She prowls at the cutting edge of technology.
Now she has bared her teeth as well.
Caption: HMS Astute leaves the US Navy’s Kings Bay submarine base in Georgia on her way to the missile ranges in the Gulf of Mexico
HMS Astute, the Royal Navy’s newest attack submarine, has successfully fired her Tomahawk missile system for the first time, putting her a step further along the road to operational readiness.
The nuclear-powered submarine sailed to the United States several weeks ago, moving from the US Navy’s submarine base at Kings Bay in Georgia to missile ranges in the Gulf of Mexico for the first test run of her Tomahawk system.
Caption: Crewmen aboard HMS Astute go through a rehearsal for the Tomahawk missile firing while in Kings Bay naval base, Georgia
And when the time came, the 1,300kg missile left Astute’s launch tube and streaked into the sky at up to 550mph (885kph).
Caption: A Tomahawk missile burst through the surface of the Gulf of Mexico as HMS Astute tests the weapon for the first time. Click here to see a video of the test firing
Astute’s commanding officer, Cdr Iain Breckenridge, said: “This first-of-class firing proves that Astute is a truly capable submarine.
“It means that the UK submarine service will be able to provide the UK’s strike capability for many years to come.”
The boat has the largest weapon-carrying capacity of any Royal Navy attack submarine and can hold a combination of up to 38 Tomahawk missiles and Spearfish torpedoes.
Caption: A Tomahawk missile fired by HMS Astute arcs through the skies over the Gulf of Mexico
The Tomahawk has a range of more than 1,000 miles, meaning that, despite being a sea-launched weapon, they can be used in all the UK’s areas of operation.
Astute’s trial programme is particularly gruelling.
The design and build of Astute-class submarines has been described as a more technically challenging project than building the Space Shuttle, and last year Rear Admiral Simon Lister, Director of Submarines, likened Astute to a 7,000-tonne Swiss watch, as she was built to such exacting standards and fine tolerances.
With Astute being subject to batteries of exacting trials, the sister boats that follow her should complete their tests in one quarter of the time and see this class of submarine in service until around 2050.
The UK is the only other country supplied Tomahawk technology by the USA. It has been in operation since 1999 when Swiftsure-class submarine HMS Splendid fired the first into what was then Yugoslavia.
Since then it has been launched from various submarines to support operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Libya.
Even though the Astute-class submarines will fire the same weapons as their predecessors, the boats have been designed with modern operations in mind, rather than the Cold War requirements that shaped the Swiftsure and Trafalgar classes.
As such they are vastly different in shape, size, capacity and capability.
"The most noticeable difference for the ship’s company is that for the first time everyone has their own bunk," said Cdr Breckenridge.
"Design changes that will make an operational difference include the fact that we have a reactor that will never need to be refuelled in the boat’s 25 year life.
“We have optronic masts instead of traditional periscopes, which means we have saved lots of space in the control room as well as having the benefit of digital cameras instead of traditional optical periscopes.
“We also no longer have to use red lighting which improves the comfort for the ship’s company."
HMS Astute will continue her trials in the USA until the early spring before returning to the UK for training before her first operational deployment.
The second of class, HMS Ambush, is in the water at the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard of builders BAE Systems, at the initial stages of her own programme of trials.
Astute, was commissioned into the Royal Navy in August 2010, and she and her sisters will gradually replace the Trafalgar-class boats currently in service.