Astute Class Nuclear Submarine – Owners Workshop Manual is the third in a trio of engrossing submarine-themed books published in 2018. Using the well established Haynes technical manual format, Jonathan Gates has written a detailed and comprehensive guide that explains the design, construction and operation of the RN’s newest submarines.
Those without at least a basic understanding of submarine design will find this book a steep, if fascinating learning curve. Of course, a complete technical manual and the blueprints for the Astute class and its equipment would be highly classified and run into thousands of pages.
This book follows on from the similar Haynes Type 45 Destroyer Manual that Gates published in 2014. In both cases, the author has done a very good job of explaining some demanding technical subjects in a way that can be understood. Lavishly illustrated with a good selection of photographs, the diagrams are consistent and easy to read throughout, this is another triumph for Haynes’ graphic designers.
The first chapter outlines the painful birth and beginnings of the Astute project, a victim of political, financial and corporate pressures that took many years to recover from. The next chapter describes the challenges of construction followed by a lengthy section describing the nuts and bolts anatomy of the boat and its many sub-systems. Also included is possibly the best description of the principles and components of a nuclear power and propulsion system available to the layman. The combat systems and weapons are covered in some detail with a glimpse into how the boat may conduct operations. There is also a good introduction to the basics of ocean acoustics and deep water anti-submarine warfare.
At first glance the depth of technical information is astonishing and if content with the same level of detail published in this book was posted on a website or social media, there would probably be accusations of breaching operational security or revealing state secrets. Knowing his subject so well, Gates is clearly well aware of what technical and scientific information is already in the public domain and within the classification boundaries. The book was written with assistance from BAE Systems and the MoD and care has been taken not to reveal the many deeper secrets of the Astutes. The use of broad stroke schematics and the absence of precise specifications allows the reader to understand how things work without revealing their specific performance or full capability.
The book also brings home the scale of the engineering challenge posed by nuclear submarine construction. The boat must be able to safely float, submerge, move, navigate, fight and communicate while being home to its crew for several months. To do this requires a system of systems, many with emergency backups and redundancy. All this technology must be constructed and contained within the confines of a steel tube capable of withstanding the enormous pressures experienced deep underwater. The very ambitious performance specification laid down for the Astute’s helps explain the SSN’s £1billion+ price tag and why the project has faced so many difficulties and delays.
Despite the expense and challenges of bringing these submarines into service, it has been very well worth the journey. In his closing remarks the author provides this upbeat assessment of their capability: “Studies of future operations have suggested the Astute will be able to evolve to fulfil its roles for the foreseeable future, a testament to her enduring utility and flexibility. Future strategic challenges will predicate a greater requirement for Astute’s inherent qualities known as the ‘seven deadly virtues’ – of flexibility, mobility, endurance, reach, autonomy, stealth and punch”
For anyone interested in submarines and wishing to take a deeper dive into understanding their technicalities, this book is a must-read. There is also a broader appeal beyond just the naval aspect for those who want to explore the story of a 21st Century engineering project at the cutting edge of technology.