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The RN is struggling to crew the SSN it has so introducing Diesel SSK would only exacerbate that problem.

Taking funding away from frigate production would be political dynamite at the moment.

There is zero chance that we are going to start ordering SSK from foreign yards especially with the massive fall in the pound with the ever ongoing disaster that is Brexit. Any foreign purchased SSK would have to be redesigned to fit in with RN practice, equipment and standards.

Personally I think the UK should never have got rid of the Upholder class and retained an SSK build capability at a yard like Swan Hunter but that boat has sailed now.

Again sadly this is Armchair Admiral fleet building. There are far more important calls on the defence budget then trying to restore an SSK capability to the RN.


In my opinion ‘Old Thinking’ is potentially dangerous thinking. Now as never before we need to stat thinking out of the box. I was convinced with others, at least 10 years ago, that surface warships were going to face huge problems of survivability in the 20’s and in into the future. That does not however mean their defensive capabilities wont undergo radical improvements in the coming decades if funds are available.
However I support the premise of this article that there is an imbalance looming if we continue with just 7 SSN’s.
The fact is that highly sophisticated underwater AI self controlled weapons are a very real possibility adding to the mix in just the next few years.
Survivability of any ship or indeed aircraft could be moot. I would like to see the development and fitting of VLR heavyweight torpedoes in our surface ships. Long Lance, remember them? They shook the allies to the core in 1942.

Paul Dodd

How about this for old “out of the box ” thinking – forget the costings for just a minute. As T45 are finding out, you can have all the technology in the world but absolutely useless if you can’t crew them. The RN is throwing millions – literally- to get people to stay in, retention allowances are bouncing around all over, so look at the retention problem. Maslow – Talk to the troops and find what “floats their boat” the answer is – no run ashores, no fun just work, work, work. No shore time no harmony time except for being on leave. That’s why we have few submariners even with the retention allowances. SSNs and SSBNs go to sea and stay at sea. SSKs have to call in to port to refuel, they have to be desensitised, they have to have runs ashore. I think you’ll find that solves quite a few of the RN problems for the submarine flotilla and your savings come from the cost saved from not as many new SSNs – hey we could even look at alternative power solutions, instead of a floating aerial buoy perhaps we get floating solar panels – not my ball game – but look at the task with eyes similar to the American’s new rail gun.
Anything is possible.
As for two lots of technology, why can we not use the sonar, radar, weapons systems we already have, why must it be different – the delivery method of the platform is different but hulls, systems can be the same. Doesn’t need to be diesel but we really do need conventional, if only to help restore faith in the RN from not only the public but the RN itself. Life is for living not counting out how much it cost. Cost is considered and checked but it seems to be the driver, if it meets the budget – it’ll do. Well other ways will also meet the budget but keep morale a bit higher too and those in today’s Armed Forces, not just RN, could do with that these days. Keep your money, just treat them like hard working human beings instead of machines who just perform a task.

Bring in SS SP ( solar power)
SSWT ( wind turbine), or how about
SS RDWT (Regenerative power Derived from Wave Turbines) ?


the astute saga has been an utter disgrace, overpriced too slow to build expensive to operate plus, unpopular with cres the speed expected from the design has yet to be accomplished by any of the boats inside the basic are cheap band q plug sockets and lightbulbs. there is premature internal rusting ALREADY.i’d abandon the nuclear only stance by the RN and tell them that they will have what the nation can afford and how many the nation can afford. its like the tail is wagging the dog. there is no way the navy should be able to dictate what it wants£1.4 billion for a seven years to build astute when the best diesel boat of the last 80 years(the swedish gotland class cost per boat was 100 million even my dreadful maths tells me that allowing the u.k forces to pick and choose from the BAE catalogue is a shoddy way to go about procuring ang getting the best value from the forces budget


I am full of doom and gloom regarding the T31 proposition. I expect it will just be another MOD Cluster-F*** ‘OPV’-style waste of money. So lets save the design and investment money currently starting to go in that direction and simply add a “few more T26’s” to the new frigate build program. It is shaping up to be a great platform and very capable. The £2B for the T31 being banded about could buy us a proven and better value for money frigate. It will also reduce risks associated with yet another new design of ship-and one with, in my opinion, very limited capabilities if it is indeed going to have zero ASW weapons (Wildcat aside).
The other point is that the UK cannot afford to spend another 11 years without a SSK vessel. As spelt out in this well-reasoned article, there is far too much pressure on the SSN’s and these are big vessels for double-roles like close-shore SF insertion. We should not be putting these £1.5B vessels in those sorts of risky operations. That is what a SSK is meant for.
So, the off the shelf purchase option needs to occur and politicians need to understand that these CAN be built in the UK with AIP and technology purchased under license from Germany. The 212 is an incredible platform that can do a huge variety of offensive operations, and almost more importantly, is THE BEST ASW WEAPON PLATFORM available today. For example, at least 1 should be tasked with protecting Faslane approaches. In the longer term it will provide us with the abilities to design future SSK replacements-but this capability cannot be designed from outset now, as it will become too costly (we know this due to Astute experience) and take too long-and indeed the political ‘will’ will be an even bigger ask. I would say a purchase/plan of 4 is the minimum, and at a crewing requirement of 30-35 is very modest for manpower demands.
Lets be honest, this cannot be done with current Government spending of 1.8% (lets not call it 2% please). An immediate increase must take place of at least 0.3% of GDP, and would show leadership within NATO of how serious we are regarding the funding of defence. This coupled with an increase in wages for all forces personnel and a real focus and drive on recruitment (bring in commercial recruitment practices AKA bonuses for medium term recruitment/retention?) should help to slowly alleviate moral and recruitment issues currently being experienced.


Did we not already have this class of SSK sub called the Upholder’s ?

Humpty Dumpty

Yeah and we sold them to Canada. They were basic diesel-electric subs though, not fancy pants diesel-electric AIP fuel cell subs like you can get today. I think it makes total sense to start building conventional subs again though, ideally with pump jet propulsion, anti-ship missiles that double as land-attack missiles and IDAS missiles. They’d be ideal for the English Channel, the GI-UK gap, off Faslane, off Gibraltar and to patrol the Falklands. Combine them with new Batch 3 River OPVs with say Mk41 VLS with quad-packed CAMMs, RBS-15, the Krait Defence System, decoys, microwave weapons, an Oerlikon Millennium Gun, the Scutter torpedo countermeasure and a hangar for a permanently embarked Merlin HM2 and combined with new SSKs we could have a pretty potent combo without breaking the bank and we could afford quite a few of them. In home waters they’d be complemented by Typhoons and Poseidons as well.

David Stephen

I agree that we need more subs but also that the prospect of getting any is slim to none. Like you say to many other priorities at present and in the near future. I would also say that even though 3-4 SSKs would help and provide boats for training and european deployments, we could buy an 8th Astute for the same price and wouldnt need to support 2 different boat types. I am also fairly sure the 8th Astute could be fitted in and around the SSBNs and give us the hull quicker than ordering new ones abroad or setting up a new facility here at home.


Therein lies the nub of the issue, if the money was spare and the RN could crew it they would in all likelihood prefer and eighth Astute class.

Problem is fitting another Astute would be a struggle not insurmountable but it will be. The long lead items for the Astute class had to be ordered years ago.


More subs are urgently required and we should have had at least another Astute as a bare minimum.
With Successor now in the pipeline it looks like no more new subs until that production run is complete.
A few SSK subs makes a sensible proposal. However I suspect that an Osprey purchase of about 12 units will be a navy priority in the short to medium term for the new carriers with subs being pushed to a medium to long term priority.
Unfortunately money is limited .
What is needed is an increased defence budget so that all the different capability and equipment gaps can be addressed.


How do you propose to crew 8 Astute class, 4 Vanguard (or Dreadnought) and a “few” SSK? The Royal navy is struggling to crew what it has now without bringing in a third class of Submarines. Don’t reply recruit more or persuade people to rejoin, that just won’t cut it. Sorry Diesel SSK for the RN is a Fantasy Fleet pipe dream now!

The RN would love to get Osprey they have been hinting at that for quite a while but there is no way they will be able to get twelve, for that matter they have been studious in not spooking the politicians or the Treasury by making overt calls for the type. A V-22 depending on variant costs three to four times an AW101 and there is all but zero industrial return for the UK plus the drop in the pound vs the dollar makes them in effect 20% more expensive.

The RN will get the Osprey onto the QE class via the USMC, by persuading the Americans to bring theirs with them when they deploy onto our carrier they can make an operational case by showing them to be useful to operation. Then I expect they hope they can slip 4-6 onto the end of the USN/USMC/USAF multi year buy of the type. That would allow two ot three to deploy to the operational carrier with some kind of OCU.

The Ginge

I think there is a solution here. Since the RN are not going to have the money to provide state of the art Air Defence to Frigates to stop hyper sonic missiles then maybe SSK’s instead have a role.
1. So you have to accept that the only way you get your SSK’s is to accept that your River Class in all their batch’s have to become your Type 31’s. Up Gun them, put the capability for a less complex Sonar Tail on them or local Air defence Missiles, but for doing drug interceptions, Patrols in the Gulf, they need a folding hanger to deploy Squirrel size Helicopters for SF insertion and a visible presence is created.
2. You then take the 180 odd crew from the later 5 T23’s and deploy the man power to the SSK. If you save £2.5bn as you don’t build the T31’s you could get 4 or 5 T212’s built at Barrow under licence. That would need say 400 crew (5boats x 40 x 2 crews one training one deployed) compared to the nominal 900 you save from the T23’s and allow say 400 for other duties on Rivers of which you would have 9 off, plus 500 to redeploy to ease manpower on QE and T45/T26’s.
3. The fact is we would not lack deck space to deploy ASW Helicopters from the QE’s.
4. The T26’s at 8 could provide 1 for Aircraft Carrier and 1 for Support or Anphib protection. Plus 1 to act as an independent cruiser operating in the original intended role as a Global Combat Ship.
On the Clyde if you cut steel in 2018 and built 1 T26 every 2 years that gives you 16yrs work. At which point Forts and other supply ships would need renewal that would take you through to T45 Replacements that should just be T26’s with a better radar. The only extra’s I would look at it
1. The Manpower cost savings could be used to finance a 6th SSK.
2. Look at converting a second hand container vessel with Strike length VLS to accompany each T45 to provide a data link with no modification apart from a Survival sell in the Bridge area. This vessel would then negate VLS changes to T45’s at vast expenses and provide much needed Volume of Missiles for a mass attack.
3. Look at V22 purchase of 6 (3 deployed at least with each sailing of a QE) and share the Marine OCU/Training Squadron and maintenance.

How does that as they say float your boat ?


How does it float my boat?

Probably the worst example of Arm Chair Admiral fantasy fleet building that it might as well have been written in Crayon!

I did consider taking your list apart point by point but it is so laughable I can’t be bothered!


I think a lot depends on the ultimate life of the Astute hull. If they turn out to be good for 30 – 35 years then a refuel / mid life refresh will be very good value for money. I will also create a need for work to keep the skills fresh in Barrow.
If the hulls are pretty much used up when the reactors need work then Barrow will need to go straight from the SSBN to the successor SSN.
With the current and likely future size to the fleet we need to keep an even flow to orders to keep the manufacturing base in work or kill it off and buy foreign. Expecting businesses to keep capabilities in place in the hope of future work is pie in the sky.

Michael Watson

Geat idea, which would give more flexibility to Navy, over the medium to long term would give some cost savings. However we back to the same old problem not enough money is being put into Armed Forces and likely lack of political will to expand the Navy.


The Royal Navy said for years that it needed a minimum of 8 Astute’s to fill all of it’s commitments and i still think this is the target which should be pursued. Yes the cost and other issues are significant, but not insurmountable and the lack of manpower is a problem afflicting the entire RN which desperately needs to be addressed. Fitting the building of later Astute’s alongside Dreadnought and her sisters is something which is already occurring and i’m sure could be extended. Beyond front-line capability the argument can also be made for keeping Barrow busy and stable with a planned drumbeat of 12 subs, with 1 in service every other year for an optimum service life of 24 years, which would also do away with increasingly expensive refits as SSN’s are pushed to achieve 30+ years on operations.

4-6 SSK’s would of course be very useful, but as others have said you’re talking about even more money and manpower in a climate of so many constraints and demands for investment. If an 8th Astute is a tough sell then a whole new class of subs, almost certainly built abroad seems an even further stretch.

Fully agree though that in terms of the service fleet 24 escorts is the lowest sensible target we should be aiming for. It seems obvious to me that in the same way as sub construction at Barrow we should be taking a holistic approach to shipbuilding that accommodates the needs of the RN, as well as the industry and produces a stable plan with a reasonable time-table of construction. I’d plan for the following…..

Up the T26 order to 10 (basically going back to the C1/C2 plan) and focus the Clyde yards on becoming essentially a frigate factory with 16 high-end AA/ASW platforms brought into service at 18 month intervals, again with a 24 year service life.

Commit to building 8 cheaper frigates in blocks at Cammell Laird and Appledore with Rosyth retained for assembly and fitting out. Should be either the Venator or Spartan concepts to provide a decently sized and equipped class to provide a secondary escort capability when needed as well as filling some of the lower end, constabulary tasks. BAE and it’s frankly pathetic stretched River class designs should be removed from any involvement in the T31 program altogether.

RFA’s like the upcoming replacement of the solid stores ships and the eventual replacements for the mine-hunter and survey fleets can likewise be block built across several part military, part commercial yards which will have been rejuvenated by government investment via the T31 but which hopefully won’t fully rely on RN orders to fill their workbooks. Each can commit to as much block production on each class as possible without getting into a boom/bust cycle which we’ve seen with singular yards building an entire class and then struggling once the work dry’s up.

David Graham

About 30 months ago when the Astute programme was slowed [because of the Lib/Dem component of Government being unable to support the then current start of the SSBN successor build], the NAO pointed out to Government that the slow down would result in a cost escalation totalling over £1bn. It was further pointed out that this sum would build an eighth boat. No prizes for guessing which route the MoD chose.

Frankly, it’s nonsense to suggest an eighth boat could not be built within the construction period. Virginia Class SSNs are produced in 2to 3 years in the United States. Astutes take over 9. This is the result of Government policy, and is crazy, as Astute herself will be circa 15 years in service by the time boat seven is completed, meaning amongst other factors, that the RN will never have a single class of SSN in service at any one time, with all the associated costs/problems we see today when trying to maintain T boats beyond the end of their designed service life. Look no further than the difficulties experienced by Trenchant since the completion of her revalidation refit as a prime example of this policy.

I would love to see RN SSKs, but the current lack of political will to finance defence properly means this, however desirable, will never happen.


Unless you build a class and then stop building for a lot g time you wil almost always have two classes of SSN in service. If we want to have the ability to build subs in the U.K. we need to give the builder a reasonably steady flow of work or it’s not practical for them to stay in business unless the are paid to keep staff doing nothing.

David Graham

We had an entire class of T boats, plus latterly Spartan and Sceptre [from which the T class gestated] in commission before the replacement building programme faltered, originally during John Major’s administration.

That and its effects, plus the inordinate time it takes to build an individual submarine in the UK, is why we are where we are now.

I am a surface person, but submariner friends have always stressed the importance of building boats as rapidly as possible for all the usual practical and operational reasons.


I can see the practical benefits of a fast class build out. But if it does not support the industrial requirement of a continuous and steady workflow it can only be achieved by importing subs.


As David says an 8th Astute was perfectly feasible and the equivalent costs have been deliberately sunk into slowing submarine construction down rather than go for an extra boat. Poor economics and a lack of long-term planning are obviously at play but the chronic lack of manpower to actually crew additional subs and the significant running costs attached to SSN’s also probably had something to do with it.

With a steady drumbeat of production you will probably always have 2 different classes of SSN in commission at any one time, but without those large gaps between builds you’d actually end up with a gradual evolution between one class and the next. They’d be more like sub-classes of the same overall design that only drastically changed across multiple ‘batches’ and as such it wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to run them at the same time.

Working out a compromise between the optimum size of the fleet and the demands of industry benefits everyone and crucially brings stability to proceedings, stopping the ridiculous practice of paying for very expensive refits and life extensions to keep subs running on for 30+ years in a rather creaking and shabby state whilst the RN waits for replacements.


What would we use SDEs for? They can’t go overseas without surface support like an SSK can, so that limits them to home waters. Doing what? Only hunting Russian subs which won’t be there 99% of the time.

Imagine our next class of MCMV with 2087 (or space for it) plus deck torpedos and a pad for UAVs/USVs and helo in-flight refulling. If they were based around the UK (Hull, London, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Barrow, Faslane) and supported by shore based Merlins then they could be used for home waters ASW as well as MCM. If they had a 35mm Millenium some LMM missiles and 12.7mm RWS guns then they could also do light patrol work and surface ship shadowing as well if the torpedos were of the heavy type.

We have 15 MCMV to replace (plus the few that have been lost recently) so along with a proper force of DS 4207s for the UKBA we could have enough to keep one small shipyard set up for life, and small surface ships are cheaper than subs.


Couple of points for me here:

1. Agree with Fedaykin about manning issues – plus its not for everyone, those dolphins are a special breed of people.

2. My view is that the Astute replacement should be SSK and non nuclear and the numbers doubled to 13.

3. The costs of doing this are actually positive as the nuclear reactor costs are prohibitively expensive to the UK anyway – building 4 or 11 doesn’t really matter over the timespan and we are reliant for this platform from the US anyway – probably time to purchase the whole SSBN fleet from them (if they are willing to sell to us)

4. Alternative energy sources may well come along that negate nuclear.

5. It keeps UK shipbuilding going.

The big negative of this approach is that it clearly takes us out of nuclear as a military producer, but does release funds to build other assets. Strategically this is dangerous but unless we are willing to build a joint fleet with France then we are limited in our options.


Given the choice I would have replaced the 3 Invincibles and Ocean and Argus with 4 CDG sized carriers (40t tons) and made them nuclear powered probably 2 reactors per ship. I would also have 4 more ships using the same hull but with an RFA configuration to support the medium carrier group or to race across the ocean to deliver disater aid.

So along with 12 nuclear subs that makes 28 reactors. Add a couple more plugged into the national grid for training purposes and we have enough for a sustained industry with economies of scale so they’re not prohibitively expensive.

There were 100 British vessels involved in the Falklands war, of which 21 were tankers, so medium carriers that don’t need tankers and big RFAs with fuel exclusively for frigates makes any RN battle group much more independant.


I know there are excellent diesel designs such as the 212 and Gotland which would potentially serve the navy well but may I ask if anyone has any knowledge or information regarding the Vidar 36 from BMT? How would this compare to rivals?

Gareth Whittaker

The Royal Navy ain’t got the weapons on bord ship to fight say the Russians , I say F*** the 31s , get some conventional subs , they are a massive force multiplier .

Steve R

Yes, I fully agree that the Royal Navy should invest in AIP conventional submarines.

A fleet of 6 AIP subs would almost double our fleet and could probably do so for the same cost as 1-2 Astute-class. These submarines would be perfect for our likely direction in defence; looking east towards Russia. A class of 6 conventional submarines could be used in the North Sea, North Atlantic, GIUK Gap, Channel, and also the Med and Gulf regions and would certainly keep the Russian Navy on their toes.

These would also then free up the Astute submarines for escorting our Vanguard-class SSBNs and also escorting our carrier group wherever it goes. The conventional subs could also do this if our carrier were deployed in the Med, Gulf etc. Their range could also be extended by basing one permanently east of Suez in HMS Juffair. As an example for what we could get, I think we should look to the Japanese Soryu-class. Could get them licence-built here, or if our yards can’t do it as too busy with dreadnought and the final Astutes, then get the Japanese to build them for us and we buy them off the shelf.

This principle should also be applied to our frigate fleet. Invest in more Type 31s, increase the number from 5 to 9-10 and then up-gun them: main 76mm gun, increase Sea Ceptors from 12 to 24 missiles and bolt on a pair of quad-canister launchers to the decks to provide 8 NSM or Harpoon Block II antiship missiles (this should also be done with Type 45s and Type 26s). This would uparm them relatively cheaply and would increase our surface fleet from 19 to 24 ships, whilst also almost doubling our submarine fleet from 7 to 13 (or 12 if we had to sacrifice the final Astute to pay for these)

This principle should also extend to our air power. Reduce the order of F35B from 138 to 80, cutting 58 planes. This gives us 48 frontline, 12 OCU and another 20 spare airframes. It also saves £between £5 and £6 billion. Give all the F35s to the Royal Navy and use the saved money to buy something else. £5billion would buy:

– 60-65 x Tranche 3 Typhoons

– 100 x F/A-18E/G Super Hornets

– 50 x F/A-18E/G super Hornets & 5 additional Type 31 frigates/5-6 Soryu-class SSK submarines.

– 30 x Tranche 3 Typhoons & 5 additional Type 31 frigates/5-6 Soryu-class SSK submarines.

Gareth Whittaker

F-35 A

Humpty Dumpty

I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I think Gripen Es are well worth considering to boost our fighter numbers. Cheap to buy and fly, easy to maintain, good air-to-air missiles missiles (Meteor, IRIS-T), IRST, AESA radar an an excellent EW suite.


the arbitray statement in the 1970’s that the royal navy would only operate nuclear fleet boats shoud be challenged. given the leaps in conventional submarines technology there is is a clear line of thought about the R.N moving away from only overpriced slow to build,vastly expensive, high crew numbers..the plethora of modern ssk submarine designs are huge from the older ex royal navy upholder class of 4 submarines which completed no more than 8 years service between them together are still active as the victoria class in the canadian navy. the oberon class(the successor tothis class was very, very popular with chile,brazil,australia and chile all buying and operating them indeed onyx saw service in the falklands war i’m never against the R.N operating second hand vessels, everyone else does so loking at the repurchase of the canadian boats and the slated for retirement collins class could be a good move. small crews up to date systems. far cheaper to operate and disposal is straitfotward. without the nuclear defuelling and disosal costs.