Astute-Class Submarine Might Be the Best on Earth (Not Made in USA)

Astute-Class Submarine

Astute-Class Submarine Might Be the Best on Earth (Not Made in USA)

The British Royal Navy's latest nuclear-powered submarine, the Astute-class, represents a significant advancement in modern submarine technology.

Summary: The British Royal Navy's latest nuclear-powered submarine, the Astute-class, represents a significant advancement in modern submarine technology. Designed to replace the older Trafalgar class as part of the SSN20 project, which began in 1986, the Astute-class underwent several design revisions following the end of the Cold War, leading to a more cost-conscious approach. Built by BAE Systems, seven of these submarines are slated for completion. The Astute-class stands out for its cutting-edge technology, including the ability to carry 38 weapons like Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes.

Exploring the Royal Navy's Astute Class: The Next Generation of Nuclear Submarines

The British no longer have the world’s most powerful navy. But while it no longer rules the seas, the island nation certainly continues to field impressive naval vessels. The most recent British nuclear-powered submarine, the Astute class, is a great example. Some naval experts even have suggested the Astute might be the best nuclear-powered submarine on Earth today. 

Introducing the Astute

Built by BAE Systems, the Astute is slated to become the Brit’s default SSN, replacing the Trafalgar class. In total, seven Astute submarines are expected to be built, culminating a project that began in 1986 when the British Ministry of Defense began considering replacements for Swiftsure- and Trafalgar-class subs. 

The replacement submarine project was first known only as SSN20, a Cold War venture to address the Royal Navy’s need for platforms that could take on increasingly impressive Soviet submarines. SSN20 called for a platform with improved nuclear propulsion, better firepower, a more complex integrated sonar suite, and upgraded combat systems.

While creating the Astute, the British invested in the way so many Cold War participants did – heavily and without much reservation. The British spared no expense and did not consider price a constraint to designing the best boat possible.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, the British re-evaluated their spending habits. Suddenly, price mattered. SSN20 was canceled and a new submarine design program was started, this time factoring cost reductions into the equation.

The new design was derivative of the Trafalgar, which was derivative of the Swiftsure, continuing a predictable lineage of British submarines. The new project, which commenced in June 1991, became known as the Batch 2 Trafalgar class, or the B2TC.

Designing the Astute-Class Submarine 

As Peter Suciu reported for The National Interest, the Astute “has been outfitted with many technological firsts.” Notably, “each of the boats is equipped with world-leading sensors, carries Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes and can circumnavigate the globe submerged,  producing their own oxygen and drinking water.”  

Armed to the teeth, the Astute can carry 38 weapons – generally a combination of Spearfish and Tomahawk Block IV/V cruise missiles. The ability to launch the venerable Tomahawk is what makes the Astute so dangerous. Each Tomahawk can hit a target up to 1,000 miles away, within a few meters of accuracy.


The submarine class uses the Astute Combat Management System, which processes data from the boat’s sensors and interprets that data to be displayed coherently on the crew’s command consoles, enabling situational awareness. The Astute also relies on Atlas Hydrographic DESO 35 high-precision echosounders. The Astute does not use a conventional periscope. Instead, the submarine features two CM010 non-hull penetrating optronic masts, which offer the crew thermal imaging, low-light TV, and color CCD TV sensors for a variety of viewing options

The Astute is extremely quiet, offering better acoustic qualities than any other submarine in the Royal Navy. The Astute was “developed to utilize state-of-the-art anti-acoustic tiles,” Suciu reported, which mask the vessel’s sonar signature, making the Astute about as loud as a single “baby dolphin.”


About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.