The Royal Navy's New Astute-class Submarine Is A Killing Machine

May 19, 2021 Topic: Submarines Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: HMS AnsonAstute-classSubmarinesRoyal NavyBAE Systems

The Royal Navy's New Astute-class Submarine Is A Killing Machine

Actually getting a 7,800-ton submarine in the water is far more complex than one might expect.

Once completed the Royal Navy’s HMS Anson will be one of the most sophisticated underwater vehicles ever built. Displacing 7,800 tonnes, the ninety-seven-meter long hunter-killer submarine is scheduled to launch next year. She is the fifth of a planned seven Astute-class boats that have described as a key component for Great Britain’s naval strategy.

Anson recently entered the final stages of construction and commissioning, and on Monday was rolled out of what had been her home for the past decade and lowered into the waters of BAE Systems site in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Moving the submarine was no easy task and the Royal Navy reported that it required a delicate two-day operation.

Now that the ship is finally in the water, she’ll begin the final testing and commissioning of systems and then prepare for her first dive. That will involve submerging most of the boat in a special dry dock before leaving Cumbria next year and joining her four sisters in Faslane – home of the Royal Navy’s submarine force.

The future crew of Anson will be present and are a key to those tests. They have been increasingly involved in the construction and fitting out process. The boat was formally named by her sponsor, Julie Weale, just before Christmas of last year.

The Royal Navy said that the final stages of the boat’s completion were complicated by the pandemic, and Covid-19 placed particular challenges and demands on the complex operation to lower the hunter-killer into the water. Everyone present, including both service members and civilians, had to comply with Covid regulations and that included the wearing of sealable facemasks.

Actually getting a 7,800-ton submarine in the water is far more complex than one might expect.

“The rollout itself from the dock hall is a slow and delicate operation, checking that the cradles and submarine hull are not subject to stress as the boat is rolled over the transitions on to the ship-lift,” explained Commander David ‘Bing’ Crosby, who has been named the boat’s first commanding officer.

Anson’s submariners were joined by BAE staff during the operations.

“Lowering the ship-lift also takes time, with the Naval architects ensuring that all the tanks have the correct contents, so the boat maintains the correct trim as she floats,” added Crosby. “As she is lowered, the ship’s staff are conducting rounds, leak checks, and looking for floods.”

Crosby and his future crew operated critical positions, such as running the diesel engines for power, changing the ventilation states, and bringing air into the ballast tanks for buoyancy.

Once the boat was afloat, she was “cold moved” to Wet Dock Quay with the assistance of tugs for training leading to the next milestone, which will include the trim dive.

Commander Crosby said the efforts of the combined team of BAE staff and his submariners had been “nothing short of amazing.”

He continued: “The launch marks a significant milestone in the delivery of HMS Anson to the front line.

“I am extremely encouraged by the strong relationships my team and the RN are maintaining with the BAE build team and their contracted support; these teams will ensure HMS Anson leave Barrow in 2022 set well for sea trials ahead of what will be a long and successful operational life.”

Meet the Astute-class

The Astute-class boats are the largest and most advanced attack submarines ever constructed for the Royal Navy. Each of the submarines costs a reported £1.6 billion to build. The class was the first of nuclear submarines worldwide to be designed in a 3D computer-aided environment, while the boats have been outfitted with many technological firsts, including not having an optical periscope. Instead, high specification video technology has been employed, which enables the crew to scan the horizon and get a 360-degree view to address potential threats.

Each measures 97meters long (32-feet), and the boats of the class are powered by a Rolls-Royce PWR2 (Core H) reactor and fitted with a pump-jet propulsor, the same reactor that was developed for the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. The nuclear reactor, which powers the submarines and has a twenty-five-year lifespan before needing to be refueled, can be used to recycle air and water. This provides a theoretically unlimited endurance for the submarine, which could circumnavigate the globe without surfacing.

Unlike other nuclear-powered submarines, the Astute-class was developed to utilize state-of-the-art anti-acoustic tiles, which reportedly allow the vessels to glide through the water almost silently. The little noise the submarines give off has been compared to that of a “baby dolphin.”

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Image: Reuters