Britain’s Hunter-Killer Subs Await Front-Line Deployment
Both of Britain’s next-generation hunter-killer submarines will deploy on front-line operations within the next 12 months. After years of trials and tests HMS Astute will be ready for action before the end of the year, followed by her sister Ambush early in 2014.
So says the Navy’s number two, Vice Admiral Philip Jones, who as Fleet Commander is a man “expected to have a minute-by-minute handle on the deployed Fleet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.
After four months at the helm of the Fleet, the Admiral says that two of the key issues facing the Royal Navy in the coming years are to get the Astute boats into service, followed by the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
But Admiral Jones is also keen to reduce the amount of ‘churn’ facing sailors, Royal Marines and their families; reducing changes to their programmes, particularly when they’re in the UK, which disrupt the day-to-day lives of personnel.
The first two Astute boats (an investment of over £2bn in the Silent Service and machines in terms of complexity on a par with the Space Shuttle) are, says the Admiral: “on the cusp of being operational”.
Astute will complete hot weather trials and operational sea training, required of any ship or submarine due to deploy, and will then be available for front-line duties.
Ambush, which was only delivered to her home at Faslane last September, will go through the same trials and training and be ready to deploy in early 2014.
As for the future carriers, Queen Elizabeth will require 150 trained crew by the time she is flooded up and floated out of dock next year, and a good 400 by the time sea trials begin in 2016.
Training those sailors is already progressing well, says the Fleet Commander: a facility at Collingwood which can simulate the carrier’s navigation, air traffic control, communications, mission planning, logistical support and engineering maintenance systems is being used extensively.
And aircraft handlers, air engineers, flight control teams scheduling fast jet operations and fighter controllers are already under training in the USA.
As for today’s Fleet, Admiral Jones says it faces a very high tempo of operations.
“On any one day we have about 40 ships, submarines, naval air squadrons and Royal Marines units away from their bases; some deployed, some on exercises, some training. That’s about 8,000 people out of 30,000, and 40 units out of about 110,
“There is no other navy which works its ships as hard – not even the French or the Americans.”
Despite that hard working, and the Admiral stresses it is something he and his staff are striving to address:
“Our important task is to make life back in the UK more bearable, alleviating the burden on the ships and their people”.
The Admiral says he has been buoyed by his visits to ships, submarines, naval air squadrons and Royal Marines units in his first four months.
“The sense that I get from those visits is that people love what they are doing”.
Admiral Jones joined the Royal Navy in the late ’70s and a Fleet geared almost exclusively to the demands of the Cold War.
When he looks across the thirty-five years since then he believes the Navy of 2013, though smaller now than he would have expected then, is of a much higher quality across the board.
“I have never known a group of young sailors and officers who have thought more carefully about the career they have chosen. They are of a higher quality than I have ever seen and are highly-skilled, highly-attuned people. And our junior rates don’t just want to know what they are doing, they want to know why they are doing it”.
Naval Today Staff, April 11, 2013; Image: Royal Navy