The Royal Navy's latest and most advanced nuclear submarine, HMS Artful, has successfully fired its first test torpedo using a state-of-the-art "brain." According to the British Ministry of Defence, the 7,400-tonne (8,157 ton) hunter-killer used the new Command Combat System (CCS) to integrate data from its suite of sensors to track and hit the moving target with an unarmed practice weapon. The Artful is the third of the Astute class submarines and is the first to have the CCS installed.

It wasn't that long ago when the most sophisticated computer aboard a submarine was the Apple II in the Paymaster's office. Now, the likes of the RN's Sonar 2076 alone has the processing capacity 60,000 present-day PCs. This and other sophisticated digital systems mean that today's submarine captains need equally sophisticated command systems to turn all that data into meaningful action.

Designed by BAE Systems and constructed by VMware, Dell, and Aish in the UK, the CCS is described by the makers as a "step change" in combat information processing technology. It uses off-the-shelf components for greater design flexibility combined with new algorithms to gather data from many different sensors and other systems that make up the "nervous system" of the boat, turning them into a single computer environment instead of being read and controlled from many different places.

According to the RN, this not only makes processing the data more efficient, is also allows for directly control of the sensors and weapons, as well as saving the one premium item on any submarine – space. The CCS can directly interpret the data coming from the 13,000 hydrophones of the Sonar 2076 and track targets while leaving the crew to concentrate on command decisions.

The RN says that the CCS was originally slated for installation on the fourth Astute class submarine, but work was completed ahead of schedule and Artful was chosen instead. The CCS will be retrofitted to previous boats in the series, as well as to the fleet's Vanguard class nuclear missile submarines, the remaining four of the Astute class currently under construction, and the next generation of RN submarines.

HMS Artful (PDF) was handed over to the RN in December by BAE Systems. As one of the most advanced submarines in the world, it can go its entire service life without refueling and its sensors are claimed to be able to detect and track the quietest of hostile vessels. The vessel is undergoing sea trials until July, after which it will carry out maintenance and training in anticipation of active duty.

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