Project Fact Files

Astute Class Submarines

Service - Royal Navy


The Astute Class is a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) which will progressively replace existing Swiftsure and Trafalgar (S&T) Classes

Role of the Astute Class

Nuclear-powered attack submarines are the heart of the Royal Navy force structure. They have a wide variety of roles and are capable of deployment either as an integrated layer of defence within a Task Force or independently in advance of such a force. The Astute Class will provide the Royal Navy with the means to support this policy well into the 21st century. They are planned to have improved communications facilities to support joint operations and enhanced capability to operate in the littoral compared with previous classes. They will undertake a range of tasks including:

 - Support to Vanguard Class submarines

 - Anti-Submarine Warfare

 - Anti-Surface Ship Warfare

 - Surveillance and Intelligence gathering

 - Land attack using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM)

General characteristics / technical performance

Key characteristics of Astute are:

 - Dived displacement 7800 tonnes

 - Length overall 97 metres

 - Beam 11 metres

 - Max. Speed - classified

 - Deep Diving Depth >300m

 - Complement 98 (inc at sea trainees)

 - Main armament - mix of Spearfish and TLAM

The Requirement

The contract requirement for both the Astute Class submarines and their support is specified in function and performance terms, giving the prime contractor, BAE SYSTEMS, the responsibility (and freedom) to achieve the specified performance. The performance specified builds on that of the Trafalgar Class, updated with a new submarine combat system and a much greater weapon load. It includes the PWR2 reactor plant used in the more recent Vanguard class, and a range of detailed improvements to achieve the required through life capability.

The Design

The design that is developing from this requirement will include the following significant improvements over current submarines:

 - The latest, fully integrated submarine combat system

 - Increased weapons load including Spearfish and Tomahawk Land Attack Missile

 - An "optronics" periscope to avoid hull penetrating masts

 - External actuation for all control surfaces to reduce hull penetrations and simplify aft end construction

 - A digital control and information system for the submarine, to minimise costly cabling

 - Several detailed improvements to avoid outdated equipments, improve operability and save cost.

Design and Construction Techniques

Computer-aided design methods are being employed. These are planned to allow concurrent engineering and enable the work of designers in several companies and sites to be integrated and minimise the need for rework during the build phase.

Commercial Aspects

The prime contract was placed in March 1997. During 2002, MoD and BAE SYSTEMS recognised the full impact on the programme of significant difficulties with the introduction of Computer Aided Design. In February 2003, MoD and BAE SYSTEMS concluded an Agreement to provide greater certainty about the delivery of the submarines by restructuring the project. The contract was amended in December 2003 to reflect the Agreement. Although still under a single prime contract, the design, development and production of the First Of Class is now separated from the pricing of the other two submarines for which BAE SYSTEMS is incentivised to produce early acceptable fixed prices and to reduce build times. The First OF Class element of the contract is incentivised through a 'shareline' arrangement which allows the company and the MoD to share cost under/over-runs.

The Prime Contractor (BAE SYSTEMS) is responsible for the design and build of the vessels and provision of all equipment, including the combat system and demonstrating functional performance. Under the Smart Procurement Initiative, a fully Integrated Project Team formed in early 2000 for Astute and other elements of new capability for existing Swiftsure and Trafalgar classes.

Crew and maintainer training specific to the new Astute Class submarines will be provided at a new facility at Faslane under a PFI contract between MoD and FAST. The contract was placed in September 2001. A contract amendment to realign ACTS with the delayed submarine build programme was signed in July 2004. The Astute building was completed and handed over to the Royal Navy in May 2004 for office space and training. The remainder of the building is being out-fitted with Astute training equipment.

Since the restructuring of the contract in February 2003, good progress has been made on the build of ASTUTE and the programme is on track to meet the revised In-Service date. MOD and BAE Systems remain committed to delivering the first of three ASTUTE boats by 2009.


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Last Reviewed - December 2005

Last Updated - September 2005

Last Updated: 12 Dec 05