One hundred years ago, on the 31st August 1917, the Glaswegian engineering and optical firm Barr and Stroud delivered periscope to the Armstrong-Whitworth yard in Wallsend. Since that date, the Silent Service has looked nowhere else for the apparatus which give its boats their eyes beneath the waves.
On Thursday, 31st of August 2017, the Govan-based firm – which since 2000 has been part of international defence giant Thales – celebrated a century of unparalleled periscope progress, with an eye firmly on supplying tomorrow’s British submarines with the latest optical technology.
The first Barr and Stroud periscope, FY1, was provided to HMS M3, one of three experimental boats equipped with a 12in gun to sink enemy warships at close range – or pound targets ashore.
The Ms proved to be a disaster (two were lost in accidents, M3 was first turned into a minelayer, then scrapped), but not their periscopes.
By 1920, Barr and Stroud expert had developed the first focus-adjustable scope for the Royal Navy (without changing the eye pieces).
Three decades later came the first radar periscope which improved both range measurement and navigation.
By the 70s, the company was supplying the RN with periscopes with an electronic warfare and electronics supports measures antenna, infra-red scopes, and the first laser rangefinder on a scope.
In 1991 came the first remote-controlled periscope and from 2003, the first ‘optronic’ mast – periscopes which do not penetrate a submarine’s hull, but do record a 360-degee digital image for the command team to analyse at their leisure – for the Astute class.
From the relatively simple beginnings a century ago, those periscope/masts have evolved to provide night vision and thermal imaging and support communications on top of the basics of targeting and navigation.
Today the firm is working on optronic masts for the final three of the Astute-class hunter killers: Anson, Agamemnon and Ajax.
Next year Thales intends to unveil LPV, the next-generation optronic mast – which may be fitted to the Dreadnought class of submarines which will replace today’s V-boat ballistic deterrent boats.
“Arguably our greatest single innovation was introducing a night vision capability to allow submarines to navigate and gather intelligence 24/7,” said Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK.
“However, our latest full remote control, non-hull penetrating optronic systems give naval architects more design flexibility by not restricting them to co-locating the fin and the control room via a 50ft long periscope.
“These options, combined with the digital inboard control and display system, provide commanders with a leap forward in submarine capability.”