‘The future is here...’
SHE’S big, she’s black and she’s back. The most advanced submarine Britain has ever sent to sea returned home to the Clyde after a 142-day deployment to North America for her most important series of sea trials to date. It was also a voyage of discovery for HMS Astute which was tried and tested as never before – and she came through with fl ying colours.
She spent 77 days at sea, 65 alongside, and was inspected by 18 stars worth of American and British naval authority – including the First Sea Lord
and America’s naval equivalent, the Chief of Naval Operations. She ‘battled’ against USS New Mexico, America’s newest and
best Virginia-class hunter attack submarine. She deep dived, fi red her Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles… and over the course of the deployment she sailed 16,400 miles. Her Commanding Offi cer, Glasgow-born Cdr Iain
Breckenridge, 45, was met in the Clyde by his wife, Steph, and she sailed with him the last few miles to the Coulport side of HM Naval Base Clyde. He said: “We are looking forward now to a bright future – this is a submarine of tremendous capability.”
Of the deployment, which saw them visit the giant US Naval Base in Kings Bay, Georgia, Cdr Breckenridge said: “We met and surpassed every expectation. She is just better than any other submarine I have ever been on. “Astute is still on trial and she is fi rst of class which always brings its own problems but we are beginning to look beyond those problems and see the promise. “We fi red off four Tomahawks, aimed at a corner of Eglin
Picture: LA(Phot) Shaun Barlow, FRPU West
Air Force Base to test for accuracy and we fi red six Spearfi sh torpedoes, including the fi rst salvo fi ring by a British submarine for 15 years.
“Our sonar is fantastic and I have never before experienced holding a submarine at the range we were holding USS New Mexico. The Americans were utterly taken aback, blown away with what they were seeing.” Astute’s captain, whose fi rst submarine was diesel-boat Olympus, basically a redesign of WW2 technology, said: “This is the future – Astute is on its way – and she is still a trials boat.” The oldest man on board, coxswain CPO John Adam, 50,
said: “To have achieved what we achieved is a very signifi cant milestone. The whole world was watching us and we did it. “To serve on a boat like this in the twilight of my career has actually been the highlight of my career.” From the oldest to the youngest man on the 7,800-tonne boat, stoker Jonathon Ball, 19, from Ballyclare in Northern Ireland, who only signed up in January of last year. Astute is his fi rst submarine and the deployment marked his fi rst trip to America. “I volunteered for this because it was the bigger challenge and submarines are a lot more interesting than skimmers,” he said. “America was just great.” Astute will never need refuelling. Her sonar can track ships 3,000 miles away and her missiles have a target range of 1,200 miles – with accuracy measured in metres. Not only that, naval command in Britain can re-programme the missiles in mid-fl ight and aim for another target, even if the submarine is thousands of miles away.
before returning to sea later in the year for more trials. Cdr Breckenridge said: “She is one awesome piece of kit – and I am very proud of the fellowship that has formed in a very fi ne crew.”
Next in line for her is a Base Maintenance Period at Faslane,
Picture: LA(Phot) Paul Halliwell, FRPU North
Vigilant era resumes, Vengeance deferred
HOWEVER large Britain’s ultimate weapon is, it’s still not big enough to accommodate all 224 souls currently assigned to the awesome fi ghting Vigilant.
machine that is HMS
submarine formed up on the casing to mark the conclusion of arguably the biggest engineering task in the Senior Service – save actually building one of these 16,000-ton leviathans. Vigilant is beginning the long road back to
deterrent patrols after three and a half years away from the front line undergoing a £300m mid-career revamp in Devonport. She emerges from that revamp – officially
a Long Overhaul Period (Refuel) – effectively as a new boat inside. In all, 26,000 items were removed from the V-boat and overhauled or replaced, 400 systems aboard thoroughly tested.
(enough to fi ll the fuel tanks of more than 550 Ford Focus cars) were applied to Vigilant’s 491ft hull. “She’s been fully stripped out – every nut and bolt polished, and replaced shiny and new. It’s probably the biggest job of its kind in Europe – it’s absolutely massive,” said Vigilant’s Executive Officer Lt Cdr ‘Freddie’ Fox.
Externally 32,000 litres of paint The crew of the Navy’s third ballistic missile
Indeed, it has taken a dedicated team of some 2,000 experts from the Royal Navy, MOD and Babcock, and 2.3 million man hours to prepare Vigilant for the second half of her active life. The refuelling of her nuclear reactor will power the boat well into the mid-2020s. Vigilant arrived at the specialist refi t complex in Devonport in the autumn of 2008, refuelling was completed in November 2010 and waters lapped around her hull once more in June 2011, since when she’s undergone thorough testing ahead of sea trials this spring and her return to Faslane. Her first period of trials lasting nearly four months will eventually take her to the USA, where she’ll launch a dummy Trident missile – each V-boat must do so at least once following a refit...
...which will be a novelty to some aboard,
but not sonar expert Lt Dean Ingram. He’s been aboard all three of Vigilant’s sisters (Vanguard, Vengeance and Victorious) when they’ve carried out a test firing. He’s also served aboard all four of the V-boats’ predecessors, the R-class which completed their patrols in the mid-90s. In fact, among the wardroom alone on
Vigilant there’s a wealth of experience. Only six of the 24-strong officer cadre aboard haven’t come up through the ranks (among those former ratings is Commanding Officer Cdr Mark Lister, whose application papers to join the Navy were signed back in 1978 by one James Magennis VC, fabled WW2 submariner who sank a Japanese cruiser in an X-craft). “We’re possibly the most experienced
wardroom in the Royal Navy,” says Lt Cdr Fox (laying down the gauntlet to other boats or ships...). “There was a joke going around
8 : APRIL 2012
● First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope chats with one of Vigilant’s senior rates as the boat’s Commanding Offi cer Cdr Mark Lister looks on during the rededication ceremony Picture: LA(Phot) Rob Gillies, FRPU West
during refit that we’d had a stairlift fitted...” From the old and bold to the young. It fell to the very youngest man aboard, 19-year-old ET Sam Magowan, to help Cdr Lister’s wife Susan cut the rededication cake at the ceremony formally welcoming Vigilant’s return to the fold of the Fleet.
Guest of honour (and a submariner himself) was First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope who joined Deputy Chaplain of the Fleet the Ven Martin Poll, ship’s sponsor Lady Frere, Babcock Chief Executive Archie Bethell and Rolls-Royce Submarine Programme Director David Orr plus ex-Vigilant COs, friends and family at the service, to which the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland provided the appropriate music.
Admiral Stanhope told those gathered on the Devonport parade ground: “It is a moment to recognise the high degree of innovative thinking, technological skill and collaborative endeavour that exists between industry and the Ministry of Defence.”
Getting Vigilant out of the large No.5
Basin, into the Hamoaze and out into Plymouth Sound is particularly demanding – and restrictive. If the wind is stronger than 10kts, for example, she won’t be departing. So to practise the challenging manoeuvre,
the boat’s navigational team plus tug drivers headed to Wageningen, near Arnhem, in the Netherlands, home to the MARIN simulator. Although the Royal Navy possesses bridge simulators which can replicate numerous scenarios at sea, it does not have one where tug crews and a ship’s company can train side- by-side.
As Vigilant begins the long process of taking her place on the right of the line again, her younger sister Vengeance has bowed out of service for the same demanding overhaul. After 11 years of providing the nation’s round-the-clock strategic deterrent, the fourth and fi nal Vanguard-class nuclear submarine has arrived in Plymouth to begin her LOP(R). To mark the end of the fi rst chapter of the life of the Faslane-based boat, a ‘de-dedication’ ceremony was held to thank all those who serve in her – and their families who support them. Around 150 family and friends met at the Clyde Off-Site Centre in Rhu for the ceremony, with the boat’s sponsor, Lady Robertson, also attending.
Witnessing the ceremony was Commodore of the Faslane Flotilla, Cdre Stephen Garrett and many former commanding offi cers of the vessel, while soundtrack to proceedings came from the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland.
After the ceremony, the crew, VIPs and guests travelled the short distance to HM Naval Base Clyde’s Supermess where the event was marked by a cake- cutting ceremony. The youngest sailor on board HMS
Vengeance, 19-year-old ET Shane McPherson, was given the honour along with Diane Blythe, the wife of the current Commanding Offi cer. Events drew to a close with a ship’s company dinner and dance at Scotland’s national football stadium, Hampden Park. Lady Robertson and her husband, former Secretary of State for Defence Lord George Robertson, were in attendance along with around 180 fellow guests.
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