UK welcomes Agamemnon: the sixth SSN Astute-class submarine

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The UK’s Royal Navy has embarked on a journey into the heart of one of the most modern Astute-class nuclear-powered submarines. This remarkable event took place within Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, where the watercraft was bestowed the grand title of Agamemnon—a homage to the legendary Greek king and commander-in-chief of the Greek forces during the Trojan War. With its maiden voyage expected by the end of the year, this submarine is a testament to the commendable construction skills of industry leader, BAE Systems. 

Photo credit: BAE Systems

An array of dignitaries, including the Minister for Defense Supply, participated in the naming ceremony. Adding a sense of personal touch to the proceedings, the honor of christening the boat was extended to Lady SJ Sedwill—the wife of the former UK National Security Adviser, Lord Mark Sedwill. In keeping with tradition, Agamemnon underwent its baptism, marked by the smashing of a beer bottle from the local Ulverston Brewing Company against its robust hull.

SSN, in naval terminology, refers to a nuclear-powered attack submarine designed for various functions. This classification is given by the US Navy, where ‘SS’ stands for submarine, and ‘N’ refers to nuclear power. This acronym, SSN, helps maintain consistency across NATO under STANAG 1166. Nevertheless, several navies prefer to use different terms in their vernacular. 

Photo credit: Twitter

The Astute-class submarines, which currently serve the British Royal Navy, are nuclear-powered fleet submarines that sit at the zenith of maritime technology. Their size, cutting-edge sensors, robust build, and state-of-the-art weapons system rank them as the largest, most technologically advanced, and most formidable attack submarines in the Royal Navy’s arsenal. 

Measuring 97 meters [318 feet] in length and approximately 11.3 meters [37 feet] in beam, these submarines are remarkable for their size. They exhibit a displacement of 7,400 tons when surfaced and 8,400 tons when submerged, substantially surpassing the previous Trafalgar Class submarines in size. 

Underneath the hood, the Astute class submarines run on a Rolls-Royce PWR2 [pressurized water] reactor and are fitted with a specialized pump-jet propulsor. This setup grants them unparalleled quietness, a critical factor for avoiding detection by opposing forces. When submerged, these sophisticated submarines can stealthily reach speeds of up to 30 knots [56 km/h; 35 mph]. 

Photo: Royal Navy

With around 98 officers and enlisted personnel making up the crew, the living conditions aboard an Astute class submarine are surprisingly comfortable. Modern comforts such as internet access, high-quality meals, and individual sleeping spaces have greatly elevated the living standards for the crew onboard. 

When it comes to their sonar capabilities, Astute-class submarines are second to none. They’re integrated with the sophisticated Thales 2076 sonar system, endowing the vessels with unparalleled situational awareness and the ability to identify and track enemy vessels over expanded ranges.

Let’s discuss their firepower. Astute class submarines are heavily armed with Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles [TLAMs] and Spearfish torpedoes. The Tomahawk missiles boast an impressive range, capable of hitting targets up to 1,000 miles [1,600 kilometers] away. Meanwhile, Spearfish torpedoes serve a dual purpose, designed for both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. 

Photo credit: BAE Systems

Steve Timms, the Managing Director of BAE Systems Submarines, applauded this as a pivotal moment for the Agamemnon, as well as the UK’s nuclear submarine protocol. This achievement underlines the Defence Nuclear Enterprise Command Paper, emphasizing the importance of our enterprise and Barrow’s role in fulfilling this national commitment. The Astute Class submarines form the backbone of our defense strategy, and we are committed to realizing the rest of Agamemnon’s plan, so she can join her sister submarines in the Royal Navy service. 

Defense Procurement Minister James Cartlidge stated that the HMS Agamemnon will be a cornerstone of national defense, empowering our Armed Forces with superior capabilities for the forthcoming decades. The Astute Class program sustains thousands of jobs, demonstrating these submarines to be a testament to our commitment to investing in British sovereign capabilities.

Currently, the distinguished British Royal Navy maintains two classes of submarines, the illustrious Astute class, and the eminent Trafalgar class. The Trafalgar-class submarines, also armed with nuclear technology, have played significant roles in numerous notable missions. For instance, HMS Turbulent was instrumental in Operation Veritas, Britain’s military support during Afghanistan’s war in 2001. The submarine targeted the Taliban with Tomahawk cruise missiles, signaling the Royal Navy’s initial involvement in combat with the Tomahawk. 

Photo credit: BAE Systems

HMS Tireless, another representative of the Trafalgar class, played a key role in 2014 when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Equipped with advanced underwater listening technology, it was assigned to a specific region within the Indian Ocean to search for any signs of the missing aircraft. 

On the other hand, an Astute-class submarine, known as HMS Ambush, was involved in Operation Shader. This was Britain’s contribution to the collaborative military campaign aimed at defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]. During this operation, the submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at ISIL bases in Iraq and Syria.

In May of 2018, a major announcement revealed that the Ministry of Defense had finalized a £1.5 billion contract with BAE Systems. The agreement stipulated that the seventh Astute-class hunter-killer submarine would be constructed in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. 

This new submarine pays homage to historical events, being the sixth naval vessel to adopt the name from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Beyond strengthening our armed forces, the construction of the submarine is also crucial for maintaining 8,000 jobs at BAE Systems in Barrow and elsewhere.

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