Trafalgar-class submarine

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HMS Tireless at sea.jpg
HMS Tireless in 2012
Class overview
BuildersVickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, Barrow-in-Furness
Operators Royal Navy
Preceded by Swiftsure class
Succeeded by Astute class
Cost£200M per boat (1986 est.)[1]
In service1983–present
General characteristics [3]
TypeNuclear-powered fleet submarines
  • Surfaced: 4,500 to 4,800 t (4,700 long tons; 5,300 short tons)[2]
  • Submerged: 5,200 to 5,300 t (5,200 long tons; 5,800 short tons)[2]
Length85.4 m (280 ft)[2]
Beam9.8 m (32 ft)[2]
Draught9.5 m (31 ft)[2]
SpeedOver 30 knots (56 km/h), submerged[2]
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 fleet submarines (SSNs) in service with the Royal Navy, and the successor to the Swiftsure class. Like the majority of Royal Navy nuclear submarines, all seven boats were constructed at Barrow-in-Furness shipyard, Cumbria. With three boats in commission and four retired, the class makes up half of the Royal Navy's nuclear-powered ‘hunter-killer’ submarine force. The Trafalgar class is being gradually replaced by the larger and more capable Astute class of which 3 are complete. The name Trafalgar refers to the Battle of Trafalgar fought between the Royal Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain in 1805.


The Trafalgar class were designed in the early 1970s during the Cold War as a refinement of the preceding Swiftsure class. Including HMS Dreadnought, the Trafalgar class are the fifth class of nuclear-powered fleet submarines to enter service with the Royal Navy. The first of the class, HMS Trafalgar, was ordered on 7 April 1977 and completed in 1983. The last, HMS Triumph, was ordered on 3 January 1986 and completed in 1991. All seven boats of the class were built and completed by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering at the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard.

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 Fighting Ships recorded that the average cost for this class was £200 million at 1984–85 prices.[1]

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,[5] with the choice of the type of submarine due to be confirmed before summer 1988.[6] The goal was to build up a three-ocean navy and to assert Canadian sovereignty over Arctic waters.[7] 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.

Operational service

The submarines of the class have seen service in a wide range of locations, most notably firing Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles in anger at targets during conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Three of the Trafalgar-class boats have been involved in such operations. In 2001 Trafalgar took part in Operation Veritas, the attack on Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces following the September 11 attacks in the United States, becoming the first Royal Navy submarine to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against Afghanistan.[8] During April 2003, HMS Turbulent returned home flying the Jolly Roger after having launched thirty Tomahawk cruise missiles during the invasion of Iraq.[9] As part of the 2011 military intervention in Libya, HMS Triumph fired her Tomahawk cruise missiles in anger on three occasions; first on 19 March,[10][11] then again on 20 March,[12][13] and finally on 24 March.[14] Her primary targets were Libyan air-defence installations around the city of Sabha.[15] 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.[16]

In 1993 Triumph sailed to Australia, covering a distance of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) whilst submerged and without any forward support. As of 2011, this still remained the longest solo deployment by any British nuclear submarine.[17]

Service problems

In 1998, Trenchant experienced a steam leak, forcing the crew to shut down the nuclear reactor. In 2000 a leak in the PWR1 reactor primary cooling circuit was discovered on Tireless, forcing her to proceed to Gibraltar on diesel power.[18] 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.[18] 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.[citation needed]

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.[19]


Turbulent with a Merlin helicopter from Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans, during an anti-submarine exercise in the Gulf of Oman, 2011.

As a refinement of the preceding Swiftsure-class, the design of the Trafalgar-class bears some similarity, including its internal layout and the Rolls-Royce PWR1 Core 3. However some improvements over the Swiftsure class include its reduced acoustic signature, thanks to 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. A pumpjet propulsion system is also used from boat 2 onward, rather than a conventional propeller.[20] The Trafalgar-class are 85.4 m (280 ft) long,[2] have a beam of 9.8 m (32 ft),[2] a draught of 9.5 m (31 ft)[2] and a dived displacement of 5,300 tonnes.[2] Each boat has a complement of 130.[2] Like all Royal Navy submarines, the Trafalgar class have strengthened fins and retractable hydroplanes, allowing them to surface through thick ice.

Four boats of the class — Torbay, Trenchant, Talent and Triumph — have been fitted with the Sonar 2076 system, which Thales describes as having a "reputation as the world’s most advanced, fully integrated, passive/active search and attack sonar suite".[21] Beginning in 2014, the last four boats of the class underwent a communications package upgrade.[2]

The Trafalgar class is equipped with five 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes with accommodation for a mixture of up to 30 weapons:[2]

The Tomahawk missiles are capable of hitting a target to within a few metres, to a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres).[22]

Boats of the class

Initially, the last five boats of the Trafalgar class were to be replaced by the 'Future Fleet Submarine' programme, however this was effectively cancelled in 2001. Due to cost overruns, delays and budget cuts, the Astute class will eventually replace the Trafalgar class as well as the now-retired Swiftsure class.[23]

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

Name Boat Pennant No. Builder Laid down Launched Commissioned Status
Trafalgar 1 S107 Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, Barrow-in-Furness 25 April 1979 [24] 1 July 1981 [24] 27 May 1983 [24] Decommissioned 4 December 2009[25]
Turbulent 2 S87 8 May 1980 [24] 1 December 1982 [24] 28 April 1984 [24] Decommissioned 14 July 2012
Tireless 3 S88 6 June 1981 [24] 17 March 1984 [24] 5 October 1985 [24] Decommissioned 19 June 2014[26]
Torbay 4 S90 3 December 1982 [24] 8 March 1985 [24] 7 February 1987 [24] Decommissioned on 14 July 2017[27]
Trenchant 5 S91 28 October 1985 [24] 3 November 1986 [24] 14 January 1989 [24] In active service, expected decommission in 2019[28]
Talent 6 S92 13 May 1986 [24] 15 April 1988 [24] 12 May 1990 [24] In active service, expected decommission in 2021[28]
Triumph 7 S93 2 February 1987 [24] 16 February 1991 [24] 12 October 1991 [24] In active service, expected decommission in 2022[28]

See also


  1. All boats have a pump jet propulsor with the exception of Trafalgar, which was fitted with a 7-bladed conventional propeller.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Jane's Fighting Ships, 1986–87.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Bush, Steve (2014). British Warships and Auxiliaries. Maritime Books. p. 12. ISBN 1904459552.
  3. "Trafalgar Class – Royal Navy". Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  4. Graham, Ian, Attack Submarine, Gloucester Publishing, Oct 1989, page 12. ISBN 978-0-531-17156-1
  5. Challenge and Commitment: A Defence Policy for Canada (PDF). Ottawa: Department of National Defence (Canada). 1987. pp. 52–54. ISBN 0-660-12509-9. Retrieved 23 July 2014. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  6. Defence Update 1988–89 (PDF). Ottawa: Department of National Defence (Canada). 1989. ISBN 0-662-55733-6. Retrieved 23 July 2014. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  7. Keith Spicer (10 September 2007). "Canada's Arctic claims". Ottawa Citizen.
  8. "Trafalgar Returns: Nuclear powered submarine HMS Trafalgar returned home to Devonport today following involvement in the war against terror". 1 March 2002. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  9. "HMS Turbulent: Royal Navy Trafalgar-class submarine".
  10. Nick Hopkins (20 March 2011). "Air strikes clear the skies but leave endgame uncertain". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
  11. "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.
  12. "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 (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  13. [1] Archived 26 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  14. "Libya action: More UK missiles target defences". BBC News. 24 March 2011.
  15. [2] Archived 4 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. [3] Archived 7 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. "HMS Triumph returns from Libya operations". Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  18. 18.0 18.1 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)
  19. Rob Edwards (4 August 2013). "Ageing nuclear submarines could put sailors and public at risk, report warns". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  20. "Trafalgar class: Nuclear-powered attack submarine". Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  21. "Submarine returns to fleet with upgraded Thales sonar". Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  22. "United States Navy Fact File: Tomahawk Land Attack Missile". US Navy. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  23. "Trafalgar class submarines". Hansard. 17 November 2008 : Column 154W. Retrieved 12 July 2009. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. 24.00 24.01 24.02 24.03 24.04 24.05 24.06 24.07 24.08 24.09 24.10 24.11 24.12 24.13 24.14 24.15 24.16 24.17 24.18 24.19 24.20 Sharpe, Richard, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1996–97, pub 1996, Jane's Information Group, ISBN 0-7106-1355-5 page 758.
  25. "HMS Trafalgar pulls down flag and retires from sea". Northwest Evening Mail. 5 December 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2010.
  26. HMS Tireless navy submarine ends service at Devonport,, 19 June 2014
  27. "HMS Torbay's Decommissioning". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 "Trafalgar Class Submarines: Decommissioning:Written question - 47777". 17 October 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2017.


External links

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