderate sea state (6). Some slight rolling was experienced but very little pitching. Unsurprisingly, the ship has proved immensely stable and sea trials threw up no serious issues. The ship’s company is still very much learning about how to operate the vessel but reports about living on board are generally very favourable.

The ship will sail for Operational Sea Training (OST) sometime in January. OST will not be conducted in and around Plymouth as normal (QE cannot go alongside in Devonport). The FOST sea riders will embark in the ship for a training period in the South Western approaches. As the ship is not yet fully equipped for combat, the focus will be on safety and damage control. In February or March, the ship will head into the Atlantic for heavy weather trials and will embark Merlin Mk 2 helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron. In the summer the ship will cross the Atlantic to the US to embark the first F-35s.

The Queen first visited the ship when she formally named her on 4th July 2014 in Rosyth. Three and a half years later she makes her second visit to attend the commissioning which will be another memorable milestone on the long journey to restore carrier capability to the UK.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/hms-queen-elizabeth-prepares-for-commissioning-into-the-royal-navy/

Towards #SDSR18 – Alliance and Politics

Next in the series, alliances, politics and a future direction of travel. Click to read Toward SDSR 2018 – Alliances, Politics and a Future Direction of Travel

The post Towards #SDSR18 – Alliance and Politics appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2017/12/towards-sdsr18-alliance-politics/

Towards #SDSR2018 – Risk

The next in the occasional series on SDSR 2018 the National Security Strategy Review. This time, a look at the main risks facing the UK If the UK is to avoid its finite defence resources being spread across multiple risk area in increasingly thinner layers it must prioritise, and learn to live with consequences. Some discussion …

The post Towards #SDSR2018 – Risk appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2017/12/towards-sdsr2018-risk/

Reflecting on the sad loss of Argentine submarine ARA San Juan

Argentine submarine ARA San Juan has disappeared while on routine patrol and was last heard from on 15th November. After reporting technical problems, she failed to make contact again and by the 17th, the Argentine Navy announced she was missing and had begun a search operation.

The San Juan is one of three conventional Argentine submarines, she was built in Germany in 1985. Her TR-1700 class sister vessel is the ARA Santa Cruz, while the older ARA Salta is a Type 209 (a veteran of the Falklands war which made plausible claims to have launched failed torpedo attacks on HMS Alacrity and HMS Invincible). Although very old by western standards, the San Juan completed a major refit and modernisation 2008-13.

An international rescue effort

More than 4,000 personnel from a dozen countries joined the search and rescue effort. Ships and aircraft have been scouring 190,000 sq miles of stormy ocean, an area about the size of Spain. The United States sent two P-8A Maritime patrol aircraft and a NASA P-3 Orion. They also delivered by Air to Argentina their Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC) and the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) a tethered, remotely operated submarine rescue vehicle.

HMS Protector joined the search on 19th November and is still searching the seabed using her multi-beam echo sounders. HMS Clyde was recalled from South Georgia and made the long journey north to join the search. The Royal Navy’s specialist 10-man Submarine Parachute Assistance Group (SPAG) were deployed from the UK to the Falklands. Their role is to act as first responders when a submarine in distress is located and parachute into the sea with inflatable boats and medical equipment to assist personnel who may have escaped the submarine.

An RAF Voyager aircraft made the longest ever non-stop UK military flight to deliver 3 tonnes of specialist rescue equipment, including 12 deep emergency life support pods. This was the first time a British military aircraft has landed in Argentina since the Falklands war. An RAF C-130 Hercules based in the Falklands also participated in the search. While the search continued for several days in very poor weather, various reports of possible satellite phone calls, noise detection and a ‘heat patch’ all raised false hopes.

The view from HMS Protector’s bridge as she encounters 10-metre waves on 20th November, while searching the South Atlantic for the missing submarine. (Image: @Protector_HMS via Twitter)

A needle in a haystack

Hydroacoustic data recorded by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has found that a short explosion occurred on 15 Nov 13:51 GMT (Lat -46.12 deg; Long: -59.69) in the vicinity of the San Juan’s last reported position. It took over a week for this discovery as the vast amounts of data had to be analysed. The global network of hydrophones owned by the CTBTO are designed to record any disturbance caused by underground nuclear testing but are not optimised for tracking submarines. The explosion must have been of reasonable magnitude as the CTBTO hydrophones that detected the sound are thousands of miles away at Ascension Island (Mid Atlantic) and Crozet Island (Southern Indian Ocean). With the report of an explosion and 8 days having passed, by 23rd November it was clear the crew could not have survived and the rescue effort had become a recovery operation.

Several ships equipped with hydrographic sonar are now scanning the seabed for wreckage within a radius of few miles of the explosion point identified by the CTBTO. Ships involved in the search the US Research Vessel Atlantis, Argentinian vessels; Research ship Austral, Survey ship Puerto Deseado, Fishery protection ship Victor Angelescu, Chilean research ship Cabo de Hornos and Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector. If the wreck is located and the weather is favourable, there are several ROVs that could be deployed.

The loss of the San Juan bears some resemblance to the loss of the USS Scorpion in June 1968. The Scorpion sunk off the Canary Islands whilst submerged. The cause of her loss has never been clearly established but her wreck was found in October 1968 using hydroacoustic data from the SOSUS hydrophone network used to track Soviet submarines combined with Bayesian search theory (a mathematical probability model). The Soviet submarine K-129 was also lost to an explosion of some kind in March 1968, somewhere in the Pacific. Despite an extensive search, the Soviet Navy was unable to find her. Using SOSUS data, the US Navy was able to narrow down the search area and located her in October 1968.

Many people do not fully appreciate the vast size of the oceans, even in a modern world of GPS and easy global communication, finding craft sunk at sea can take a great deal of time or even prove impossible. To date, the main wreckage of airliner MH370 lost somewhere in the Indian Ocean in 2014 has yet to be found, despite the most expensive search in aviation history.

What could have happened?

(This is informed speculation only, based on the limited available facts) The evidence of a short explosion record by the CTBTO points to one of two causes. Either San Juan suffered some kind of flooding incident and went into an uncontrolled dive, passing through crush depth and the hull imploded due to water pressure. Alternatively an internal explosion, either a torpedo malfunction or batteries, which could have quickly disabled and sunk her. During her last communication which has now been made public, San Juan reported water had entered the vessel through its snorkel, causing “the beginning of a fire” and short circuit in the forward battery which had been dealt with. The submarine was encountering big seas at the time, making it difficult to snorkel or proceed on the surface and she was ordered to make for Mar del Plata submerged, transiting slowly drawing power from the aft battery. This would tend to suggest a sea-water induced battery explosion as a likely cause.

It is possible the wreckage will eventually be located and some evidence gathered as to the cause of her loss. The search area straddles the continental shelf where the sea floor drops away down to 1,000 – 5,000m deep in places. If she went down in this very deep water it might be possible for an ROV to visually survey the site but recovering wreckage for any kind of meaningful analysis could be extremely difficult.

Recrimination and disinformation

As part of a Kremlin-inspired disinformation campaign, a Russian ‘expert’ Captain Vasili Dandikin has theorised that “a British mine planted during the Falklands war was responsible for the sinking of the San Juan”. Mines are essentially a defensive weapon and the RN did not deploy a mine-laying capability during the Falklands war. The Argentines did lay some sea mines around the islands, (observed by submarine HMS Spartan) but they were swept by RN teams after the war. Even more pernicious are bizarre claims by Argentine extremists that “a Royal Navy submarine sank the San Juan”  The RN is now down to just 6 attack submarines as can deploy a maximum of 2 or 3 boats simultaneously. RN priorities now centre around monitoring Russian submarine activity, rather than a very limited threat to the Falkland Islands. It is extremely unlikely there is a British submarine in the South Atlantic. Even if there was, there would be no possible reason to make such an unprovoked attack, which would benefit no one.

In Argentina there is anger and the hunt is on for scapegoats. Many are accusing the “government of killing those sailors”. Without the full facts, it is impossible to know if this was just an accident caused by severe weather, bad luck or a chain of events aggravated by the poor material state of the vessel. Everyone should remember that all submarine operations carry an inherent risk and things can go wrong quickly.

A navy with an unhappy recent history

The Argentine navy, plagued by underfunding has suffered a series of mishaps in recent years, although until the San Juan, none had caused loss life. In April 2007 the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar suffered a major fire at sea which required the entire crew to be evacuated. The vessel was eventually towed home but funding issues delayed her rebuild and she only put to sea again in 2017. In 2012 sail training ship ARA Libertad was impounded for 10 weeks in Ghana due to unpaid Argentine government debts. Inactive since 2004 the Argentine-built Type 42 destroyer Santísima Trinidad capsized at her moorings in 2013 after an internal valve failed. She has now been re-floated and will be converted to “a museum dedicated to the 1982 war”. In June 2014, sister of the San Juan, Santa Cruz ran aground near Buenos Aires while on her way to be refitted. During June 2016 ARA Esporta dragged her anchor and collided with a merchant ship in Puerto Belgrano. In June 2017 the destroyer La Argentina rammed a pier at Punta Alta Naval Base, badly damaging her bow and then suffered a fire during welding work to repair the ship.

Every navy has discovered, maintaining a credible and safe fleet requires a complex logistics tail and training organisation to keep equipment at people at peak efficiency. Submarine construction, maintenance and training are especially demanding and there are few corners that can be cut without boats becoming a liability.

Accidents are by no means unique to the Argentine navy, the mighty US Pacific fleet has suffered a series of recent fatal catastrophes, primarily due to operational demands being prioritised above training. The RN has also had incidents of its own, although mercifully has not lost a submarine at sea since HMS Affray sank in April 1951 with the loss of 57 lives, probably due to a snorkel problem.

As the international response has demonstrated, despite being adversaries at times, submariners of all nations have common cause with others in peril under the sea. Let us also hope the considerable British contribution to the rescue effort can be a stepping stone towards improving relations with Argentina. May the 44 on eternal patrol rest in peace and the bereaved families someday find closure.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/reflecting-on-the-sad-loss-of-argentine-submarine-ara-san-juan/