Taking a peek at the Royal Navy's next nuclear-powered ballistic missile sub
As part of an update to Parliament on the progress of the Trident replacement program, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released a concept image of the Royal Navy’s next ballistic nuclear missile submarine. This coincides with the awarding of two contracts to BAE Systems Maritime-Submarines for £47 million (US$76 million) and £32 million (US$60 million) to begin preliminary design work on the nuclear-powered submarines, currently called the Successor class, which are intended to replace the Navy’s aging fleet of of Vanguard-class boats by 2028.
The Royal Navy’s four Vanguard-class Trident ballistic missile-armed submarines have been in service since 1993 as the key component of Britain’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent (IND) policy, with the Navy's 16 Lockheed Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carrying up to 192 nuclear warheads in MIRV re-entry vehicles. Conceived during the Cold War as a replacement for the Resolution-class Polaris submarines, the Vanguard-class is now itself in need of replacement as the first of the class, HMS Vanguard, is due for a major refit in 2017.
Since 2011, the MoD has been carrying out a directive by Parliament to come up with a replacement for the current Trident submarines. According to the update, which included the released image, the MoD, along with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock International, have concluded that the alternatives of a land- or sea-based deterrent, or a more exotic one, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles on attack submarines, would not be as efficient or cost effective as a like-for-like replacement of the current Trident system.
The concept image showing a distinctly streamlined hull is only an approximation of the final design, which has yet to be determined as the British government sorts out defense policy, budget priorities, and the future nature of the IND. According to the MoD, the £11-14 billion (US$18-23 billion) (at 2006 prices) boats are expected to be larger, stealthier, more complex, and safer than the Vanguard and will serve from 2028 until the mid 2060s. However, exactly how many of them will be built, and what their deployment will be is uncertain until Parliament makes its final decisions in 2015.
The Successor submarine will be powered by a Rolls-Royce PWR3 nuclear reactor that will not require refueling for the entire life of the boat. The design and construction methods will be based on those of the Astute-class attack submarines currently being built. The MoD says that the lessons learned from Astute will allow Successor to be built in less time than the smaller submarine.
Inside the new Successor will be 12 missile tubes instead of the current 16. Like the current boats, Successor will carry Trident D5 missiles. Since the US Navy is working on a replacement for its own Ohio-class missile submarines, the US and the UK are jointly developing the Common Missile Compartment for both designs. Under this agreement, the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics will supply the missile tubes, while Britain will build and install its own compartments.
Though the Trident missiles will be bought from the US, the nuclear warheads and re-entry vehicles will continue to be British-built. Since the current stock of UK warheads is not slated for replacement until the 2030s, they don’t factor into the current Successor design.
According to First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas, "The Royal Navy has been operating continuous at-sea deterrent patrols for more than 40 years and the Successor submarines will allow us to do so with cutting-edge equipment well into the future."
The MoD states that, though Parliament has yet to make its final decisions on the Successor, BAE Systems was awarded contracts this week because the long lead time in developing the new submarines means that preliminary work must begin even before the design is settled upon. Work on details like structural fittings, electrical equipment, castings and forgings must be ordered now or there is an increasing risk of delays and consequent cost overruns.
In a statement, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says, "This £79 million (US$129 million) investment is another important milestone in our preparations to build these world-leading submarines. The current Vanguard Class of deterrent submarines perform a vital role in the defence of the UK and the replacement for this capability is of national importance.
"The Successor programme is supporting around 2,000 jobs, and up to 850 British businesses could benefit from the supply chain as we exploit the most modern technologies and employ a significant portion of the UK’s engineers, project managers and technicians over the coming years."
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One has to acknowledge that one Trident D5 missile has the capability to take the U.S.A. back to the Dark Ages. A submarineful can take it back to the Stone Age. They are not going to let the U.K. have that competence without retaining control over it, something that will be obvious to any potential foe the U.K. might face. It follows, therefore, that the U.K. is very unlikely be allowed by the U.S.A. to use its Trident missiles because that would automatically make the U.S.A. a target for giving its permission to use them.
Over and above the obvious, we have to recognise that with miniscule C.E.P.s and MIRV technology, Trident D5 is not designed to provide a deterrent at all, it is designed to destroy the deterrence ability of any foe by destroying their command, control, communication and intelligence facilities, no matter what the U.K. government might have to say on the matter. That makes the only 'defence' possible 'launch on warning'. Let's just hope that Microsoft doesn't have any input into such a system. "Oops!" won't cut it, I'm afraid.
The U.K., along with the other nuclear armed states, has missed a glorious opportunity to make the world a much safer place by not banning MIRV delivery systems. That is something we may live (or die) to regret as the peace that broke out in the late 80s slowly disappears from sight.
Removing MIRV should preferably be accompanied by a minimum CEP of 400 meters (as with Trident C4), but monitoring compliance is an obvious problem. The best option for the U.K. would be hunter-killer subs equipped with U.K. designed and built long-range nuclear armed cruise missiles capable of delivering a retaliation for any nuclear attack.
Having said all that, a nuclear attack on any nation today will most likely come in the form of an Hiroshima sized device packed into a briefcase or the boot of a car. (Try putting the bits back together in order to get fingerprints, the way they did with the Lockerbie bomb!)
We live in the 21st century, it is about time our politicians grew up and found something safer to play with and consigned those from a different era to the waste bin where they belong.
@ Mel Tisdale For there to be a ban you have to be able to enforce it. Also MIRVed warheads just reduce the number of launchers making an unintentional launch less likely.
What "magic" device makes a Missile on Royal Navy Boat be under the control of any third party. There is no reason to believe that the missiles could not be aimed at targets in the USofA.
I think the Brits made a mistake in not developing their own ICBM because the difference between an ICBM and an orbital launcher is the payload.
I don't know what specific mechanism prohibits the U.K.'s use of Trident, but one that comes to mind is for the missiles to require a component of the GPS signal to include a flight permission code, without which the missile would not fire up or continue if had fired up.
"Let's be honest, we're talking aggression here, not deterrence."
Exactly the point I was making. Gorbachev just arrived in time to stop the carnage. The West was about to deploy Trident D5 in sufficient numbers to be able to launch a pre-emptive first-strike and the USSR was playing catch-up. If neither side had launched such a strike we would have had the equivalent of two warring neighbours facing each other with snipers' rifles, compared to the blunderbusses they had been used to (Polaris, Poseidon etc.). the earlier weapons were a deterrent. Trident D5 is an anti-deterrent. How long do you think that the West would have waited before taking the advantage they had. You might remember the bellicose nature of the rhetoric of the time. One thing we can be sure of is that whichever side fired first would be able to claim all kinds of intelligence that said the other side were going to attack. That other side would be too busy burying its dead to put any defence, and they would not have been believed.
As for monitoring compliance with a MIRV ban, it is easy to count warhead during the inspections that would have been part of any treaty negotiation. CEP compliance would be another matter entirely.
On a visit to NATO headquarters in 1990 a NATO official admitted that they were so concerned about the "destabilisation" that was going to result from the deployment of Trident, they "were having meetings at the highest level to discuss the matter." Remember this was at a time when peace had broken out. Indeed, the day after our visit, Werner, the then Secretary General, was due to meet Gorbachev, something that would have been unthinkable a year or so earlier. It they were worried I think we had a right to be too, but all we got from the politicians and the media was that it was a deterrent and essential. If only!
I would have supported (but not very enthusiastically) Trident C4, perhaps with extended range to give more deep water available for patrols. (Submarines do not disappear when they submerge, far from it.)
The Trident II D5 like all ICBMs uses inertial guidance with star-fix assistance.