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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


In January 1963, the U.K. Defense Committee decided that four FBM submarines should be built, with an option on a fifth which was later canceled. The HMS Resolution (SSBN-01) deployed with POLARIS A3P on its first operational patrol in June 1968. Since 1968 the United Kingdom has deployed a force of four ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) each of 7,500 tonnes displacement, adapted from the then existing Valiant Class SSN, armed with Polaris missiles. This force conducted over 229 consecutive and continuous patrols.

The U.K. POLARIS force was comprised of four SSBNs designed by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. (VSEL), Barrow-in- Furness, and used a U.S. designed missile section. Similar in size to the USS LAFAYETTE, the Royal Navy (RN) POLARIS submarines had the distinctive whale-like hull adopted by the RN for their first-generation SSNs, with the diving planes positioned on either side of the bow rather than on either side of the sail as with U.S. FBM submarines. Powered by the British pressurized water nuclear reactors built by Rolls Royce and Associates, each submarine carried 16 POLARIS A3 missiles. Two of the submarines were built by Vickers Shipbuilding at Barrow and two at Cammell Laird of Birkenhead.

The force operated from a submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde in Scotland, with an associated Armament Depot at nearby Coulport. Located on the base, which included accommodation and recreational facilities and amenities, was the Royal Navy's POLARIS Weapon System School, commissioned 10 June 1966.

The end of the initial outfitting period was marked on 13 December 1969. At that time, the U.K. had their operating base at Faslane built and all four POLARIS submarines accepted for service. The first U.K. submarine, HMS RESOLUTION, was launched in September 1966 and visited Cape Canaveral in February and early March 1968, where both Port and Starboard crews successfully launched a POLARIS A3 missile into a downrange target area. HMS RESOLUTION made her first deterrent patrol in June 1968. HMS RENOWN was launched in February 1967, HMS REPULSE in November 1967, and HMS REVENGE in March 1968.

The Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile system entered service with the Royal Navy in 1968 and the V-bombers were withdrawn from the nuclear role in 1969. A total of 16 Polaris missiles were carried by each of four Resolution-class nuclear-powered submarines, which were designed and built in the UK. The warheads were also designed and built in the UK and initially comprised a modified version of the WE177 device. This was replaced in 1982 by the Chevaline warhead, which was designed to address concerns about the increasing vulnerability of the Polaris system.

maintenance dockings
Resolution199246 days
199335 days10 days
199413 days
Renown1992365 days
199370 days31 days
199417 days4 days
199513 days
Revenge199220 days
Repulse199220 days15 days
199352 days5 days
19948 days13 days
199537 days
199615 days
Resolution Class submarines were subject to an annual 'programmed' docking between refits. Occasionally operational requirements lead to the submarines being docked at short notice, which are reflected in the table below as 'unprogrammed' dockings. The Resolution class Polaris submarines, like all other British nuclear-powered submarines, were subject to a program of inspections, set in hand as a prudent precautionary measure following the discovery of a technical defect in one of the Royal Navy's hunter-killer submarines.

MOD reassured in 1991 that the operation of the strategic deterrent has continued uninterrupted with at least one SSBN remaining on patrol. It was, however, readily apparent that HMS Renown, one of the Resolution class submarines, had been in refit for considerably longer than anticipated. As of mid-1991 it had been in Rosyth and will not be out for another year or two, which means that it will have been in refit for four years—well beyond the normal time taken for refits. Another submarine had been tied up at Faslane because it had a weak hull structure. It was suggested that Revenge had a crack in it and "had been ground down" and that Resolution, the oldest of the submarines, was the only one on patrol.

Despite requests for information about the present situation with regard to SSBNs, MOD had not been forthcoming. In view of the concerns that have been expressed in public, many believed that it would be in the general interest, including that of MOD, to be more candid.

Jack Dromey, the national secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, and Paul Noon, the assistant general secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists say that they would not allow their workers' health to be jeopardised by letting them face excessive radiation doses to get Polaris submarines back to sea.

The decision to carry out the refit of HMS Renown was taken at a time when the Trident program was still many years away from fruition. It was essential to ensure the continuation of the cycle of patrols of Resolution class submarines until the Vanguard class was in service. It was a wholly rational decision. The refit of HMS Renown — which took five years — was finished in 1992 and the ship then went out on three operational patrols. It was later decided that it was no longer needed because of the end of the cold war and because of the significant success of the Trident programme, which is under budget and on time. Because the Trident programme had gone so well, the Navy was able to take Renown out of service earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

The final cost certificates for the refit of HMS Renown had not been presented as of 1992, but the estimate of cost is in the region of £200 million. The total estimated cost of the project at the time the contract was placed was just over £152 million at 1992–93 prices. The difference between these figures is due mainly to a change in the method of assessing costs following commercialisation—this refit straddled vesting day—programme delays and additional equipment improvements. The cost of operating HMS Renown in 1994–95, the last year for which figures are available, was approximately £29 million. This figure includes the cost of manpower, maintenance and stores.

The Polaris era ended at a ceremony on 28 August 1996 at Faslane to mark the decommissioning of the last Resolution-class submarine, REPULSE. The age of the force, and improvements in potential adversaries' capabilities, led the Government to upgrade the Polaris system. The replacement of Polaris with Trident involved successive Resolution Class boats being retired as the larger Vanguard Class SSBNs entered service. In 1995 strategic nuclear deterrent patrols continued with the first Vanguard Class patrols, equipped with ‘Trident’ ballistic missiles. As of 1996 the current official estimate for the purchase of Trident was £11,682 million. The purchase cost of Polaris in current prices was a figure in the region of between £5 billion and £5.5 billion. As with any other military equipment, replacements cost much more than what was being replaced.

Rosyth dockyard had a long association, stretching back to the ’60s, with nuclear-powered submarines. In fact, Rosyth was involved at the very beginning of nuclear submarines, with HMS Dreadnought, Britain’s first nuclear sub, which set sail from Rosyth for Singapore on a 30,000 mile sustained high-speed run a week before I was born in 1967. She had a major refit in the yard three years later. By 1984, the yard had developed an expertise in nuclear sub refits and was chosen as the sole location for refitting the fleet; two years later, extensive rebuilding commenced to facilitate its new role.

In 1993, however, that decision was reversed, when Devonport was awarded the refit and refuelling arrangements for the Trident submarine fleet and other submarines. That was an attempt by the Conservative Government to save Conservative seats in the south-west. They failed miserably, as the Conservatives were routed in the region by both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party. Rosyth dockyard continues to have a role as the resting place for seven nuclear submarines: the four Polaris SSBNs, HMS Resolution, HMS Repulse, HMS Renown and HMS Revenge, and three SSNs, or ship submersible nuclear submarines, HMS Churchill, HMS Swiftsure and the original HMS Dreadnought.

Resolution - Specifications

Displacement, surfaced7500-7600 tons
Displacement, submerged8400-8500 tons
GT (Gross Tonnage) tons
NT (Net Tonnage) tons
DWT (Deadweight) tons
Length, O/A 425 feet (129.5 m) - 426 feet (130 m)
Length, W/L meters / feet
Length, B/P meters / feet
Max Beam 33 feet (10.1 m)
Draft 30 ft 1 in (9.2 m)
Height meters / feet
Propulsion Type nuclear reactor
Number of Main Engine(s)1
Main Engine builderVickers/Rolls-Royce
Main Model PWR.1 pressurised-water
Main RPM
Main power 27,500 shp (20,500 kW)
Speed, Surface 20 knots (37 km/h)
Speed, Submerged24 knots (44 km/h) - 25 knots (46 km/h)
Diving Depth In excess of 1000ft
Range nautical miles at knots
enduranceUnlimited except by food supplies
ElectronicsFerranti DCB Fire Control system.
Weapons Systems
  • 16 tubes for Polaris;
  • 6 Torpedo tubes for Tigerfish or Spearfish torpedoes
  • RNSH (Royal Navy Sub-Harpoon) anti-ship missiles
  • Complement143-156


    Number Submarine Name Builder Laid
    Launch Comm Decomm Notes
    HMS Resolution Vickers,
    HMS Renown Cammell

    SSBN-03 S23 HMS Repulse Vickers,
    SSBN-04 S27 HMS Revenge Cammell


    SSBN-05 announced in 1964, but cancelled by new Government the following year

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    Page last modified: 06-06-2013 18:09:21 ZULU