Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is finally catching up with the Royal Navy’s unspoken submarine project; the one to succeed the Astute Class attack submarine. On November 23 defense company BAE Systems advertised a job in Barrow-in-Furness where British submarines are built. The advert is now closed, but the information contained is of great interest. And all because of just one word: SSNR.
Unofficial illustration of the Royal Navy’s next generation attack submarine, SSNR.
H I Sutton (author)
The role description included “…to work different stakeholders across the Astute, Dreadnought and SSNR programmes.” Defense watchers will recognize the first two projects. The Astute Class is the Royal Navy’s current attack submarine, and the Dreadnought is the new Trident missile boat. But SSNR?
SSNR, also written SSN(R), is the submarine class intended to follow the Astute. ‘SSN’ is the NATO designation for nuclear powered attack submarines, such as the Astute Class and U.S. Navy’s Virginia Class. ‘R’ is a family code-name. It is part of the Maritime Underwater Future Capability (MUFC) program to develop “future capability requirements and develop options to perform operations and tasks within the underwater environment when the current Astute Class Submarines leave service.”
Virtually no information is available in the public domain (and I wrote a lot of what little that there is). Still, based on unclassified information I have seen, we can piece together the most likely current thinking.
It is likely to be similar to the Dreadnought Class missile submarines currently being built, but without the missile compartment. It will thus be larger and longer than the current Astute Class boats. It should have the distinctive streamlined sail (called the fin in British parlance), X-form rudders and pump-jet propulsion.
In line with British thinking it is unlikely to have a vertical launch system (VLS) like the ones on U.S. Navy attack submarines. All the same, land attack cruise missiles should be carried in the fully-automated torpedo room. These may be joined by autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). And the next generation of torpedoes designed to intercept the latest Russian submarines and Poseidon intercontinental nuclear-powered nuclear-armed autonomous torpedo.
The design is still in its early phases and may not enter service until the middle of the century. But the Royal Navy will desperately need new submarines, maybe much sooner. The Submarine Service runs at an impressive operational tempo. Very few boats are made to go a long way. As threats increase, in both the Atlantic and Pacific, they may be further overstretched. Already Royal Navy submarines visit the Arctic and Persian Gulf less frequently than some like. Just playing gate guard for the nuclear deterrent submarines and escorting the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers could use up over half the available boats.
Yet it may be too much to expect for British politicians to increase in fleet strength. Only 7 Astute class boats will be built. To put that into perspective, at the end of the Cold War in 1991 the Royal Navy had 25 attack submarines. Since then there have been successive defense cuts. So we will see.
The SSNR is starting to appear in the OSINT timeline, but it may still be some years before a clearer picture emerges. Watch this space.