Russia isn’t the only nation launching a nuclear sub hunter after two decades of development. The UK recently rolled the third of seven £1 billion ($1.8 billion) Astute Class nuclear submarines, the HMS Artful, out of its cavernous dry dock for a year of demanding sea trials and a quarter century of service beneath the seas.
BAE Systems began construction on the Artful back in 1997 at the company’s construction hall at Barrow-in-Furness, in Cumbria and is designed, along with its sisters, as equivalents to America’s versatile Virginia-class nuclear subs. They measure 96m in length with a 11m beam and 10m draught and displace 6713 tonnes of seawater — that’s the same as 65 blue whales.
The Arftul‘s Rolls-Royce PWR 2 reactor is strong enough to power all of Southampton and will propel the submarine up to 30 knots underwater but won’t ever have to be refueled over the vessel’s 25-year service life. What’s more, because the Artful also produces its own oxygen and freshwater onboard, the submarine is easily capable of circumnavigating the globe without surfacing and can stay down for as long as food supplies for the 98-member crew last — which should be about three months.
Even more impressive than its longevity is the Artful’s warfighting capabilities. For example, the Astute class is the first in Her Majesty’s Navy to forgo conventional periscopes in lieu of HD video feeds delivered via fibre optic cabling. The Astutes also sport the “biggest ears in the Royal Navy” with their Sonar 2076 system, widely regarded within the defence industry as the single most advanced and capable sonar suite in operation today. It can be installed on both the new Astute class and the existing Trafalgar class subs, giving the entire fleet a single, interoperable sonar system. What’s more, the system is estimated to operate some 13,000 hydrophones along her bow, flanks and towed array — that’s magnitudes more than previous Royal Navy subs and more than any other modern sonar system.
The HMS Artful is also armed to the teeth. Once it enters service, it will do so with six 21-inch torpedo tubes and room for 38 missiles and torpedoes. The Artful will primarily rely on the 1.8-tonne Spearfish heavyweight torpedo, which can hit targets up to 50km away with a 300kg explosive charge, and the Tomahawk IV Land Attack Cruise Missile, which can ruin weeks from more than 1000km away — that’s the distance from London to Paris and back again — and will drop a 450kg warhead (quite possibly nuclear) moving at 885km/h on your location with pinpoint precision.
With the launch of the Artful in May of this year, the submarine is expected to begin its sea trials in early 2015 before joining its sisters, the HMS Astute and HMS Ambush, defending queen and country. [Royal Navy – Wiki – BAE Systems – Forecast International]