Britain’s first new hunter-killer submarine in a generation is preparing to take her place on the front line as her final trials come to an end in the USA. Faslane-based HMS Astute has been carrying out warm water and other trials in the Bahamas and off the Eastern Seaboard as she gears up for her first operational patrol towards the end of 2013.
It’s the second stint of trials in the region for the first of seven nuclear-powered boats in the Astute-class; over the winter of 2011-12 the submarine was tested extensively in these same waters, including sparring with the USS New Mexico – a near-counterpart in the US Navy’s Silent Service.
This time around, Astute has focused on warm weather tests – sea temperatures of 25˚C, rather than the more usual 10˚C on the Clyde – and other capability trials ahead of her operational handover.
The submarine has been making use of AUTEC – the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Centre on Andros Island in the Bahamas – the principal proving ground of sub-surface warfare on the world’s oceans.
The ranges off Andros Island – south-west of Nassau – are centred on a 6,000ft deep natural phenomenon, the Tongue of the Ocean, a huge deep-water bowl carved out of coral reef, which resembles the Rolling Stones’ famous tongue logo.
To this natural wonder is added humanity’s ingenuity: the tongue is crammed with sensors and hydrophones to record reams of data on how well a submarine is performing.
Despite long days and equally long nights during the testing on the Bahamian ranges, Astute was able to give small groups of her 98-strong crew ashore for some rest and relaxation on Andros and couldn’t resist a traditional hands to bathe allowing the submariners to take a dip in the crystal clear waters.
After a good month’s testing at AUTEC, Astute made for Kings Bay in Georgia – home of the US Navy’s Atlantic-based ballistic missile submarines – to prepare for the final series of trials and stock up ready for her return to the Clyde.
The boat’s Commanding Officer Cdr Stephen Walker presented newly-qualified submariners with their Dolphins, served in a traditional tot of rum and accompanied with the time-honoured cap tally: HM Submarines.
Throughout the stay at Kings Bay, the Britons were hosted by the crew of the USS Wyoming, an American ballistic missile boat. On a hot afternoon the visitors challenged them to a five-a-side football competition, ultimately won by Astute’s weapon engineers.
With bags full of ‘gizzits’ (presents for home) and more than a few stories to spin the crew mustered for a final photograph on their boat’s casing under the Georgia sun before resuming their trials.
So far, says Cdr Walker, both Astute and her crew have been tested thoroughly by these latest trials.
“Both the boat and my team have made me proud to be their captain.”
“My ship’s company have been working hard during our time away and have been striving in support of a fantastic new capability hosted in this magnificent submarine.
“It has meant many long days focused on the task in hand – and then evenings catching up on the domestics and engineering aspects of keeping a boat at sea.”
Once the trials in the western Atlantic are completed, Astute is due to return home to Faslane. Following a period of operational sea training – required of any Royal Navy ship or submarine preparing to deploy – after which she will be available for front-line duties.
Press Release, May 14, 2013; Image: Royal Navy