Trafalgar-class submarine

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HMS Turbulent on an anti-submarine exercise in the Gulf of Oman, 2011
Class overview
Builders: Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, Barrow-in-Furness.
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Swiftsure class
Succeeded by: Astute class
Cost: £200M each
Built: 1977–1986
In service: 1983–present
Completed: 7
Active: 4
Retired: 3
General characteristics [1]
Class & type: Nuclear-powered attack submarines
Length: 85.4 m (280 ft)
Beam: 9.8 m (32 ft)
Draught: 9.5 m (31 ft)
Speed: Up to 32 knots (59 km/h), submerged
Range: Only limited by food and maintenance requirements.
Complement: 130
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
  • 2 × SSE Mk8 launchers for Type 2066 and Type 2071 torpedo decoys
  • RESM Racal UAP passive intercept
  • CESM Outfit CXA
  • SAWCS decoys carried from 2002
  • 5 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes with stowage for up to 30 weapons:

The Trafalgar-class is a class of nuclear-powered attack submarines in service with the Royal Navy,[3] the successor to the Swiftsure class. Like the majority of Royal Navy nuclear submarines, all seven vessels were constructed by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. With four boats in commission and three retired, the class still makes up the majority of the Royal Navy's nuclear-powered ‘hunter-killer’ submarine force. The Trafalgar class is being gradually replaced by the larger Astute class submarine. The name Trafalgar refers to the Battle of Trafalgar fought between the Royal Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain in 1805.

Submarines from the class have seen service in a wide range of locations, and have fired missiles at targets in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. HMS Torbay, Trenchant, Talent, and Triumph have been fitted with the Sonar 2076 system, which the Royal Navy describes as the most advanced sonar in service with any navy in the world.[4][5][6][7]


The first Trafalgar-class submarine, HMS Trafalgar, was ordered on 7 April 1977 and completed in 1983. Turbulent was ordered on 28 July 1978; Tireless on 5 July 1979; Torbay on 26 June 1981; Trenchant on 22 March 1983; Talent on 10 September 1984; and finally Triumph on 3 July 1986. In 1982, Jane's Fighting Ships recorded: "Estimated cost of fourth submarine £175 million including equipment and weapon system when fitted." In 1986, Jane's recorded that the average cost for this class was £200 million at 1984-5 prices.[8]

In 1993 Triumph sailed to Australia, covering a distance of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) whilst submerged and without any forward support. This marked the longest solo deployment by any British nuclear submarine.[9]

Three of the Trafalgar-class boats have been involved in conflicts which on each occasion saw the launch of live cruise missiles. In 2001 Trafalgar took part in Operation Veritas, the attack on Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, becoming the first Royal Navy submarine to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against Afghanistan.[10] On 16 April 2003, Turbulent was the first Royal Navy vessel to return home from the invasion against Iraq, Operation Telic. She arrived in Plymouth flying the Jolly Roger after having launched thirty Tomahawk cruise missiles.[11]

In March 2011, Triumph participated in Operation Ellamy, firing Tomahawk cruise missiles on 19 March[12][13] and again on 20 March[14][15] at Libyan air defence targets. The MOD also confirmed that on 24 March a further series of missiles were fired into Libya by a Trafalgar-class submarine at air defence targets around the city of Sabha.[16] The boat involved in this attack was later revealed to have also been Triumph.[17] Triumph returned to Devonport on the 3 April 2011 flying a Jolly Roger adorned with six small Tomahawk axes to indicate the missiles fired by the submarine in the operation.[18]

The class is based at HMNB Devonport, in the city of Plymouth, England.

The Trafalgar class was to be replaced by the Future Fleet Submarine, however this project was effectively cancelled in 2001 and replaced by the Maritime Underwater Future Capability. The Astute class will eventually replace the Trafalgar class as well as the now-retired Swiftsure. As of 2008 it is planned that the last Trafalgar-class submarines will remain in service until 2022.[19]

Service problems

In 1998, Trenchant experienced a steam leak, forcing the crew to shut down the nuclear reactor. In 2000 a leak in the reactor primary cooling circuit was discovered on Tireless, forcing her to proceed to Gibraltar on diesel power.[20] The fault was found to be due to thermal fatigue cracks, requiring the other Trafalgar-class boats, and some of the remaining Swiftsure-class boats, to be urgently inspected and if necessary modified.[20] In August 2000 it was revealed that with Tireless still at Gibraltar, Torbay, Turbulent, Trenchant and Talent were at Devonport for refit or repair and with Trafalgar undergoing sea trials, only one boat, Triumph, was fully operational. By 2005, refits had reportedly corrected these problems.

In 2007, a small explosion aboard Tireless resulted in the death of two sailors and injury of another. The accident took place while the submarine was submerged under the Arctic icecap during a joint British-American exercise. An oxygen candle in the forward section of the submarine was thought to be responsible for the accident.[21]

In 2013 the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator reported that the reactor systems were suffering increasing technical problems due to ageing, requiring effective management. An example was that Tireless had had a small radioactive coolant leak for eight days in February 2013.[22]

Potential export

In 1987, the Canadian White Paper on Defence recommended the purchase of 10 to 12 Rubis- or Trafalgar-class submarines under technology transfer.[23] with the choice of the type of submarine due to be confirmed before Summer 1988.[24] The goal was to build up a three-ocean navy and to assert Canadian sovereignty over Arctic waters.[25] The purchase was finally abandoned in April 1989 and the Canadian Forces eventually acquired four of the Royal Navy's diesel-electric Upholder-class submarines.


The Trafalgar class is a refinement of the Swiftsure class and was designed six years later than its predecessor. The design includes a new reactor core and Type 2020 sonar (now replaced by Sonar 2076 on some boats). The internal layout is similar to the Swiftsure, and is only 2.5 metres longer. However at a dived displacement of 5,300 tonnes the Trafalgar class is significantly larger. Some major improvements over the Swiftsure class include several features to reduce underwater radiated noise. These comprise a new reactor system, a pumpjet propulsion system rather than a conventional propeller, and the hull being covered in anechoic tiles which are designed to absorb sound rather than reflect it, making the boats quieter and more difficult to detect with active sonar. Like all Royal Navy submarines, the Trafalgar class have strengthened fins and retractable hydroplanes, allowing them to surface through thick ice.

The Trafalgar class is equipped with 5 x 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes with accommodation for a mixture of up-to 30 weapons:[26]

  • Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles - range 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometres)
  • Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes

The introduction of the 2076 towed array passive search sonar equipped on at least four boats of the Trafalgar class has significantly improved their capabilities.[27] BAE claims that the 2076 represents a "step change" over previous sonars and is the world's most advanced and effective sonar system.[28]

Boats of the class

The first of the submarines to be taken out of active service was Trafalgar, which was decommissioned on 4 December 2009.[29]

Name Hull Pennant number Status Ordered Laid down Launched Date of commission Date of decommission
Trafalgar 1 S107 Decommissioned 7 April 1977 [30] 25 April 1979 [30] 1 July 1981 [30] 27 May 1983 [30] 4 December 2009[31]
Turbulent 2 S87 Decommissioned 28 July 1978 [30] 8 May 1980 [30] 1 December 1982 [30] 28 April 1984 [30] 14 July 2012
Tireless 3 S88 Decommissioned 5 July 1979 [30] 6 June 1981 [30] 17 March 1984 [30] 5 October 1985 [30] 19 June 2014[32]
Torbay 4 S90 Commissioned, operational 26 June 1981 [30] 3 December 1982 [30] 8 March 1985 [30] 7 February 1987 [30] Expected 2017[33]
Trenchant 5 S91 Commissioned, operational 22 March 1983 [30] 28 October 1985 [30] 3 November 1986 [30] 14 January 1989 [30] Expected 2019[33]
Talent 6 S92 Commissioned, operational 10 September 1984 [30] 13 May 1986 [30] 15 April 1988 [30] 12 May 1990 [30] Expected 2021[33]
Triumph 7 S93 Commissioned, operational 3 January 1986 [30] 2 February 1987 [30] 16 February 1991 [30] 12 October 1991 [30] Expected 2022[34]

See also


  1. All boats have a pump jet propulsor with the exception of Trafalgar which was fitted with a 7-bladed conventional propeller.[2]
  1. "Trafalgar Class - Royal Navy". Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Graham, Ian, Attack Submarine, Gloucester Publishing, Oct 1989, page 12. ISBN 978-0-531-17156-1
  3. Trafalgar Class, Royal Navy. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  4. "Home - Royal Navy". Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Navy News and Events: Trenchant Sails After Busy Maintenance Period Archived 9 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Royal Navy News and Events: Upgraded Attack Submarine Rejoins the Fleet Archived 9 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Royal Navy News and Events: Minister Visits Multi-Million Pound Submarine Overhaul And Upgrade Programme Archived 9 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986-87.
  9. "HMS Triumph returns from Libya operations". Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Trafalgar Returns[dead link]
  12. Nick Hopkins (20 March 2011). "Air strikes clear the skies but leave endgame uncertain". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "RAF strikes against Gaddafi's forces branded 'a success' as bombed out tanks and cars litter the roads near Benghazi". Daily Mail. London. 21 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Missiles target Libyan air defences". Navy News. 21 March 2011. Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2010. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. [1] Archived 16 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  16. "Libya action: More UK missiles target defences". BBC News. 24 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. [2] Archived 9 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  18. [3] Archived 9 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "Trafalgar class submarines". Hansard. 17 November 2008 : Column 154W. Retrieved 12 July 2009. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 John H. Large (March 2005). "Forensic Assessments of the Nuclear Propulsion Plants of the Submarines HMS Tireless and RF Northern Fleet Kursk" (PDF). Institution of Mechanical Engineers seminar: Forensic Investigation of Power Plant Failures. Retrieved 22 March 2007. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Oxygen device sparked sub blast". BBC News. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 25 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Rob Edwards (4 August 2013). "Ageing nuclear submarines could put sailors and public at risk, report warns". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Challenge and Commitment: A Defence Policy for Canada (PDF). Ottawa: Department of National Defence (Canada). 1987. p. 89. ISBN 0-660-12509-9. Retrieved 23 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Defence Update 1988-89 (PDF). Ottawa: Department of National Defence (Canada). 1989. ISBN 0-662-55733-6. Retrieved 23 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Keith Spicer (10 September 2007). "Canada's Arctic claims". Ottawa Citizen.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Royal Navy - Trafalgar class,
  27. "Submarine returns to fleet with upgraded Thales sonar". Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "HMS Trafalgar pulls down flag and retires from sea". Northwest Evening Mail. 5 December 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. 30.00 30.01 30.02 30.03 30.04 30.05 30.06 30.07 30.08 30.09 30.10 30.11 30.12 30.13 30.14 30.15 30.16 30.17 30.18 30.19 30.20 30.21 30.22 30.23 30.24 30.25 30.26 30.27 Sharpe, Richard, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1996-97, pub 1996, Jane's Information Group, ISBN 0-7106-1355-5 page 758.
  31. BBC News Submarine's final sailing to base
  32. HMS Tireless navy submarine ends service at Devonport,, 19 June 2014
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 01 July 2013 (pt 0001)". Retrieved 19 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Hansard HL Deb 14 March 2005 vol 670 c116WA quoted in House of Commons Defence Committee - Fourth Report, 12 Dec 2006

External links