Astute class submarines are UK nuclear powered hunter-killers SSNs which will supersede the Swiftsure class. They are a major upgrade to the Trafalgar class (and originally known as Batch 2 Trafalgar) with a modified front hull. The Astute Class of Attack Submarines is the replacement for the existing Swiftsure and Trafalgar Classes of nuclear attack submarine. The required capability places greater emphasis on land attack, intelligence gathering and special forces operations.
The Astute Class are capable of carrying 93 crew and an array of weapons including Tomahawk cruise missiles, the nuclear-powered Astute class is 97m long, weighs 7,800 tons, is coated in 39,000 sonar masking acoustic tiles and doesn't need refueling throughout its expected 25 year service life. The Astute travels at 30 knots underwater and dives to a maximum depth of 300 meters.. They should not be confused with the FASM (Future Attack SubMarine) replacing the Trafalgar class which is still in the early design stage and maybe an AIP (Air Independant Propulsion) rather than nuclear design.
The 1998 Strategic Defence Review reaffirmed the UK's need for submarines - but with increasingly flexible capabilities. Astute's role as an undersea hunter-killer relies on her being stealthier than her underwater environment. Astute will undertake a range of tasks including intelligence gathering and anti-submarine warfare. Designed to operate in isolation or as part of a military task force with other naval vessels, aircraft and land forces, Astute's challenge is to remain undetected, thousands of miles from home and hundreds of metres underwater while still being able to communicate securely and effectively with allied forces via satellite.
Astute has a greater weapons capability, improved communications facilities and enhanced capability to operate in the littoral in comparison with the existing Swiftsure and Trafalgar (S&T) Class in service at present. A powerful threat to enemy ships and submarines, Astute also has formidable firepower against land targets. Armed with tomahawk cruise missiles she can strike at targets up to 2,000km from the coast with pin-point accuracy. Astute is positioned as the UK's most capable military asset and weapon of choice in the 21st century - the latest in a long line of boats built in Barrow for that 'most silent service'.
A number of features have been incorporated into the design to improve performance, support the modular build concept and reduce through-life cost. These include an increased diameter to accommodate the PWR2 nuclear plant, a larger main propulsion machinery package and an 'optronics' periscope to avoid hull penetrating masts, as well as additional weapons stowage and a sixth torpedo tube. All these inclusions are possible due to the increased size of Astute and the modular build concept. ASTUTE's Sonar 2076 sonar suite has the processing power of 2000 laptop computers. It has the world's largest number of hydrophones, providing the Royal Navy with the "biggest ears" of any sonar system in service today. ASTUTE is the first Royal Navy Submarine not to be fitted with optical periscopes - instead the vessel employs high specification video technology. The images are delivered into the submarine via fibre-optic cables.
Traditionally, UK submarines have followed the principle that performance should be optimised by designing the smallest submarine possible with little regard to cost. However, with the advancement in modular construction and the cost benefits that this brings, the design philosophy has changed. Astute will reap the benefits that modular construction can bring, allowing size, speed and cost to be optimised. As a result, the Astute Class design is some 600 tonnes heavier than first anticipated.
The submarines will be significantly larger than the Swiftsure Class they replace. A number of features have been incorporated into the design to improve performance, support the modular build concept and reduce through-life cost. These include an increased diameter to accommodate the PWR2 nuclear plant, a larger main propulsion machinery package and an 'optronics' periscope to avoid hull penetrating masts, as well as additional weapons stowage and a sixth torpedo tube. All these inclusions are possible due to the increased size of Astute and the modular build concept.
The UK Ministry of Defence and Royal Navy demands more than a 'best in class' - in Astute,they seek to push the boundaries of nuclear submarine technology and capability to new extremes,and only by focusing completely on the customer's mission requirements can BAE Systems and the Astute team make it the one of the most powerful weapons in the water, with remarkable mission flexibility.
The White Paper "Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence Review" (Cm 7948), presented to the House on 19 October 2010, explained the Government's intention to make certain changes to the armed forces in order to deliver the force structure we require for the future and to help address the legacy of unaffordability in the defence budget. The full fleet of seven Astute-class submarines will be procured.
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