British Trafalgar class, SSN-nuclear attack fleet submarines

The Trafalgar Class was originally designed for Cold War operations in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. Their design was a follow on from the successful Swiftsure class but incorporated many improvements, making them both faster and quieter than any previous British nuclear submarine.

The principle role of these `hunter-killer` vessels is to attack ships and other submarines. In this capacity they could support and protect a convoy or taskforce, as demonstrated by earlier classes of fleet submarine during the Falklands Campaign. Additionally fleet submarines can be used in a surveillance role and the Trafalgar class are fitted with cameras and thermal imaging periscopes for this kind of operation. Since the class is being fitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles they will be capable of a land attack role.

The hull of each submarine is covered by anechoic tiles which can absorb sonar. Further noise reduction is achieved through the pump jet propulsion. This is a multi blade rotor turned by a jet of water and is quieter than a conventional propeller. The lead ship - Trafalgar - was completed in 1983, before the pump jet propulsion system was ready. Whilst the other six boats are fitted with this machinery, Trafalgar has a seven bladed propeller instead.

Despite being sophisticated vessels they have experienced a number of serious technical problems in recent years. In 1998 Trenchant experienced a steam leak which forced her crew to shut down her reactor. In 2000 cracks were discovered in Tireless reactor cooling pipes, forcing her to limp to Gibraltar on her backup diesel engines. In fact, the state of the entire class was brought into question in August 2000 when it was revealed only one of the seven boats was fully operational.

Specifications, Trafalgar class:
The class was laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding & Engineering Ltd (VSEL). Like previous British nuclear submarines they have a ‘teardrop hull’. The fin has been strengthened and the hydroplanes can be retracted to allow the submarine to surface through ice.

Displacement (srf/sub tons):
Dimensions (L*B*D feet): 280`1*32`1*31`2
Propulsion: Rolls-Royce Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR-1) 15,000hp, 2*GEC geared steam turbine, one screw/pump jet
Speed (sub knots): 32
Range (srf/sub miles@knots): not relevant
Diving depth (feet): 985
Complement: 12 officers 85 enlisted
Missile: capable of launching Mc Donnell Douglas Sub Harpoon, SSM sub-launched anti-ship missiles, and Hughes Tomahawk SLCM sub-launched cruise missiles
Torpedo: 5*21" (533 mm) bow torpedo tubes, two at each side firing through the sides and one at the underside of the hull, can fire Spearfish and Tigerfish torpedoes, total of 15 torpedoes or missiles reloads.
Armament: none
two Stonefish or Sea Urchin can be carried in place of one torpedo


A class of eight boats was originally envisaged but seven were ordered on an incremental basis from Vickers Shipbuilding & Engineering Ltd (VSEL) - the first unit, Trafalgar, was ordered on April 7, 1977, and followed by Turbulent on July 28, 1978. Tireless was ordered on July 5, 1979, Torbaywas ordered on June 26, 1981, Trenchant on March 22, 1983, Talent on September 10, 1984, and lastly the order for the seventh and final boat, Triumph, was placed on July 3, 1986. All boats of the class were commissioned between 1983 and 1991.

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