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Ian Wood

Good analysis thanks. If it is possible to create and run an un-crewed vessel, when why not go to a hybrid partly-crewed system. Fewer crew required, less scut work, and a commander in control of weapons release. Add in Tenders for crew changes would reduce time in transit. Another part of new technology making the ocean ‘transparent’ is that the sub can communicate to the satellite whilst submerged, increasing the ‘unmanned’ potential.


I think the biggest advantages come from no crew at all. Both in size of boat and the systems to support them.


By the time you’d integrated UK systems and weapons you might not be far off the cost of just doing it yourself.

Since Cammell Laird closed its sub building side there is only Barrow who can build subs anyway. And they’re maxed. Adding another capability alongside the nuclear side would cause huge disruption.


Hi Rudeboy
Could Cammell Laird be revived… or has it been turned into flats


Lairds exists as a (nominally) shipbuilding and refit yard.

What is missing is the people of the required expertise and domain knowledge.


Government needs to get a grip and strictly control the building of flats on the ship and boatyard shore sites in the UK. As an example Yacht construction in the UK has been completely destroyed by allowing Flats to be put up on boatyards. Nuff said but hundreds of jobs have been lost for short term gain. Nowhere else but the UK is so short sighted and plain stupid.


Er, where precisely are all these defunct yacht constructors?

This lot seem to be doing OK.

Princess Yachts – British Luxury Yacht Manufacturer – Plymouth

Sunseeker | Careers at Sunseeker – Poole

Luxury Superyacht Build & Refit – Pendennis – Falmouth


The same thing happened in Croatia. Shipyards in prime waterfront locations are being turned into apartments and hotels.

Mike B

It’s not just ship/boat yards, it’s factory’s department stores, pubs just to name a few.


The Sub Building hall is still standing, although the cranes are no longer there. From Google Maps it’s not possible to tell if there’s been huge internal changes of course.


The facilities are easy to sort out, it just takes money. The problem as N-a-B pointed out is the lack of suitably qualified and experienced people. That applies both to shop floor and management/engineering/planing/procurement personnel.


There are cranes inside the hall, they build Astute hull sectons inside the hall, not having cranes outside isn’t an issue for sub construction, I don’t believe it was an issue when they built RSS Sir Richard Attenborough in the hall either.


Thats interesting , Astute hull sections built at Birkenhead.
In interesting observation

Construction of the Astute Class

Cammell Laird successfully delivered the block-build units for boats four, five, six and seven of the new Astute Class for BAE Systems, which will equip the UK Royal Navy with its largest and most powerful fleet of attack submarines.


It would probably be a case of building a new facility, probably on the plot of land between the existing site and the oil terminal (though you might not wish to have an oil terminal right next door for safety, in which case there is plenty of undeveloped ex-industrial land in the West float not far away). But a new sub factory would be much more efficient than working around an old and decrepit hall.

Building up the workforce would be the biggest concern but it would be much easier to recruit people to work in Birkenhead (being so close to Liverpool) than in Barrow. But sending people to Barrow for apprenticeships to be trained up where there is already the knowledge & experience.


Cammell Laird were building Astute hull sections for Barrow inside the building hall.


Priorities are important. Fundamentally, we need to protect merchant and military shipping, and submarines can only contribute to this indirectly. We should also bear in mind that “specialising” in just one capability has proved to be a foolish decision in the past (yes, ASW only, no carriers I’m looking at you!).

With regard to improving our submarine capabilities at relatively low cost, I am reminded of the old Vickers proposal for a “mini” 150 tonne displacement diesel electric submarine from 30 years ago. A small crew, li-ion battery-electric minisub equipped for ASW only would allow local ASW, SSBN escort etc to be removed from the SSN force at low cost. No heaving technology required as it’s crewed 🙂


A fleet of at least 8 SSK’s would be the way forward. Possibly updating the Upholder design to modern standards and equipment?.


Who would build it and where. People are are far bigger problem than designs. You can easily buy a design.


Re the infographic, how did you get to 64 subs in 1980?, its was around the 30 mark: ~20 SSK (Oberon/Porpoise) and ~10 SSN The last S boat was delivered in 1981 I think.


I think only about 16 SSK and 10 SSN … but 64 is clearly a typo of some sort.


Only 2 of the Porpoise were operational in the 80s, Sealion who went to Falklands and Walrus. Another was a harbour training boat.
There were 13 Oberons built and I think all were still in service /reserve in the 1980s (first of class Oberon paid off 86)

That would seem to make 15 SSK for the 80s ( and 15 nuclear boats incl missile subs)

John Hartley

A book I have from 1988 stated the RN had 4 SSBN, 16 SSN, 11 SSK.


too many SSN. Check the various classes commissioning/decommissioning dates.
80s was a decade so what was in service for the ‘Falklands 80s’ was different by 1989


Looking at British Warships and Auxiliaries 1987/88, probably the same publication as your book, there are indeed 16 SSNs. 5 Valiant/Churchill, 6 Swiftsure and 5 Trafalgar (plus 2 building, namely Talent and Triumph). As Duker says, specific commissioning and decommissioning dates may account for the confusion. At the time the book was published (1986), Torbay and Trenchant were not yet in commission. Torbay actually commissioned in 1987 and Trenchant in 1989, so what appears to be 16 SSNs is really 14. Still an impressive number though!


To me the big takeaway from this is there are no practical routes to more subs at see that take less than 10 years and probably closer to 15.


Dont believe it. Germany produced hundreds of U boats by mass production 1941-45. Maybe Portsmouth or Southampton is the place to start a new submarine yard. It needs to draw on tech savy people in an area of a large population.


The U.K. could produce hundreds of shallow diving death traps. But what use would they be?
There are lots of people in the U.K. that are “tech savvy” but very few of them know anything about submarines, and almost all of them work in Barrow. There is no quick fix to produce skilled and experienced people.

Last edited 1 year ago by ATH

Yes. And that sort of heavy engineering career isnt so attractive now compared to the 1980s. Things that are ‘cool’ such as computer games software developers and computer engineers of all sorts ( all though software is more important in naval vessels now)

Dave Wolfy

How many?
Pub quiz question that never comes up.

[…] Read full Story ➤ Share196Tweet123Share49 Previous Post […]


This all depends on new money. Although there is a nominal pledge to go to 3% of GDP one has to question whether that will ever happen. First, debt levels are now going to exert massive pressure to cut spending and it seems doubtful that defence will be exempt. Second, the Russian conventional threat has been exposed as much weaker than ever thought. A country that cannot even defeat a single third rank European state is hardly likely to attack 30 NATO states including the US. There is of course the Chinese threat (and the Russo-Chinese axis). The UK would certainly need to increase spending if it wants to project power all the way to East Asia but one wonders whether there will really be the will or the means to sustain that sort of effort. The first test with respect to any sort of will to increase defence expenditure will come, not with submarines, but on matters such as properly equipping the Type 31s (with a sonar, with SSMs, with adequate Sea Ceptor), buying more F-35s and buying interim anti-ship missiles. If none of that happens, it will be a signal that there won’t be much more money.


With inflation, a weak pound and a government that wants to cut taxes I’ll take the 3% of GDP target with a big pinch of salt and expect a lot of any projected increases to be swallowed up in keeping the current equipment plan on track!

If someone extra money could be found then I think at this stage we should be looking to hedge our bets.

So invest in unmanned tech now as the quickest force multiplier but also look long and hard at ways in which we can collaborate via AUKUS and over a period of 10-15 years expand Barrows capacity so there is the industrial capacity to build more SSN’s to replace the Astute’s and to a faster drumbeat (again money allowing).

SSK’s would be great in many ways but as others have said there isn’t the expertise to build them in The UK and buying off the shelf would be both politically difficult and probably require extra investment to adapt any design to our specifications.

Nick B

I’d like to see the actual numbers on a realistic basis, but I’d guestimate thatTruss has added about £1 trillion onto UK Govt debt over the next 5 years. Whilst I do think there wasnt any realistic alternative (at least no one I’ve read has made any suggestions) this will drive annual interest costs towards £100 billion pa over the same period. Given total UK Goct spending is already over £800 billion pa,and an unreformed health service needs hundreds of thousands of new trained staff and a truely massive budget rise to deal with the 10 million waiting list amd the lower productivity in the current Covid service, its impossible not to foresee some real austerity cuts happening after the 2024 election.

Expanding defence spending means finding savings elsehwere, proably of a larger amount than the new spending.


“Politically difficult”, my American rear end.

All you have to do is make the purchase of Japanese, German, or South Korean SSGK’s part of a larger deal to include one of those countries in the Tempest program. Sell it to the British public as part of a new era in Anglo-German or cross-Pacific friendship, peace, love, and utopia. You can tell all the soccer hooligans and cheeky pub goers: “Look, Nigel. Yes, we’re buying subs from South Korea (my personal preference but whatever). I know you don’t like that because on the rare occasions when you’re sober you’d really like a good job at a UK shipyard, but think of The Big Picture, mate! These same blokes are going to pay through the nose to join up with us on Tempest! Leventy gazillions of marks/yen/won coming into HM royal coffers—well alright, BAE Systems—AND we’ll make all of the submarine money back in spades once we start selling our billion pound fighter jets right back to them!” Etc and so forth.

Last edited 1 year ago by Will

I would go for the AIP SSK option, if there is more money, I would go for a force of 7 with technology trabsfer and training of aporentices as part of the package. Build an existing design, the first 3 built in Germany or Sweeden say the remaining 4 in Plymouth or Portsmouth .

They would be the submarine type 31! Fixed equipment fixed price. If you could add 5 more P9, and up arm the remaining Frigate/Destroyer fleet.


How do you find the people and the space in Plymouth or Portsmouth? Then when you’ve built 4 subs what do they do?


That’s the the reason for apprenticeship at the start of the package, after the 4, then it’s a second batch and exports aka T31 or since Portsmouth is BAE run then there is always Barrow or building parts for the Australian ssn order??


All very speculative.
Is that the sort of thing that would get a good new graduate to commit to spending 10/15 years working there way up to leading a design/build section of a ship yard? Same sort of time scale for a new Apprentice from coming in to being a shop floor leader, and the same new for commitment.
Even if your yard only builds 1 sub every 2 years you need a fleet or at least 30 to create a drumbeat. Just how big an SSK fleet does the RN need/can afford/can crew?


If your yard only builds 1 sub every 2 years, and your subs last 30 years, you’d “only” need a fleet of fifteen, not thirty.

But what if you ditched those same subs after sixteen years? No midlife refit, etc. The Tagei class cost less than £500m each, so £250m a year (2022 money) for a fleet of eight boats. That’s Type 31 money.

Purchase cost and drumbeat is certainly doable. Of course all the rest of the issues still apply.


But, after building the 4 SSKs in UK, the SSK yard (and the skilled workforce) will be abandoned? If kept for 20 years without any order, when replacing the 7 SSK, the same “start from zero” will be needed.


Just do what the Japanese do, build a run of 8, when the last on is out the door start on the next design, keep a continuous build program going. The Japanese has launched almost one submarine per year since 1967.


Its an ‘improved’ version of the previous boats too. Incremental change with useful step ups like AIP.
Enough to keep 2 shipyards going.


And the extra crew (approx. 350-400) across all ranks are coming from where? We are only just coping with our current force structure, a 12-15% increase in manpower over the next ten odd years is a big ask!


I think the way to go will be

  • increase the build capacity of SSN by 10-20% or so, taking 10-15 years, to make RN with 8 or 9 SSN and 4 SSBNs (toward 13 boats fleet from current 10/11 boats)


  • establishing XLUUV production line, with requirement for 25 “boats” in long term, so that the production-line can continue 12-months drumbeat. Let’s happily start with 4 boats of rather simple information-gathering XLUUVs, and gradually expand their capability, with new design coming every 4 years.

As there is zero change RN getting 25 SSK, (or even 12 SSK for 24-months drumbeat), I think SSK-option is simply un-sustainable = waste of money.

stephen ball

I like that, 5 more P8, 2-3 more T26, 5 extra type T31orT32. Increase Daring class replacement to 10.


manpower? Fleet over stretched now and the youth today do not care for hard work and few luxuries, life in the UK needs to be changed to get the mind set for the youth to take up roles in the Services. Money will not do it alone. Once we had nice places to visit in peace time so the dark places were accepted, today there is only dark places.


Both the UK and US have infrastructure challenges with their SSN shipyards. What solves that problem is investment, and Australia has the funds to do so. What they don’t have is the expertise, which the UK and US have.

  • Australia should invest in both the US and UK SSN pipelines.
  • The UK should commit to extending the build of the Astute class to 8 or 9 boats to maintain proficiency with their existing workforce as the Dreadnought class will take years to begin, never mind complete.
  • BAE should transfer tooling for the Astute class to Australia, while continuing to build the aft reactor and propulsion end in the UK, which then is shipped to Australia.
  • Australia would then be able to acquire 6 to 8 Astute-derived SSNs with US CMS and weapons, which is their preference anyway.
  • Australia would then supply SSN components to both the US and UK, becoming fully integrated into their supply chains, improving the delivery rates in both countries, while developing the infrastructure needed to support their national SSN fleet.

Sorry to spoil the party fella, but, Barrow have already started construction of Dreadnought Hull 1. The remaining 2 Astutes are effectively built, and are now in various stages of ‘fitting out’. We are not building any more Astutes in Barrow, the next SSN/GN to be built at Barrow will be SSN(R).


Of course, the other spanner in the works for any AUS participation in a nuclear SSN programme, is their complete lack of infrastructure currently to support such an undertaking. It is going to probably take the best part of a decade to get all that in place first, if they do decide to proceed with this venture.


Not my party, but AUKUS is real. The only reason the UK is involved in an SSN agreement is because they’re going to play a role in the technology transfer, otherwise the US would do this alone. Production just needs facilities and manpower, both of which require funding. Neither the US nor UK want to apply more funding to the production, but Australia can and will. They become both the bank and the customer.

The US has 2 yards, both of which build SSNs, and both of which share SSBN construction. With the right financing and manpower allocation, the UK can produce more than it currently is, but the Virginia is too large/complex/manpower intensive for the RAN.

That leaves an Astute or its successor if that can happen in 10 years or less.
Time will tell – March 2023.

Last edited 1 year ago by DaSaint

March 2023 should tell us much more I agree. And yes, AUKUS is happening, not said it hasn’t. Money isn’t the issue if AUS is willing to spend, the issue is time – again 2023 will be telling, but whatever route is taken, it is extremely unlikely that it will be an Astute. Successor should start to build around 2035 give or take, so is much more likely the blueprint/part of the decision making process.


Australia doesnt have the money any more. They have been spending like drunken sailors and its seems the new government will wind back many of their military projects ( alongside the infrastructure promises for the states and the pork barrelling for minor projects in marginal electorates)

Funnily enough the best boat for the their needs is the low enrichment type ( 20% LEU, they switched from higher level in 1996 ) the French are building and were going to build a diesel version for RAN

Interesting a HEU sub would breach international treaties about transfer to non nuclear states ( another part of ‘the rules based system’ which is ignored when it might suit some western nations)

The French have built their hulls with semi permanent larger hatches ( breche) over the core so the fuel rods can be removed as a matter of course


Not sure where you are getting that (no money left) from! However, you may yet be correct, we will find out Mar 23.
Personally, I think that AUS will go for it, as SsKs don’t fit the bill for their requirements. Time will tell.



Presuming Mad Vlad doesn’t go off the deep end in the interim (a sporting proposition), March 2023 may yield some pleasant, nay remarkable, surprises. Ben Wallace, appears to be significantly personally involved in guiding AUKUS planning in an intelligent manner and direction. A revised (updated) UK security review has been requested by calendar year end, w/ Russian behavior (especially nuclear threats) factored into the assessment. This will provide the guidance and political cover for increased defense expenditure. Liz Truss may well prove to be in Maggie Thatcher’s mold, w/ steel in her backbone. Recession? Expedited SSN(R) program may well be sold to Parliment as an employment program. The Australians are obviously onboard w/ AUKUS, and are duly concerned about current ChiCom leadership and behavior. So are the Americans (one of the few bipartisan areas of agreement in the US Congress). Yes, there will be significant technical, cost and policy issues to surmount, but the stars may be aligned to produce a common modular design SSN on an expedited timeline, and sufficient funding to incentivize every relevant defense contractor w/in the alliance. As they say in the US, everyone should stay tuned to this channel for breaking news updates. ?

Gavin Gordon

Tend to side with your viewpoint, F-USAF. As during previous instances of increased international tension, the necessity to enhance our security will provide the stimulus and prove the mother of invention.
On the specific issue of AUKUS, I believe the Australians more likely to join with UK on Successor, assembled in their own new-constructed facilities. I’ve stated elsewhere that, aside from the sale of retiring assets, the US requirements for new build tend to be fairly unique and relatively costly.


Evening F-USAF, as @GG posted below, wouldn’t disagree with your views. Mar 23 will be interesting one way or the other.

Gavin Gordon

Aside, Deep, on the rebalance issue. Highly logical on the need for more subs, but not now at the expense of surface units, of course. As I’m sure Former can confirm, US was all for cutting the surface fleet just recently, now planning all out on more and yet larger escorts, alongside the Constellation frigates, to replace Ticos and ABs (the long goodbye). UK policy sounds to be slightly behind on the threat curve, if balance means reduce escorts i.e. in the trough following US crest. As you say, next year….


Yes they need more subs, what they were getting from the French was more than enough to defend Australia, the problem is the Australians have jumped on the US’s China bashing train. If you look at a globe, where is Australia and where is China, there are many countries are between the two nations, in what realistic way does Australian need to transit all these countries to carry out defense of Australia patrols in the South China Sea?

I still fail to see why the UK is even a part of AUKUS, the UK has one territory in the Pacific, with a total population of less than 100 people.


The Commonwealth?


UK decided Asia wasnt their defence region in the late 1960s.
‘The commonwealth’ doesnt form a defence pact.
If it did UK would have defended Cyprus against the Turkish invasion in the 70s – and where the Turks remain to this day


The Commonwealth isn’t UK territory and you’re no longer the largest market for NZ and Australian exporters. This isn’t the poet war until the 70’s prior to joining the EEC where the UK was seen as a home market for both countries.


Because the US and UK have a technology sharing agreement in relation to submarine nuclear propulsion, neither can sell or transfer this particular technology to a third party without the permission of the other nation.


Agree with you there. Yes need more SSNs, but not at the expense of escorts, which we also need more of!! SMs can’t do a lot of what escort ships can, so would be counter productive to reduce one for another, surely?

Supportive Bloke

There is UK sovereign tech in US boats as well as the other way round. It is not a one way street.

AUS didn’t buy an American designed frigate either?

Don’t underestimate the level of UK defence tech. There is a good reason that the T26 design exported well.


Not only did RAN elect for the Hunter Class (with SEAFAR2) but RCN plan to build 15 CSCs. as replacement for Halifax Class and the 3 AAWs.


There will be no more Astute class built after boat 7 HMS Agincourt is delivered. It is already impossible to build any more than the 7 ordered for one simple reason…the PWR2 reactor that the Astute class is built around is not being produced any more! The PWR2 is an extreme long lead item, the last PWR2 for the final boat was ordered in 2012. You can’t put PWR3 into the Astute class as it is a completely different design.

There is going to be no more Astute for the RN and certainly no export sales to Australia.


I see Rolls Royce are commissioning a new Nuclear academy. Will it have the capacity to train Australian personnel, additional to UK SSN and SSBN needs? Australia will need to create an equivalent civilian infrastructure to UK AEA to provide the necessary Nuclear governance?
Would have thought that we probably need to increase RN Nuclear training capacity to accommodate both extra RN numbers and RAN personnel. Have read in the press that RAN personnel have commenced nuclear training in both UK and USA. Is that the case?
The South Australian Premier, I think, announced that it was unacceptable for Australia to buy US built SSNs and not build SSNs in South Australia (Osborne). Now that Labour is in power suspect that building in SA will have a more forceful voice. Furthermore, building solely in US would undermine the ability to support operational boats in Australia. Additional downtime if boats had to go to US for Upkeep.
How about having a joint UK/Aus design team for SSN(R) in Barrow. Appears to work for Hunter Class in Scotstoun. Differences in Combat System requirements with RAN propensity for US system could cause difficulties.
Would suggest ideas of an Astute design with PWR3 for RAN should be a non-starter. Would not hull diameter be an issue, requiring a drastic redesign. Holding the schedule would be a nightmare.
Should RN be Base Porting one of five Astutes to Australia (HMAS Sterling) soonest, rather like the old 4th S/M squadron in the sixties, based at Sydney. Could gradually increase the number of RAN exchange posts as personnel became fully trained. Appreciate length of nuclear training would probably be the bottleneck.
If RAN do go down the Virginia Block V, or SSN(X) route reckon ITAR would be a major stranglehold on the programme, together with US reluctance to pass on sensitive nuclear technology. Did think that one of the reasons for AUKUS was because the USN would be happier if the RN passed on its homegrown (Valiant onwards) nuclear information rather than it coming from US.


A slightly bigger hull diameter isnt really a big problem.

Its the internals and propulsion system thats more important and can quite easily ( he says laughing) be fitted inside in the same location

The real answer is the much smaller French nuclear Suffren class with its LUE reactor- the hull and internals the Aussies know very well in its non nuclear version.
but it seems the bridges have been burnt on that.
The costs and time frame suggest a US or UK build for say first 3 is the remaining choice. And yes use the halls at Cammells for hull sections like they did for Astute class


We could really do with a Type 31 of the submarine world. As in the article they can take on roles that free up the Astute’s. A new submarine construction site will be needed and it will take time to build up the workforce. But got to start from somewhere and if we start soon then the theoretical new facility could also help with Astute’s replacement.

Armchair Admiral

Whereas I am not saying that a T31 is not a ‘proper’ frigate (if armed a bit better) it is cheaper because it is under-specced in relation to a T26.
I submit that any subs we have simply have to be full-fat ones, no skimping whatsoever.
Having read the various submissions here, the balance seems to me to indicate that having anybody other than Barrow building these things is a no-no.
The quickest way to up our sub force simply has to be to build the next SSN(R) quicker than the Astutes, and order a few more…there seems to be no realistic way round it??
Considering that Astute was held up by design issues (lack of staff and a new dangled pc program) and probably the usual treasury slow-down, this shouldn’t happen to SSN(r) as the design team is fully conversant now, and we will have extra money to build them at a proper pace…..and this will save money long term in any case.


I’d be very careful about throwing suggestions around that “apart from the deterrent programme” the RN spends more on surface ships than submarines.

You can’t divorce the deterrent from the submarine fleet. They both support a number of unique – and expensive – capabilities without which neither would be viable.

Last time I looked DNO & SDA budgets were significantly in excess of that for D Ships.


Good analysis, a “grey zone” might also be a kind of deter. It depends on how intelligence deal with it. As we shall always have eyes on China an asymmetric approach is very useful.


To free up submarine trained crew, transfer an Astute to Australia as part of AUKUS, either through lease or outright sale. The RAN already has personnel training on Astutes. This would be a big boost to RAN’s SSN ambitions and would maintain a SSN East of Suez with Australia paying for it. This would be similar to the Russians transferring a SSN to India so the Indian Navy could build experience with operating SSNs. The ~100 RN submariners freed up by the transfer would be enough to crew 4 SSK (probably need to train a few more sailors).

The next hurdle is building capacity. Though politically problematic, the quickest and cheapest way to address this is to have the boats built somewhere else. I’d want to integrate as much UK systems as possible, but as Rudeboy indicates, that could be very expensive…there would need to be a balancing act here. It might be possible to have the boats built in modules and assembled in UK. I don’t know if that approach broadens the range of facilities that can tackle the project. I tend to favor the Blekinge-class submarine since it has a modular design which might help with system integration and assembling in UK. Also, sterling AIP is less demanding on infrastructure than fuel cell based AIP.

I realize that the RN really wanted 8 Astutes, so giving up the 7th so that there are only 6 might sound like a bad idea. But the Astutes are expected to do things that a SSK can do just as well or better, like training and littoral work. I would argue that 6 SSNs + 4 SSKs represents a net increase in capability over 7 SSNs.

Last edited 1 year ago by KevinR
Joe Porter

Were we to contemplate the political impossibility of placing an order for a fighting vessel with a foreign yard are there any such yards with the capacity to magic a class of SSKs up for us at the flash of a welding torch as well as supplying their domestic requirements?
Would we not rather go the back of the queue and would it not therefore be better to use that queuing time to develop our own capabilities than sitting around waiting for somebody else to get round to us?


Germany has done a lot of export subs over the years. I’m sure it wouldn’t be super quick, but if the level of customisation was kept under control I bet we could have the first boat in 5 years. I’d be surprised if the RN crew system could support new extra hulls in much less time than that.

Joe Porter

It’s going to take the Norwegians 8 years from contract to delivery — assuming no slippages between now and then — to get their first 212CD and there are five more in the pipeline for the Germans and Norwegians.
Even if we signed a contract today it seems unlikely we’d get a boat before mid ’30s.
The same yard designed the 214 but only built 2 of them, the rest were built under licence. Given it’s building the 212CD, see above, when could it deliver any 214s or some derivative for us?
Another yard is building the 216SG for Singapore. So far, after 9 years, they have delivered 1, which is still in sea trials. The second was begun almost 5 years ago but is not yet in the water. The final two haven’t been begun…
If we signed a contract today, when could they start work, let alone deliver?
As for the Swedes, the history of the Blekinge order makes the T26 look like a model of far-sighted planning and brisk construction.

Tim B

With today’s budget, the likelihood of a big and persistent increase in defence spending seems to be receding. (:

Andrew Inskip

Is this not long term planning for Barrow. Once the Dreadnoughts are built and the Astutes are replaced, then there is a 10 year gap before more replacements are needed, based on a 35 year reactor life. If there is a cadence of a boat every two years the numbers of SSN’s will increase by about five in the 2050s by keeping the production open until the SSBN’s need replacement.


HMS dreadnought is due to enter service in the early 2030s so won’t need replacing until the mid 2060s.

Andrew Inskip

Exactly, so once the Astutes are replaced you either shut down Barrow for ten years lose all the skills and get in to the same mess as we had at the beginning of the Astute program or continue building a second batch of SSN(R) and increase the numbers. The talk of increased numbers could be long term aspersions over a few decades.


The business model with Marconi in the design loop didn’t help either!




Cammells built sections of the hulls for Astutes 4-7 inside Birkenheads existing sub hall.!


I don’t understand why Wallace the Wally wants the comparison. Why not a comparison of escorts to MPA? Or escorts to fast air? The surface ship is an instrument of sea control. The submarine an instrument of sea denial.


Because survival of surface ships are questionable in this long range missile age.


They probably want to sell an ‘existing’ Astute or 2 to Australia, for financial reasons, so need a study to muddy the waters on how useful SSN are – and ‘reveal’ they should only be protecting the SSBN, no other missions.


Trying to be creative at the risk of being a bit crazy, what about buying some SSKs second hand?

Hard to think of many good sellers in this security environment, but maybe Japan. The Japanese produce excellent subs at the rate of one per year, a drumbeat that seems dictated by industrial reasons, not their force size. With force target of 22 boats, they actually seem to be producing more than they need if you assume a 25-30 year life.

Buying say the first three Soryu class boats (2009-11 commissionings) and then refitting them with UK kit at a UK yard might give us an affordable capability quickly that could last us until we can order more SSNs after the SSBN program is complete.

Obviously the Japanese would have to be willing to sell some nice boats that have 15-20 years of life left, but given the pace they’re building new subs they could probably keep their target force level, and having the RN as the first major international arms customer would be a major win for their industry, while the refit generate at least some UK spend.


Ask the Canuckians how much they’re enjoying their second hand boats…..

Then ask yourself how the safety case for the boats would be produced, when we would not know their diving histories etc etc.

This submarine support and operations malarkey is tad trickier than many think.


Not saying that buying secondhand is in any way a good idea. But if it was done I guess the safety case would need to be done like that for the RC-135 was. Apparently someone very senior had to sign to take the risk that they were safe because there previous owners said they were.


The major problem was caused by the Commander actions when under Canadian control.
Same went for the Aussies and their Collins class early problems, mechanical issues mostly came from poor maintenance of the Swedish diesels – which wasnt helped by them not used in Subs before


Those Canadian boats ?
Only one , the former Upholder the last to transfer was only boat to have experienced  crew of Onondaga, the last Canadian Oberon, transferred to Upholder/Chicoutimi 

The sea water that came on board during the transit from Falsane to Halifax was a command failure
The inquiry’s report said Pelletier’s decision to run the submarine with both the upper and lower hatches[conning tower] open in “marginal conditions” was “a key factor” in the chain of events that led to the fire.

and theres was this
 On 4 June 2011, Corner Brook while diving off the coast of British Columbia slammed into the seafloor at 5.9 knots (11 km/h) at a depth of 45 metres (148 ft). Two sailors were injured in the collision and the submarine suffered significant damage, with a 2-metre (6 ft 7 in) hole in the bow. Two torpedo tube doors were torn off in the collision. The submarine surfaced and made port without requiring aid. The commander of the submarine was later stripped of his command following a board of inquiry. ‘


It IS trickier, but the Canadians really screwed that whole thing up to the Nth degree. They weren’t prepared to perform the work necessary to bring the ex-RN conventional “boats” up to snuff, and repairs and refits took at least twice as long as they should have. If the RN really wants to quickly up its numbers, the South Koreans are currently building a very good conventionally-powered attack submarine and there is already a history of cross pollination between the UK and SK shipbuilding industries.


The biggest problem is the Canadians sat on the fence for far too long. Instead of buying them as soon as they retired, Canada stuffed around. Instead of pulling them from the water, they were left in, expecting a quick sale. Nothing in Canadian defence procurement happens as it should. The only NATO nation to make Indian procurement look almost reasonable.


On the SSK option, to maintain the production line, there must be at least 13-14 SSKs (in 2-year drumbeat) RN. I think this is unachievable.

As I said, increasing SSN (taking a decade) and/or establishing production line of a fleet of ~15 XLUUVs will be the only viable option as listed on the article.

But, how about another option, midget subs?

For example,

Of course, these small boats can never do sub-hunting. But among the possible SSK-tasks stated in the article

  1. Smaller and more agile, SSKs are ideally suited for operations in shallower littoral waters – close to shore to deploy special forces, or in the Persian Gulf, for example
  2. providing the first line of defence against foreign submarines, and providing a step-change in UK ASW capability. More boats would reduce the enormous pressure on the undersized SSN force and release them for global deployment.
  3. Small conventional boats are far better suited for training, particularly for officers to gain command experience before graduating to the SSNs and SSBNs. At present, the RN must either conduct training using its precious SSNs or rely on sending personnel to train on allied submarines.
  4. The surface fleet would also benefit from greater ASW training opportunities and a different kind of opponent.

A midget sub of 30-40m size can do item-1. For example, DRASS DG160 can carry 9 complements (crew) and 6 commando (like SBS).

Midget sub can NEVER cover item-2, so let’s forget it. (We need larger SSK, 2500-3000t size here). I think more P-8, or introducing ARCIMS SEASENSE ASW USV systems, will be better.

For item-3, midget sub may not be able to cover everything, of course, as it can never join sub-hunting game as a chaser/hunter. But, for decision making on information gathering operations, supporting SBS operations, it will work.

And item-4 will be a good option. As modern ASW tactics rely mostly on active sonars, the midget subs can identify the surface fleet location (no need for large sonar). So, NO, midget sub CANNOT do active sub hunting, but YES it can do good fraction of contribution to the ASW training pretending a full-fat SSK.

We can start with, say, 4 such midget subs, and then move to 4 XLUUV using the same production line, and then 4 new-generation midget subs, and then 4 XLUUVs. In total aiming at a fleet of 8 midget subs and 8 XLUUVs. Of course, we can “tune” it to 6+10 or 10+6.

Just as an idea.

Last edited 1 year ago by donald_of_tokyo

Not that we have the money. But 4 from the top. And 8 from the bottom split into two sub-types – type one with add ‘fuel’ and ‘gear’ to sit off northern Norway and type two with VLS for the Med.


For DRASS DG160 class “(compared to normal SSK) The acquisition cost is also lower, with a 1:6 ratio being suggested by Drass.”


Type-212 SSK is about £480M (newer T-212CD is something like £700M). As DRASS is Italian company, I think it means 1:6 against £480M, which means £80M per hull. With a fleet of 14 midget sub and XLUUV (if similar cost), it is £1.1Bn program over 28 years, for example. Or, £40M per year (if with 2 years drumbeat). For a fleet of 14 SSKs, UK needs £400M more money per year (and £11Bn over 28 years).

Anyway, I can see zero possibility to man them.

On the contrary, 14 “midget sub and XL XLUUV” is “affordable” in cost, and it needs 9×14/2 = 64 crew (if 7 are midget sub). Not so bad.

Of course, with 1:6 cost ratio and 1:12 displacement ratio, DG160 capability will be something less than ~1/10 of a Type-212 SSK. So it must be focused on its primary tasks, shallow water intelligence and ASW training target. Range will not be long, speed will be slow. But, as it is small, its stealth capability is by nature much better than SSK, not to say Astute SSNs.

One important addition will be decoys. As midget sub is small, soft-kill will be much more easier. DG160 carries 2 (and more) 533mm torpedoes. But, it will be wiser to insert “533 mm swimming decoy” for soft kill. I guess the decoy and midget sub will be very difficult to differentiate.

Anyway, I know midget sub has very limited capability, and RN may not want it. Just as a possibility…


We will have no more large platforms whether surface or sub. It is fun though to play fantasy fleet.


I am a bit puzzled by this review. As the article points out and others have commented, there are no cheap or quick options. What will we know in 6 months that we don’t know now?


I am just puzzled about it all together. A study into a need for SSKs for the RN yes. But comparing spoons with forks? No.


Type 32 submarine?

John Hartley

I am interested in the nuclear assisted concept i.e. an SSK with a low enriched uranium reactor that provides a trickle charge to the batteries. Bridges the gap between a SSK & a SSN.


French SSN have low enriched reactors much easier to transfer and resupply LEU, but need to be done every 10 years.


Yes. But its full power . This ‘trickle charge’ from a nuclear reactor is a false idea , and a recharging backup instead of the diesels is better done by fuel cells


This has been a really informative discussion, given the limitations of UK industrial capacity. The simpkist answer is buying new from Germany or Sweeden or second hand from Japan and uuv

John Hartley

Vickers in Barrow did manage to build 3x German Type 640 SSK for Israel under licence back in the late 1970s. Maybe we could sneak in a couple of licence built AIP SSK between the end of Dreadnought production & before the future SSN, if we resist any temptation to tinker with the design & accept help from the foreign builders that designed it.


One of those Gal class of diminutive subs did torpedo and sink a refugee ship ( MV Transit) off Lebanon in 82 war, that was trying to reach Cyprus , killing 25 of those 54 on board.
Covered up under Israeli censorship till 2018


It’s interesting the discussion around secure communications. As quantum communications are developing to the point that coherent pairs of photons can be pushed through 30meters of turbulent water and they can also move through the air water interface, there potentially in the future lays the possible completely secure undetectable comms that cannot be jammed. Sub to sat to sub. At present you cannot push much data through but it’s the future.


There is a lot of talk in this thread about having to have X number of SSKs (~15) in the production pipeline to maintain a viable industrial base, which makes total sense to me. My question is, how does Sweden manage to pull it off; that is, develop and build a small number of top tier SSKs with such small production runs?


We will see how well they pull off the new generation boats having been out of the business for so long. There is also the question of what damage was done to the skill base by the “local difficulties” surrounding the ownership of the builder.

Bloke down the pub

I’m curious about the squeamishness surrounding XLUUVs being required to have an human in the loop. Sea mines are still widely used but no-one suggests they should require an human’s input before destroying their target.


How transferrable are the skills needed to build XLUUVs to building SSKs? I’m not talking about designing, just building.

Steven Alfred Rake

Just my 10 bobs worth, but we can only run with the feet we have, and we only have 5 SSNs at the moment raising to 7 in a few years so we need some sort of force multiplier and similar to the RAFs idea of a “Loyal Wingman” so that one aircraft has a number of drones that the pilot controls from the cockpit so we could have a number of drones of various sizes and capabilities deployed with each SSN the larger ones riding piggy back in a similar fashion to the Chalfort dry deck system and the rest deployed through the torpedo tubes this at least would give the few subs we do have the ability take control of a wider area than they do at present and inflict a lot more pain if needed.
The plan and simple truth is we need more Subs both SSNs and SSKs but that is not going to happen any time soon, so we have to enhance the ones we do have.


This was a great article thanks.

Buying foreign built submarines is not politically untenable but it is politically unpalatable. The government did ride through the criticism for building the Tide’s in Korea.

One of the reasons we get terrible value for money is that politicians see the primary role of the defence budget as being job creation. This leads to exactly the scenario you describe for licence built SSK’s; they cost more, take longer to build and we can’t provide work to sustain the jobs beyond the end of the programme.

We need to follow counties like Germany and focus our R&D and industrial development budgets on building the things that we do well and that we buy enough of to get decent economics of scale do that they are cost competitive in the export market

Last edited 1 year ago by Sunmack

Well said

Just Me

The RN doesn’t need, or want, SSKs.
in open water, they are just targets for an SSN.
They ditched them in the 80’s for a reason.


The ‘reason’ was the Defence cuts, as the RN wanted 6-8 of then new build Upholder class ( only 4 completed)
At the time they were much quieter than the SSN- who could be targets also

AIP has changed the balance back to SSK in littoral regions

Mike B

Since the end of the Cold War time and time again successive governments have cashed in on the peace dividend.
It’s time to redress this and build more submarines.
If we need more shipyards then so be it.
The country needs the investment.
The shortfall in support for the QE class has already been cruelly exposed.


we could ask S Korea to build FSS x 4 and a couple of more Tides.

I think S Korea are walking back on their commitment to build a new carrier(s) and in preference concentrating on more submarines.

Is it time to recreate SEATO and draw in S Korea and Japan? FPDA has been going for more than 50 years.

Mike B

Yes I agree we all face a common foe in the Pacific. A more inclusive AUKUS deal with Australian workers building in this country then taking the knowledge home.
We could built more subs for the RN and RAN then when the facilities are available in their country build their own subs.

Dolphin 34

An interesting read, cheers. I’m not convinced SSK’s would be much good in UK waters though. Too slow to chase SSN’s, even on an SSN when looking for Russian boats in the North Sea/Atlantic we were chasing shadows half the time. They seem a natural fit for The Gulf and even further afield where we might be nosy about what others are up to. No need for a ‘Z berth’ means they can get alongside a lot more places too.


Dont the torpedos do ‘the chasing’ at over 40 kts. Its all very WW2 stuff for anybody to chase anything above or below the water. Missiles and torpedoes are there for that when a target is detected within range

Allan Desmond

Every Navy has some Sort of Problems to speak of, some are real others Just self-inflected, The German Military is Not in any way a Real fighting force… But the sheer Cultural stupidity of Cheapness,” rivaled only by the Indians “.. of the British Navy Decade after decade has just become so very boring an rather sad.. Zero hope.


Speed up the Dreadnought program to add two extra boats in a configuration similar to the Ohio Cruise Missile class, while simultaneously developing a top-class unmanned systems industry. Mate the two programs together once mature, using the extra Dreadnoughts as unmanned systems motherships.

Last edited 1 year ago by GBNL

On a separate update with some possible good news. General Electric have said that they have looked at a preliminary integration study of the XA-100 Adaptive Technology engine and have said it can be modified for the F35B. They have only said it will improve the F35B’s performance, but won’t say by how much etc. If GE have said their engine can be modified, you can bet Pratt & Witney will be doing the same for their XA-101 engine. With over 500 F35Bs on order or now flying, that is still a very large market to supply.

David Barry

I have a suggestion: we need more of both!


With the new PM and her Chancellor, it seems that there will be significant cuts …again. The ‘Boris fleet’ consigned to history