Nuclear submarine returns to base with fault

HMS Astute, the first of seven new Astute-class nuclear-powered hunter killer submarines, had to return to its base at Faslane after a minor fault was detected while it was undergoing sea trials on Friday 10 December.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence told The Engineer that the Astute is currently still at Faslane, where the cause of the defect is being investigated.

While the MoD would not comment on the possible cause, the Mail on Sunday reported that experts had identified a fault in the steam plant, which affected the propulsion and the desalination system that makes sea water drinkable for the vessel’s 90 crew members.

The MoD added that Friday’s fault is not linked with a defect that saw HMS Astute run aground off the Isle of Skye on 22 October this year.

Neil Lauderdale, a spokesman for BAE Systems, the company that built the Astute, said technical problems during sea trials were not unexpected.

‘It’s important to remember that the whole purpose of sea trials is to take the boat out to test its systems and capabilities and then iron out any issues that do occur during that,’ he said.

‘Being a first-of-class vessel, it’s not uncommon that issues do arise during this period and that’s why sea trials are so important.’

HMS Astute is the first Astute-class submarine in a programme to replace the Swiftsure and Trafalgar-class subs, at a cost of around £3.5bn.

Made up of a million individual components and 10,000 separate design and engineering requirements, the Astute will be tasked with intelligence gathering, Special Forces operations and anti-submarine warfare when it is in service.

Equipped with Spearfish torpedoes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and what is claimed to be the world’s most advanced sonar system, HMS Astute and her sister boats will be the most powerful nuclear attack submarines built for the Royal Navy.

In November 2009 the vessel left BAE Systems’ shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness for its base at HMNB Clyde at Faslane.

The second vessel, Ambush, is being launched on Thursday.

Keith Moore