Vidar-36 design unveiled

Naval architects at a UK design house have created the largest diesel-electric submarine to feature an optional fuel-cell auxiliary unit.

BMT Defence Services, a subsidiary of BMT Group, has unveiled its Vidar-36 design for a 3,600-tonne conventional (SSK) submarine.

Spokesman Philip James said most diesel-electric subs are much smaller and often range between 500 and 2,500 tonnes, whereas nuclear submarines start at 5,000 tonnes.

According to James, the 3,600-tonne size represents a gap in the market that BMT aims to fill.

He said the vessels are likely to be sold to countries with small defence budgets, but large areas of ocean to patrol.

Simon Binns, BMT project team leader, said one main feature of the new design is its optional air independent propulsion system, which is a fuel cell powered by liquid oxygen and reformed methanol.

This, he said, will allow the submarines to be submerged for up to four weeks, whereas conventional diesel-electrics need to resurface more frequently to refuel and recharge.

‘This means we are lowering the risk of detection,’ said Binns.

Another feature of the design is its modularity, giving navies greater flexibility to pick and choose which features they need. ‘Instead of a standard torpedo room the design includes a reconfigurable space that can accommodate not only torpedoes but also different types of missiles,’ said Binns.

The Vidar-36 has six torpedo tubes and space and delivery systems for 18 torpedoes and missiles, or up to 36 mines.

The modular design can fit in various communication masts, allowing navies to incorporate the latest technologies.

‘There are a couple of systems emerging at the moment that allow the submarine to remain in high frequency communication state while deeply submerged and manoeuvring,’ said Binns. ‘Normally a submarine would have to come close to the surface and raise a mast to communicate — and that exposes it to a range of threats.’

As another option, Vidar-36 can launch, operate and recover autonomous underwater vehicles and tethered unmanned underwater vehicles.

BMT is a long-established member of the partnership that helps the MoD keep the Royal Navy’s Swiftsure, Trafalgar and Vanguard-class subs operating safely.

Previous to the Vidar-36 design, BMT’s architects and engineers produced the winning platform design for the Batch 2 Trafalgar-class and have provided design support for the new Astute-class submarines.

Binns said the traditional submarine role of torpedoing surface ships, such as in World War II, is long gone.

‘Today’s vessel has to undertake intelligence gathering and surveillance roles, plus reconnaissance,’ he said. ‘It also has to deploy teams of special forces. We think the Vidar-36 is capable of doing all these jobs.’

Siobhan Wagner