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BAE Launches Astute, Royal Navy’s Latest Nuclear Attack Submarine

The Royal Navy's newest super-submarine, Astute, was launched today, 8 June 2007, by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at the BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria.

Astute is the first nuclear submarine to be launched in the UK for almost a decade. She has been built in the UK using the latest and most advanced naval engineering techniques. Construction has been described as more complex than that of the space shuttle.

Far bigger and more potent than the current class of attack submarines, this super stealthy vessel is almost 100m long, and weighs 7,400 tonnes. She will never need to be refuelled and her advanced on-board life support systems mean she can circumnavigate the globe without needing to surface.

Astute's first Commanding Officer, Commander Mike Walliker, believes the size of Astute will not present too many difficulties:

"She is about 2,000 tonnes in displacement greater than a normal submarine but she is about half the size of the Vanguard Class submarines so we're very used to operating submarines of this size. Submariners are all trained to the same high level, whatever boat we're operating and the operation of a boat is broadly the same."

Astute is using a new optronics system which means she is not fitted with the traditional periscope. Commander Walliker does see this as a challenge:

"Not having a periscope will be the biggest challenge for me. We're taking a submarine to sea for the first time with the optronics system and this is a new and unproven capability, but when I say unproven, I mean unproven to the Royal Navy at sea, but it is proven to other navies and so I'm not envisioning problems, but it is a challenge."

Although she is bigger than previous submarines, her crew is actually marginally smaller, with around 98 people required to operate her, 17 less than the Trafalgar Class submarines:

"She is a bigger boat, but with a smaller crew because of the advances with engineering meaning less people are required to maintain her, less people needed in weapons stowage and a general drive to drive down the manpower needed for submarines.

"Nuclear submarines clearly operate at the highest end of the war fighting capabilities of the Armed Forces. At the beginning stages of a conflict Astute could be used for intelligence gathering. She can carry Tomahawk missiles, which can travel 1,000 miles, that can be used at any stage of a conflict for coercion and deterrence.

"And then she can used in support of maritime task groups and act independently as part of the key cornerstone of defence policy, expeditionary warfare."

Although Commander Walliker took command a month ago, he found out he was taking command of Astute nine months ago. He has been taking a keen interest in her progress for over four years:

"I've been living and breathing it for nine months," he explained. "It's a massive privilege to command her. Of my generation it's everyone's dream to command a 1st in Class submarine. I commanded HMS Tireless a few years ago and thought that would be the greatest honour I've ever had, but looking back now it's an incredible thought that we're taking this boat to sea."

Astute will be equipped with advanced cruise missiles and torpedoes which will provide her with more firepower than any previous British attack submarine. Astute will enter service with the Royal Navy in 2009, and will be based in Scotland. She will be a key part of the UK's naval defence forces for the next 25 years. Although she is being launched today, Astute will not actually go to sea for another eight or nine months:

"Between today's launch and the sea trials there is still a significant amount of testing to be done," Commander Walliker continued. "Testing the systems in the water, and we also need to undergo a sustained amount of sea training and practising while the boat is alongside.

"In mid-March next year we are due to begin sea trials, but the key date for me is due to be the end of August 2008 when the boat raises the white ensign for the first time and joins the Royal Navy. After that another 12 months of sea trials are expected."

Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, said of today's launch:

"I am delighted to be here to see the launch of Astute. She is the first of a class of hugely impressive vessels which will give the Royal Navy the world class capability it needs to protect the UK and her interests across the globe in the 21st century.

"Astute is a truly remarkable vessel, and her importance cannot be underestimated. I am pleased that through the Maritime Industrial Strategy we are working closely with British industry to ensure that we have affordable, viable, and vibrant submarine design and manufacture skills, both now and in the future."

Astute is the first vessel of four in the Astute class. The other three are AMBUSH, ARTFUL and AUDACIOUS.

In keeping with naval tradition, Astute will become HMS Astute once commissioned and in-service. The ceremony this week launches her as Astute. (ends)
Royal Navy's Biggest and Strongest Attack Submarine Launches in Barrow