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Ambush ready to make her debut for the Silent Service
14 September 2012

The Navy’s latest hunter-killer submarine HMS Ambush is ready to sail on her maiden voyage after nearly a decade’s work and training.

The second of the Fleet’s class of cutting-edge £1bn Astute-class submarines is imminently due to leave the yard where she was built in Barrow for the first time.

Ambush alongside her fitting-out berth at BAE’s yard in Barrow. Pictures: BAE System

IN A matter of days there will be another £1bn of cutting edge naval technology flexing its muscles for the first time in the Irish Sea as hunter-killer submarine HMS Ambush begins sea trials.

Nine years after she was laid down and 18 months since she was launched, the second in a class of seven Astute-class submarines is ready to depart Barrow-in-Furness.

The state-of-the-art attack boat sails from Cumbria imminently with a mixed crew of experienced submariners and BAE engineers and experts (the boat is still formally in the hands of her builders).

Once at sea Ambush will conduct basic trials before making for her debut at her home port for the next quarter of a century, Faslane.

It’s a moment which has been a long time coming and Ambush’s Commanding Officer Cdr Peter Green said his men were itching to show what the boat could do.

Having previously been in charge of HMS Trafalgar, he likens taking his men to sea in Ambush to “stepping into the 21st Century”.

He continued: “The crew cannot wait to start sea trials and take this magnificent vessel a step closer to beginning operations.

“It is now time to start putting Ambush through her paces on sea trials and prove that this amazing piece of equipment is ready for operations.”

Ambush is the second of two £1bn new warships to sail on trials off the West Coast in the past fortnight; already at sea in these same waters is HMS Duncan, the last of Britain’s six Type 45 destroyers.

Since her launch in January last year, Ambush has undergone final fitting out and tests, among them a first test dive in an enormous 25-metre-deep (82ft) ‘dive hole’ at Barrow which is long and wide enough to accommodate the 7,400-tonne boat – and almost deep enough to completely submerge her.

Ambush undergoes a test dive in the 82ft-deep dive hole at Barrow in October 2011

As well as training in the art of operating Ambush, the submariners assigned to her have been fostering relations with her affiliated city of Derby (which has long-standing bonds with the Silent Service and whose most famous employer, Rolls-Royce, provide the nuclear reactor which powers the hunter-killer).

Thanks to advances in technology over the Trafalgar-class boats the Astutes replace, that reactor will never need refuelling; in theory, throughout her lifespan she could remain submerged – the limitation is the amount of food Ambush can carry for her crew.

Other ‘Gucci facts’ include the ability to travel at speeds in excess of 20 knots while dived – the top speed is classified, but it is faster than when Ambush is on the surface. And she can carry a combination of up to 38 Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles – she packs double the punch of a T-boat.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Philip Dunne with the MOD’s Director Submarines Rear Admiral Lister in front of Ambush

In terms of complexity, Ambush has been compared with the Space Shuttle; it has taken 20 million man hours (that’s the equivalent of more than 325 years…), to design and build the leviathan with her 70 miles of cabling, a sonar suite more powerful than 2,000 top-range laptops, etc etc.

All of which new Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Minister Philip Dunne learned on a visit to Barrow to see Ambush – and her sisters taking shape in the cavernous Devonshire Dock Hall.

“Ambush and her sisters are the most powerful and advanced attack submarines ever ordered for the Royal Navy, they are needed by the fleet and they will play a vital role in the future defence of the UK,” he said.

“The completion of Ambush is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of the thousands of people employed in this country’s world-class submarine industry.

“This is my first visit to one of the UK’s most advanced defence industries and I am hugely impressed with what I have seen at Barrow-in-Furness. Ambush is a very sophisticated and potent vessel and I look forward to her departure from the shipyard here for the sea trials that will prepare her for her planned entry into service with the Royal Navy next year.”

The awesome sight of an Astute out of water – this is Astute herself being rolled out in the summer of 2007. Picture: CPO(Phot) Colin Burden

As for the rest of the submarines in the class:

  • Boat 1 – HMS Astute – is commissioned and has completed extensive sonar and weapon trials in the USA, climaxing with the firing of her Tomahawk missiles; she’s currently undergoing maintenance alongside in Faslane
  • Boat 3 – HMS Artful – is taking shape in the Devonshire Dock Hall as is
  • Boat 4 – HMS Audacious and
  • Boat 5 – HMS Anson – whose keel was laid down last October
  • Boat 6 – HMS Agamemnon – long lead procurement has begun
  • Boat 7 – HMS Ajax – has been confirmed but not yet ordered